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UCLA Still Trying Not to Look Ahead

Bruins face Arizona today, but it's hard to forget that a victory would put them one win away from an unbeaten record on Dec. 3 against USC.

November 05, 2005|Lonnie White | Times Staff Writer

TUCSON — Before the season, UCLA Coach Karl Dorrell did not shy away from talking about USC and how the Bruins matched up with the two-time defending national champions.

"USC is off and doing great things across town," Dorrell said in August. "But like any competitive person, you are looking to do great things yourself. If anything, this inspires me to be that much better at what I do. When you are on top, it's a great feeling. We've been there before and we will get there again."

The Bruins, No. 5 in the bowl championship series standings and ranked No. 7 by Associated Press, are two victories away from heading into their Dec. 3 rivalry game against the Trojans undefeated.

"We're excited that we are being recognized," tight end Marcedes Lewis said. "But after the rankings come out, it's back to business. We can't focus on that stuff. We have games to play. We want to be 1-0 every week."

Standing in the way today is Arizona (2-6 overall, 1-4 in the Pacific 10 Conference), which has lost four in a row against the Bruins (8-0, 5-0).

Last year, UCLA trounced Arizona, 37-17, at the Rose Bowl. But the Wildcats play an aggressive style of defense that could give UCLA problems. Last week, the Wildcats had six interceptions in a 29-27 victory at Oregon State.

The main defender against the Beavers was junior safety Michael Johnson, a junior college transfer who picked off three passes, including one he returned 40 yards for a touchdown. He also had a career-high nine tackles.

"Arizona is going to be tough," UCLA running back Maurice Drew said. "That's why I don't really worry about the BCS or any rankings because we have enough things to be concerned about."

The Bruins, the fifth-best scoring team in the nation at 42.6 points per game, should be able to move the ball against Arizona, which gave up 654 yards to Oregon State and 724 against USC early in the season.

The Wildcats' biggest problem has been their inability to stop the run. They rank next to last in the Pac-10 -- just ahead of the Bruins -- giving up 185 yards per game. But UCLA's ground attack gained only 79 yards last week in an overtime victory against Stanford.

"We have taken the attitude that this game is our biggest game of the season and the kids understand that," UCLA offensive coordinator Tom Cable said. "We have left no stone unturned this week. We've put some new stuff in. We're excited about going against their pressure defense."

The Bruins will be looking to start fast today after pulling off four come-from-behind, fourth-quarter victories in their last five games. Getting the ball to Drew would be a good place to start.

In eight games, Drew has accounted for 1,474 all-purpose yards and scored 18 touchdowns. He leads the nation in punt returns with a 29.1-yard average and is gaining 8.6 yards every time he touches the ball.

Then there is senior quarterback Drew Olson, whose 165.3 pass efficiency rating is fifth in the nation. Olson has completed 173 of 257 passes (67.3%) for 2,167 yards and 23 touchdowns with only three interceptions.

His main target has been Lewis, the team leader with 37 receptions for 472 yards and six touchdowns. Lewis caught three touchdown passes against Arizona last season

"They can score at will when they get it going," Arizona Coach Mike Stoops said about UCLA. "When you look at Drew Olson, Marcedes Lewis and the running back Maurice Drew, those are three highly skilled guys.

"They do a great job of getting them the ball in a variety of different ways with screen passes and verticals. They are very smart in what they are attempting to do. They are hard to keep down."

The Bruins have had 27 touchdown drives of 64 yards or longer and in their last five games have outscored opponents, 83-26, in the fourth quarter and overtime.

If UCLA wins today, it would be the fourth time in school history that the Bruins began a season with nine victories. But to Drew, that streak is secondary.

"If you overlook anybody in this league, you can get beat," Drew said. "We already know that with our games against Washington State, Washington and Stanford.

"Those were close games that we somehow won. We don't want to make it that close [today]."

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Marquee matchups

A look at today's top games, all times Pacific:

STANFORD (4-3) AT NO. 1 USC (8-0)

7 p.m., Channel TBS

The Trojans have won 24 in a row at the Coliseum. The last loss? To Stanford, 21-16, in 2001.

NO. 7 UCLA (8-0) AT ARIZONA (2-6)

3:15 p.m., Channel FSN West 2

Bruins try for a rare double with victories over Bob Stoops (Oklahoma) and Mike Stoops (Arizona).

NO. 5 MIAMI (6-1) AT NO. 3 VIRGINIA TECH (8-0) 4:45 p.m., ESPN

They'll be doing the Hokie Pokie in Blacksburg if Virginia Tech beats its hated rival.

NO. 14. WISCONSIN (8-1) AT NO. 10 PENN ST. (8-1) 12:30 p.m.

If you had Joe Paterno retiring before Barry Alvarez in the office pool, you are going to lose.

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