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It's moving day for the offense

UCLA needs to have that unit catch up with the defense, and new coordinator Norvell hopes to get off to a good start against Stanford.

September 01, 2007|Chris Foster | Times Staff Writer

The plan is simple today.

"We want to execute everything perfectly and blow out Stanford," UCLA tailback Chris Markey said.

The details, ah, well, that's a bit more involved.

Dotting the power "I's" and crossing the split "Ts" has been a group project the last three weeks. But for now, the Bruins' grade for offense is an incomplete -- a word associated too often with that unit a year ago.

The Bruins' offense is the gray area that probably will determine whether this is a season for the scrapbook, or another for the scrapheap. The first step in either direction comes today at Stanford, a Pacific 10 Conference game against a Cardinal team that has had five consecutive losing seasons, matching the longest streak in the program's 113-year history.

A year ago, the UCLA defense made a quantum leap under coordinator DeWayne Walker, whose jewel-in-the-crown moment was holding USC to nine points -- the last time the Trojans failed to score at least 10 points, Stanford was actually the Pac-10 champion.

Offensive coordinator Jay Norvell is being asked to duplicate Walker's one-year turn-around, which, if successful, could land UCLA in the type of bowl game that doesn't sound as if it's part of a budget tour package -- El Paso on $12 a day.

"We want to show we have a lot of potential to do great things and teams had better be careful with us," Coach Karl Dorrell said.

Stanford is the perfect test case.

Opening the season with a conference game would be of greater concern if it was any other conference team. The Bruins could not have hand picked a better opponent.

The pledge on the cover of the Stanford media guide lacks only the appropriate subtitles:

Our House (the year-old digs where the Cardinal have yet to win a game).

Our Team (which was outscored 377-127 last season).

Our Dream (Hmmm. To hold USC under triple digits?).

"I think this is a group that's tired of getting their butts kicked," first-year Coach Jim Harbaugh said. "That makes them very open to changing the culture, changing the attitude. They don't like going to class Monday after a loss on Saturday. That's no fun for anybody."

The fun at Stanford Stadium will still probably be had by opposing teams. The Cardinal has a handful of talented players -- receiver Mark Bradford, a Fremont High product, is one -- but Harbaugh will be hard pressed to produce a dramatic turn-around in one season.

Norvell's job should be easier. After spending three seasons teaching the forward pass to Nebraska, he brought West Coast offense upgrades with him.

Said Dorrell: "He did such a nice turn-around at Nebraska in such a short period of time, given how their offensive system was and what it is now, that he seemed to be the most qualified out there to get us to be improved in what we do."

That is expected to bring radical change to the way the Bruins try to move the ball.

* Markey was the Bruins' leading receiver with 35 catches last season. That honor will almost certainly go to a receiver this season.

* The Bruins scored 39 times from inside the 20 in 2006, but 20 were field goals. They spent a considerable amount of time practicing to bring touchdowns back into the game plan.

* The deep pass, white-rhino-like rare in 2006, will be utilized to stretch the defense.

"The beauty of the system is the flexibility," Norvell said. "Is it just a short passing game? Not really. It has flexibility in the way we run the ball, pass the ball out different formations and adjustments we can make to take advantage of people's talent."

Teaching that theory has led quarterback Ben Olson and others to spend more time in the film room than the average movie critic.

"He's very meticulous watching film," Olson said of Norvell. "We can spend 5-10 minutes on one play."

But it sinks in, right down to the Norvell-speak.

Said Markey: "It's about the little details. If you focus on the little things, the big things fall into place."

Dorrell is cautious to keep expectations low, at least before the Bruins take Norvell's scheme out for a test drive today.

Asked whether the offense has changed under Norvell, Dorrell said, "We'll see. It's one question I can't answer until actually see what he's brought."

Asked about whether the offense has to make big gains -- literally and figuratively -- this season, Dorrell said, "We don't expect to be the best offense in the country. We're still developing. We have room to grow."

His players, though, think it's time for growth spurt.

"The defense stepped up last year, and we showed signs that we can be a good offense, but we need to do it consistently," Markey said. "There is definitely a sense of urgency for the offense. We feel we have to catch up with the defense."



Keys to the Game

No. 14 UCLA (7-6, 5-4 in Pac-10 in 2006)

at Stanford (1-11, 1-8)

Today, 12:30 p.m.

TV: FSN Prime Ticket. Radio: 570

1 Defensive pressure. UCLA, with 10 starters returning on defense, should be able to get in the face of Cardinal quarterback T.C. Ostrander. If the Bruins, don't, Stanford has quality receivers in Mark Bradford, Richard Sherman and Evan Moore. UCLA needs to protect quarterback Ben Olson because, with Patrick Cowan injured, it lacks an experienced backup.

2 Run blocking.

The best way for UCLA to get Olson off on the right foot is to put the Cardinal defense on its heels. Control the line and let Chris Markey give the Cardinal a flashback to last season, when it gave up 210 yards rushing a game. Stanford needs to run to control the flow to keep the score close.

3 Show up.

The Bruins must get to the game on time, but not with a "we're here, give us our victory" attitude. This should be a gimme game, but only if the Bruins take it from the start. Letting the Cardinal hang around encourages we-can-do-this thoughts.

-- Chris Foster

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