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Moore May Be Less for Olson

September 29, 2003|Robyn Norwood | Times Staff Writer

The auditions and rehearsals are supposed to be over by now.

But the curtain goes up on UCLA's Pacific 10 Conference season Saturday against Washington at the Rose Bowl, and it's hard to say whether the Bruins (2-2) are ready.

It's not only the penalties and mistakes, but a cast that's not quite set.

Quarterback Drew Olson started the season as Matt Moore's understudy. But just as Olson is beginning to get his lines down after taking over in the first game, Moore is preparing to come back.

What happens next might be decided as soon as this week if Moore steps back into the starter's job right away after recovering from a severe bone bruise in his leg. Or it might take considerably longer.

"I don't know," Olson said. "I'm going to keep playing hard and keep working hard."

Olson had his most productive game of the season in the 20-10 victory over San Diego State on Saturday, passing for 258 yards and two touchdowns. But he also had trouble holding onto the ball, fumbling three times.

Still, the offense has begun to open up, and Olson is gaining confidence.

"I've seen Drew grow up a lot in four weeks," tight end Marcedes Lewis said. "I don't know how the coaches will do that now. We'll see how quick Moore is back in there."

Offensive coordinator Steve Axman said no decision about whether to turn back to Moore this week will be made until the coaches see how fully recovered he is in practice.

Karl Dorrell and his staff naturally are eager to see how the offense looks with the quarterback they chose in the first place.

In the meantime, Olson has three more starts under his belt to reach eight in his career, and Moore is stuck on two.

"Drew's getting better week after week," Dorrell said. "He's starting to show a lot of toughness out there. He's hanging in the pocket. Sometimes we're scared to death he's hanging in there too long, but there were a couple of decisions he made today where if he didn't hang in there, we wouldn't have had those throws downfield. That's a good sign of a good young quarterback starting to develop.

"He's starting to play with a little bit more confidence, some swagger, and feeling a little more comfortable with the offense. Those are all very positive signs."

It isn't only the quarterback situation that is a bit murky.

Tyler Ebell came within six yards of rushing for 1,000 as a freshman last season, but he had only three carries against San Diego State.

That's 13 fewer than rugged junior Manuel White, who has been the most effective runner so far.

More pointedly, it's four fewer than freshman Maurice Drew, and Ebell is growing uncomfortable with the distribution of the workload.

"I don't want to talk about that," Ebell said after Saturday's game.

The most positive development in a game otherwise marred by errors was probably the emergence of big-play receiver Junior Taylor, who caught seven passes for a career-high 110 yards.

That, and an offense that is slowly unfurling.

"It's just some new things we implemented," Dorrell said. "Not anything that is revolutionary. We think our guys are graduating, learning things in steps."

Consider Colorado, Illinois, Oklahoma and San Diego State a series of steps toward the heart of the season, the conference schedule.

"It was important for us to get back to .500. Now we kind of wipe the slate clean so to speak, and start the Pac-10," Dorrell said.

"We're 0-0 in the Pac-10, so we've got as good a shot as anybody."

Laugh if you want, but USC and Oregon are among the teams that already have a conference loss.

"We needed to go into the Pac-10 with some momentum," said defensive tackle Rodney Leisle, who will be suspended for the first half of the Washington game as an automatic penalty for being ejected Saturday for retaliating against an Aztec player on the final drive.

"It's all up for grabs. In the Pac-10, every game can go down to the wire," Leisle said, pausing. "Maybe with the exception of that Oregon game."

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