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Bruin Defense Forces Issue

November 13, 2005|Ben Bolch | Times Staff Writer

Taken in any other context, the film session that awaits UCLA seniors Marcus Cassel, Spencer Havner and Jarrad Page following the Bruins' 45-35 victory over Arizona State might seem like just another in a season-long series of horror shows.

There were blown coverages and missed tackles galore Saturday evening at the Rose Bowl. The Sun Devils piled up 515 yards of offense, converted eight of 14 third-down attempts and scored touchdowns on four consecutive first-half possessions.

None of which explains why Cassel, Havner and Page wore wide grins and were serenaded afterward during a surprise appearance by the UCLA band outside the locker room.

The trio of seniors made the crucial plays the No. 14 Bruins needed to rebound from a humiliating loss and stay on track for a shot at a share of the Pacific 10 Conference title when they play top-ranked USC on Dec. 3 at the Coliseum.

"I feel like all the seniors on the team have done a great job of framing the attitude of showing [the underclassmen] what we can be," said Page, the safety who made a team-high 10 tackles and recovered a fumble. "We were going to go out and make a statement that it's not over."

Nobody embodied that sentiment more than Cassel, the cornerback who broke up two passes and forced two fumbles, one after being beaten on a post route by wide receiver Derek Hagan midway through the third quarter. Cassel stuck with the play and knocked the ball out of Hagan's hands, allowing Page to recover at the Bruin 18-yard line.

"He made a move off the line and got a little separation," Cassel said of Hagan. "I saw the ball and shot my hand in there to knock it out."

After UCLA marched 82 yards for the go-ahead score, Cassel again ripped the ball out of Hagan's hands, this time after a short reception in Sun Devil territory. Safety Dennis Keyes recovered and the Bruins scored five plays later for a 42-28 lead.

"He tomahawked the ball out, and it's a big play," UCLA defensive coordinator Larry Kerr said of Cassel, who bruised his inner thigh midway through the fourth quarter and did not return. "Any time one of the teams stopped the other, it was like, 'Wow.' We ended up being the better defensive team because we forced the turnovers."

Havner, who had recovered a fumble in the first quarter to stifle a drive deep in Bruin territory, made his presence felt again on the first play of the fourth. The linebacker stuffed Arizona State tailback Keegan Herring for a two-yard loss on third down, forcing the Sun Devils to punt.

"I knew if we kept grinding, we had the character and heart to come out on top," Havner said of the Bruins, who saw their dreams of an unbeaten season end last week with a 52-14 loss to Arizona. "I'm so happy to be part of this team this year."

It's a team that went 6-0 at the Rose Bowl for the first time since 1987 and now has three weeks to prepare for the Trojans.

"It helps a lot," Havner said of a victory that improved the Bruins' record to 9-1. "You've got three weeks not to think about a loss; you can build on a win. To get to play for the championship against SC is huge for me."

Said Cassel of his mind-set: "It's not a thing of 'told you so'; it's more 'don't count us out.' We believe if we all play together -- offense, defense and special teams -- that there's no team that can beat us."

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