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Chris Dufresne / ON COLLEGE FOOTBALL

Third Time Is the Harm for Dorrell

September 21, 2003|Chris Dufresne

NORMAN, Okla. — UCLA ought to hang a sign outside its football offices for the rest of the season: Pardon Our Dust.

You talk about a rebuilding project.

This was not the kind of history UCLA came here to make, allowing Oklahoma punt return man Antonio Perkins to break two NCAA records as he broke the Bruins' backs in a 59-24 Sooner victory at Memorial Stadium.

Not only did Perkins return three punts for touchdowns, his 277 return yards were six more than the entire UCLA offense totaled in a game you could say the Bruin coaching staff totally mismanaged.

Getting a handle on the Karl Dorrell era?

That's about as tough a task as Bruin special team tacklers had getting a handle on Perkins.

What is UCLA, other than a team that keeps kicking balls to players who keep returning them for touchdowns?

You need to give these kid coaches time, right?

Yet, three games deep into the Dorrell era, UCLA must still be packaged as Pac-10 mystery meat.

Who are these guys?

Is this UCLA team the one that hung tough in its opening loss at Colorado?

Is it the team that won a 6-3 snore-fest last week against Illinois?

Or, is it the team that had a 10-7 lead on Oklahoma and then imploded?

The answer is probably all of the above, none of the above. Or they may all be trick questions.

"I'm encouraged, strongly encouraged, with the direction we're going," Dorrell stunningly said after his squad allowed more points than any UCLA team since 1970.

No one outside the inner circle of UCLA football expected the Bruins to come here and beat Oklahoma, a team that could win a national title.

But many of the Bruin breakdowns were mental and, thus, inexcusable.

You could understand Perkins returning the first punt for a touchdown. The guy made a great play; these things happen.

But why did UCLA insist on putting this guy in the NCAA record book?

"I was surprised they kicked to us, but I'm glad they did," Perkins said of the Bruin strategy.

Perkins' first return in the second quarter put Oklahoma up, 21-10.

His second return in the second quarter put Oklahoma up, 28-10.

There should never have been another kick to Perkins.

"Our punter was outkicking our coverage," Dorrell explained.

In the second half, the Bruins did try to punt away from Perkins, actually tackling him for a penalty on one punt.

But Perkins got another chance late and ran past UCLA and into the record book.

Dorrell said there were "obviously some issues on special teams."

UCLA has issues, period.

Remember, this wasn't Rutgers that Dorrell inherited. This was a team that finished 8-5 last year and won a bowl game.

Yet, through three games, UCLA has very little offense and no identity -- it is a witness protection football program.

The offense mounted one impressive scoring drive against Oklahoma and even that ended with a laugh, Maurice Drew scooping up quarterback Drew Olson's fumble and running into the end zone.

Dorrell also made a questionable decision in leaving Olson in late with the game clearly decided.

The Bruins are already thin at quarterback with Matt Moore injured.

A risk?

"There's always that risk," Dorrell said. "But that's kind of where we are as a program right now. We can't afford for him not to play."

Dorrell was right about one thing: Saturday's defeat was a good measuring gauge of how his program stacks up with some of the nation's best: not very well.

Some players were encouraged.

"There's not that big a difference, talent wise," Olson said of the two programs. "They're a great team. This shows you what discipline and assignments will do. They didn't make mistakes, we did, and that was the difference."

Believe it or not, the UCLA defense played pretty well and drew respect from Oklahoma players.

"They're all great athletes, huge, physical," Sooner quarterback Jason White said. "They ran their coverages well, they were really sound. They're a great defense and you can tell they're going to win a lot of football games."

Well, maybe not a lot, but a few ... especially with Arizona still on the schedule.

The only good news for UCLA coming out of Norman was that the Bruins got to see firsthand what a difference a coach can make to the program.

It was only five years ago, 1998, that UCLA played a season for the ages and came within one tackle or two against Miami of playing for the national title in the Fiesta Bowl.

That same season, Oklahoma finished 5-6.

After firing John Blake, the Sooners hired Bob Stoops from Steve Spurrier's staff at Florida.

Two years later, Oklahoma won the national title.

Last year, the Sooners stormed into Pasadena and won the Rose Bowl on UCLA's home field.

Saturday, Stoops improved his Oklahoma record to 47-9.

Meanwhile, Dorrell heads back to Westwood and looks over the UCLA coach's owner's manual.

"Obviously, I'm not getting it done yet," Dorrell said.

Obviously.

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