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Bruins Put Stop to Any Thought of a Repeat Loss

September 12, 2004|Pete Thomas | Times Staff Writer

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Perhaps the most surprising turn of events in Saturday's game between UCLA and Illinois came on the first drive. The Fighting Illini marched 70 yards to the UCLA 10 and seemed a cinch to score.

Then came the surprise. The Bruins, whose defensive front had been all but nonexistent a week earlier in a season-opening loss to run-happy Oklahoma State, played effectively as a unit on four consecutive plays and halted the drive.

That not only gave the defense a boost it desperately needed, but allowed the offense to operate with the belief that its success wouldn't be matched by the opponent's. The stop, and the ensuing 96-yard scoring drive, gave the Bruins the confidence they needed to pull away from the Illini and prevail, 35-17, in front of 47,457 in Memorial Stadium.

"That really catapulted our team," said Coach Karl Dorrell, visibly relieved after UCLA had posted its first victory in seven tries dating to last Oct. 25 against Arizona State. "Our team fed off of that and did a nice job in sustaining through most of the game."

The Bruins' initial drive included a 41-yard touchdown pass from Drew Olson to senior wide receiver Craig Bragg, who made a diving fingertip catch to put UCLA ahead, 7-0.

After another defensive stop -- this, from a team that had given up 426 yards rushing against the Cowboys -- the Bruins needed only five plays to get into the end zone again, this time on a 47-yard touchdown run by Maurice Drew.

"We said we were going to try to go out there and quiet the crowd, and that's what we did," said Drew, who rushed 21 times for 142 yards.

Duly inspired, UCLA proceeded to employ a balanced offensive attack that seemed to wear on the Illinois defense. When the Illini were expecting Drew to come charging through the line, Olson gave the ball to Manuel White, who finished with 97 yards rushing.

With the running game working so well, Olson -- who ran four times, with a long of 29 yards -- was able to be selective with his passing.

Illinois made it 14-7 with a 16-yard touchdown pass from Jon Beutjer to Franklin Payne early in the second quarter, but UCLA countered three possessions later with a 14-yard touchdown pass from Olson to Bragg, who was uncovered in the corner of the end zone. "It was the easiest touchdown I ever caught," said Bragg, who finished with three receptions for 73 yards, giving him 2,522 for his career and moving him into third place on the school's all-time receiving yardage list, ahead of J.J. Stokes.

It was the easiest game in quite a while for the Bruin offense, which couldn't have cared less that it came against an opponent that was 1-11 last season and seems headed for a similar campaign this season. "There were some positive things out there," Illinois Coach Ron Turner said, sounding a lot like Dorrell last week.

On Saturday, the positives seemed all on the Bruins' side. White scored on a one-yard run with 10:20 left in the third quarter as the Bruins opened a 28-7 lead. After Illinois closed the gap to 28-17 early in the fourth quarter, Olson threw a 15-yard touchdown pass to tight end Marcedes Lewis to make it 35-17 with 8:12 to play.

Olson, whose three touchdown passes were a career high, completed 14 of 21 passes for 208 yards with one interception, coming on a pass batted at the line of scrimmage. Afterward, he summed up the Bruins' most complete offensive performance in more than a season.

"We just wanted the ball back," Olson said. "Every time the defense was out there, all we wanted was a turnover, and I haven't felt that before. That's a good feeling to have when you think you can score every time you touch the ball, and that's how it felt today."


UCLA's defensive line received a boost with the return of junior tackle C.J. Niusulu, who played for the first time this season after having arthroscopic knee surgery in late August.

The Bruins' defensive front also used senior Eyoseph Efseaff, who recently moved from offense. Efseaff finished with three tackles, including two solos.

"I felt like a rookie out there," said Efseaff, who had started 25 consecutive games at offensive guard heading into this season. "No words can describe the feeling I had.... It was great to be on the other side of the ball. I knew their center [Duke Preston] and we were talking it up all game."

UCLA had three new starters on defense in true freshman tackle Kenneth Lombard, redshirt freshman linebacker Aaron Whittington and sophomore strong safety Eric McNeal.

Times staff writer Lonnie White contributed to this report.

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