SOUTH BEND, Ind. — UCLA hasn't played Notre Dame in 42 years, but that doesn't mean the Bruins don't have people associated with their football program who know what it's like to play inside tradition-rich Notre Dame Stadium.
Bruins assistants Jim Colletto and Chuck Bullough both have plenty of experience. Colletto played and coached against the Fighting Irish, then coached for Notre Dame. Bullough faced the Irish four times playing for Michigan State, then twice more as a coach with the Spartans.
"There are only a couple of stadiums that are great to play in," said Bullough, UCLA's linebackers coach. "The Rose Bowl, the Big House [Michigan Stadium], the Coliseum and here.
"Just to be able to say 20 years from now, 'Hey, I played in that stadium,' that's special. It's going to be the same way for them next year when Notre Dame comes out here to play in the Rose Bowl."
UCLA comes into the nonconference game with a 4-2 record and as heavy underdogs to the 5-1 Irish, who have significant advantages in size and experience.
Oh, and Notre Dame also has a quarterback who didn't spend the last part of last game struggling to call signals.
UCLA quarterback Patrick Cowan took a blow to the throat last Saturday against Oregon, leaving his voice raspy and prompting coaches this week to practice other forms of calling plays.
But Cowan is expected to be nearly 100% today, which is a good thing because of Notre Dame's noisy crowd and the fact that Coach Karl Dorrell will need his team clicking on all cylinders against an impressive Irish lineup.
"They are well balanced on offense and their defense is solid," Dorrell said of No. 10 Notre Dame. "Their special teams are solid too. You can tell that they are well coached in every area."
If the Bruins are to pull off an upset and gain a much-needed national boost with a victory over the Irish, they can't get caught up in the Notre Dame mystique before the opening kickoff.
"I tell my players all of the time that it doesn't matter where you're playing because when you're on the field, you're not thinking about what stadium you're in," Bullough said. "Maybe in warm-ups but not once the game starts.
"You have to be thinking about winning and what you have to do to win.... We need a victory over anybody right now. We know that."
Colletto, UCLA's offensive line coach, agreed: "When the game starts, you forget all the hoopla around you."
Colletto's memories of Notre Dame span decades.
In 1963, he was a sophomore fullback for the Bruins when they were defeated, 27-12, at Notre Dame. The next year, Colletto played in UCLA's 24-0 loss to the Irish.
"I remember the first time, lining up and looking down the field and seeing those guys in the green jerseys and gold helmets," Colletto said. "Then there was 'Touchdown Jesus' looking down at me and I said, 'What the heck am I doing out here?' "
After leaving UCLA, Colletto spent six seasons as head coach at Purdue, where he played against Notre Dame every season. Then after being let go by the Boilermakers in 1996, Colletto was offensive coordinator for the Irish for two seasons.
Most of UCLA's players know at least something about Notre Dame's history. Junior middle linebacker Christian Taylor grew up watching Notre Dame football but instead of dreaming of playing for the Irish, he always wanted to have a chance to play against them here in South Bend.
"I watched it growing up, but it wasn't like they were my favorite team by any means," said Taylor, who attended Salinas High in Northern California. "I was never in awe about them. You always heard about Notre Dame and when I was little they were popular and battling for the national championship every year."
Of course, the Bruins will be facing more than tradition today. The Irish will probably try to exploit their size advantage with their offensive line over the Bruins' defensive front.
Led by 300-pound Dan Santucci, the Irish start an experienced front -- four seniors plus freshman tackle Sam Young. The line does a consistent job protecting senior quarterback Brady Quinn and opening holes for running back Darius Walker.
UCLA, which relies on quickness rather than size, needs a huge game from undersized ends Justin Hickman and Bruce Davis. In last week's 30-20 loss at Oregon, the duo combined for only one sack.
"We definitely need to bring our A-game because [Coach] Charlie Weis runs such a diverse offense," said UCLA defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker, who coached in Notre Dame Stadium as an assistant with USC when the Trojans lost to the Irish in 2001. "We definitely have our work cut out for us."
The Bruins are now in the middle of the pack in the Pacific 10 Conference and need to finish the season strong to get into a high-profile bowl game. Their challenge will not be easy.
"I don't like the phrase 'statement game,' " Taylor said. "I feel that every game you have you should be ready to play. We were ready to make a statement against Oregon, but we didn't. The biggest test for us is to see how we rebound."
With the tough portion of their early season schedule complete, the Irish will be trying to finish strong to position themselves for the biggest possible bowl game.
"At Notre Dame, every game is important because for one, you're not in a conference and No. 2 -- I know from working there -- you're going to get your opponent's best game," Colletto said.
"No matter who it was, you knew they were going to come to play."
Now, for the first time since 1964, it's UCLA's turn.