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Defense will carry the load early

September 01, 2007|Chris Foster | Times Staff Writer

Defense wins championships, or, in UCLA's case, gets you to the Emerald Bowl, where you give up 44 points in a loss to Florida State.

That may be a little long for a cliché, but the rock that the Bruins are clinging to this season is on the defensive side of the ball. UCLA has 10 starters back, seven of whom may have an NFL future.

The success of last season, with the 13-9 victory over USC as the centerpiece, allowed the Bruins to bring a different attitude to training camp. Yet complacency does not seem to be an issue.

"We have to keep that chip on our shoulder," middle linebacker Christian Taylor said. "People are patting us on the back, saying, 'Oh dear, you got a great defense, you guys are going to be great.' Well, the reason we were good last season was we had a chip on our shoulder. Everybody on our defense was told they were something -- too small, too slow. We have to remember that."

The Bruins rode that I'll-show-you spirit up the defensive charts. They ranked 113th in total defense out of 117 Division I-A teams in 2005 but were 35th among 119 teams last season.

UCLA was also tied for sixth in sacks and held seven teams under 300 total yards.

They say they will take that same intensity into this season.

"That fire is there and then some," cornerback Rodney Van said. "It's burning a new way. We put in a new fuel. This year, the new fuel is the Pac-10 and national championship. Last year it was to get respect back, to get people saying, 'The Bruins have a good team; the Bruins have potential.'

"This year everybody knows we have the players and the potential, now it's time to take that next step. That's new fuel to the fire."

Fuel that can carry the offense?

"I think our offense will be able to support us later on down the line," Van said. "The first game is going to be rough, because we don't know what Stanford is going to do and we have a new offense. I think the first or second quarter, the offense will be clicking. Our coaches are smart. They know how to figure things out, then we'll be firing with two machines."

Quarterback Ben Olson says he is better prepared for this season because of his partial year of experience in 2006.

He started five games a year ago before suffering a knee injury and did not return to the lineup.

"I think I have gotten a little wiser and understand things a little better, having done it last year," Olson said. "Just having the opportunity to go through it twice now is a little easier. You know a little more what to expect."

The first thing kicker Kai Forbath will do when he gets on the field today to warm up for his first collegiate game? "I'll look to see what the goal posts are like," said Forbath, a redshirt freshman. "I hate short uprights because they might not be able to tell if a high kick is good." . . . Stanford has lost eight consecutive home games. . . . UCLA Coach Karl Dorrell is 2-2 in season openers and has a 3-1 record against Stanford.

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chris.foster@latimes.com

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