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They are passing over pages in playbook on going long

November 25, 2008|David Wharton | Wharton is a Times staff writer.

It's no secret the UCLA offense has struggled to stretch the field this season, averaging 10.4 yards per pass completion.

That ranks below most Pacific 10 Conference teams. USC, by comparison, averages 13 yards and Arizona State -- the Bruins' opponent Friday night -- averages almost 12.

Coach Rick Neuheisel said his game plan includes plenty of deep pass routes, even if quarterback Kevin Craft has not thrown the ball downfield very often.

"He's capable of it," Neuheisel said. "I would not call his arm a really strong arm, but it's an accurate and flexible arm. It's just a matter of getting it off with the right timing."

Craft threw deep on several occasions during an unusual night practice Monday and said he would like to do more of the same during games but has focused on becoming a more efficient passer and trying to cut down on interceptions.

"If the pass down the field's not there, look to your second and third receiver," Craft said. "We'll play within our offense . . . the deeper balls will come."

Neuheisel suggested that a constantly rotating offensive line has hampered the passing game.

"Partially, we call plays based on what we feel we can protect," he said. "We have not majored in that in terms of holding the ball and the old double-move.

"But don't think that it's still not in the book. It's in there. Cobwebs are being dusted off."

Alternate view

Arizona State also has faltered offensively this season, so it makes sense that Coach Dennis Erickson praised the UCLA defense at his weekly news conference.

"They are as good as any defense we've seen," Erickson said.

Friday night means a lot to both teams in that they need to win the remainder of their games to become bowl eligible. Both teams also are coming off victories.

The Sun Devils, led by senior quarterback Rudy Carpenter, were expected to have a good season but, like UCLA, have not played well up front.

They did, however, score 39 and 31 points in their last two games, against Washington and Washington State, respectively. Erickson expects UCLA to be tougher, especially for a Sun Devils offense that is giving up almost three sacks a game.

Erickson singled out the play of UCLA defensive tackles Brigham Harwell and Brian Price.

"If you're good in the middle, like they are, and penetrate and create problems, that's where it starts," he said. "They have a lot of experience in their front seven, and their secondary has played well for them."

Name game

Receiver Terrence Austin said he has heard talk about Friday's game.

"Somebody said something about 'The Survival Bowl,' " Austin said. "We're in the same situation. We're both fighting to get to a bowl game at the end of the season."

Healthy outlook

Safety Rahim Moore, who injured an ankle in practice over the weekend, spent most of practice watching from the sideline, but said he would play Friday. Center Jake Dean sat out with a cold.

The optimistic Neuheisel also felt under the weather, saying, "I've got a little bit of a cold, but I still feel great."


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