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UCLA's 2008 season at a glance

Brains, yes, but where's brawn?

August 25, 2008|Chris Foster | Times Staff Writer

Offense

As a preseason primer, rent "The Money Pit" with Tim Hanks and Shelley Long. Watch it. Suffer through it. UCLA fans, you're ready for the season.

The Bruins' offense could be an equally unpleasant remake about Coach Rick Neuheisel rebuilding his dream house. The Bruins have good people in place on offense, but the best and the brightest will be wearing headsets, not helmets -- offensive coordinator Norm Chow and line coach Bob Palcic.

Everything comes down to the offensive line. Quarterback Kevin Craft will get rid of the ball quickly. Tailback Kahlil Bell appears to have regained his speed and cutting ability following knee surgery. But if the o-line doesn't develop, well . . . ever see "The Alamo?"

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Defense

Someday, UCLA is going to lose defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker to a school offering a head coaching position. Until then, the Bruins can bank on having a quick, ball-hawking defense.

This group is extremely strong up the middle, with defensive tackles Brigham Harwell and Brian Price and middle linebacker Reggie Carter. The secondary needs more experience, but there is talent. The hope in Westwood is for the defense to smother opponents, create turnovers, maybe score a touchdown week in and week out.

The concern is the defense will keep games close, but spend an eternity on the field and wear down in the fourth quarter (see 2007 Washington State game as an example).

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Special teams

Punter Aaron Perez has an NFL leg and kicker Kai Forbath had a strong freshman season. Terrence Austin has big-play speed as a punt returner.

The hole is on the kickoff return team, as Matthew Slater was the Bruins' best offensive weapon at the end of the 2007 season -- problematic as the other team would have to score to get Slater on the field more than once. Austin and Raymond Carter will try to fill the void. The Bruins will benefit from special teams coach Frank Gansz Jr., whose attention to detail and drill-sergeant approach demand perfection.

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In depth

A concern, even on defense. But a talented incoming class will help. As many as a dozen true freshmen could see playing time. It gives the Bruins talented depth at running back, wide receiver and the secondary. The price? Well, freshmen will be freshmen. Carter, a redshirt freshman, could become invaluable at tailback as the season progresses.

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Key games

The relentlessly optimistic view through rose-colored glasses is for a bowl bid. With Tennessee, Brigham Young and Fresno State on the nonconference docket, that will be tough. So the first order of business will be to take care of business against beatable Pacific 10 Conference teams.

* Arizona, Sept. 20. A game UCLA should not have lost last year, but did. This season, the game follows Tennessee and BYU.

* Washington State, Oct. 4. See Arizona. This season, the Cougars come to the Rose Bowl, where they have won on their last three visits.

* Stanford, Oct. 18. The Bruins clawed and pawed the Cardinal in the season opener. Stanford went on to become an even bigger UCLA fan favorite in October, though Cardinal Coach Jim Harbaugh probably was scratched from Pete Carroll's Christmas card list.

* at Washington, Nov. 15. The Huskies and Jake Locker scared the daylights out of the Bruins last season before losing. This will be Neuheisel's return to Seattle. Odds are Huskies fans are already devising their welcome-back plans.

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chris.foster@latimes.com

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