UCLA freshman tackle Jeff Baca has caught Oregon defensive end Nick Reed's act, harassing quarterbacks, dominating games and creating chaos, since the two were at Mission Viejo High.
Now, for the first time, it will be Baca's job to stop him. Reed, one of the top pass rushers in the nation, will set up shop across from Baca on Saturday, when the Bruins play the Oregon in Eugene.
Baca was a freshman at Mission Viejo the last time he and Reed were in the same stadium for a game. Reed, then a senior at Mission Viejo, was on the field. Baca was in the stands.
"Four years ago, I was looking down on him at our high school stadium, just wanting to play on that field," Baca said. "He's dominating on the field and I was thinking about the day I could play for the varsity. Saturday, I will be lining up two feet from him."
That presents specific problems.
Reed shared the Pacific 10 Conference lead, and was third nationally, with 12 sacks last season. He also led the conference with 22.5 tackles for a loss. This year, he leads the conference with six sacks and is tied for the lead with 9.5 tackles for a loss.
So lining up a freshman that has two college starts against Reed might seem to be cruel and unusual punishment. But UCLA offensive line coach Bob Palcic is cautiously optimistic.
"I think Jeff is up to the task," Palcic said. "I told the entire team that this Reed kid is the real deal. He has all the moves and he's quick. I'm looking forward to seeing how Jeff handles the situation."
Baca has improved dramatically since training camp, overcoming a knee injury. He made his first appearance against Arizona on Sept. 20 and has been in the lineup ever since.
Palcic said that he could throw Baca some support from his teammates this week.
"There are things we can do to help him," Palcic said. "We can slide the protection to him. We can have a back chip the defensive end on the way out of the backfield. We can also put a tight end on his side to constrict rush area. We will do it if we have to."
Baca and Reed have become friends over the years.
"We hung out last summer some, but I never expected to play against him," Baca said. "I didn't think I was going to play at all as a freshman and I was expecting to play guard, not tackle. It's crazy how it all worked out."
And his plan?
"I've got to pass protect really well," said Baca, whose job it is to cover quarterback Kevin Craft's blind side. "He's a phenomenal athlete. I have to be patient, get into him, try to grab some cloth and try to floor him."
Kicker Kai Forbath, who has handled field goals and extra points the last two seasons, was getting a look at handling the kickoff duties during Wednesday's practice. Jimmy Rotstein has done that job for the Bruins for the last two seasons.
"We're just trying to create some competition," UCLA Coach Rick Neuheisel said. "Jimmy does a nice job, but we need to get the ball farther down the field. Right now the other team's average starting field position is between the 30- and 40- yard line and that's too much field position to give up."
Odds and split ends
Center Micah Reed, trying to return from a strained left knee, sat out practice a day after suiting up to do individual drills and will probably be out at least another week. . . . Freshman quarterback Nick Crissman will have surgery on his right shoulder Friday. He will be out two to three months. . . . Wide receiver Marcus Everett (dislocated toe) will make the trip to Eugene, but he is not expected to play. . . . Neuheisel said he wasn't sure when linebacker Kyle Bosworth would return from a knee injury.