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A ripe new age

UCLA's lauded freshmen are able to rise to challenges in overtime victory over Tennessee in season opener. The younger players may get plenty more opportunities because of injuries.

September 03, 2008|Chris Foster | Times Staff Writer

UCLA free safety Rahim Moore followed the bouncing ball.

Tennessee was on the verge of taking a two-touchdown lead Monday night, with a first down at the Bruins' six-yard line.

Then linebacker Reggie Carter stripped Volunteers running back Arian Foster of the ball and in stepped Moore, a freshman.

"I saw the ball bouncing and I could have picked it up and gone the other way," Moore said. "Instead, I fell on it. Maybe I could have gone all the way, but I would rather we had the ball right there than to take the chance of giving them the ball back."

That's veteran maturity from a freshman, something the Bruins may need more of in the coming weeks.

UCLA's freshman class has been lauded and applauded. That it deserved such treatment seemed clear after the Bruins' 27-24 overtime victory over Tennessee that bumped the Bruins to No. 23 on Monday in the Associated Press poll.

Moore recovered a fumble and was mistake-free at safety.

Linebacker Sean Westgate returned a blocked punt for the Bruins' first touchdown.

Wide receivers Taylor Embree and Nelson Rosario had key receptions during UCLA's two fourth-quarter touchdown drives.

Tight end Cory Harkey, wide receiver Antwon Moutra and defensive back Tony Dye all logged playing time.

So the UCLA class of 2012 displayed its class in 2008.

"I'm amazed on a couple fronts," Coach Rick Neuheisel said. "One, that the freshmen were playing so well. Two, that they had to be playing. It is always gratifying when young kids answer the call, that's what makes them so special."

Those players could become even more important the next time out. The Bruins head to Provo, Utah, to face Brigham Young University on Sept. 13. They will do so without tight end Logan Paulsen, who was scheduled to have a screw inserted into his fractured foot and expected to sit out several weeks. And they probably will be without wide receiver Marcus Everett (dislocated toe) and tailback Kahlil Bell (sprained ankle).

That could result in more playing time for Harkey, Embree, Rosario and Moutra. Another freshman, Aundre Dean, could move into the rotation at tailback -- behind Chane Moline and Raymond Carter -- depending on Bell's status.

Freshmen running backs Johnathan Franklin and Milton Knox also may get a look as Neuheisel said, "It's not prudent to go into a game with just three backs."

Embree had four receptions for 53 yards against Tennessee. Twice he had third-down receptions on UCLA scoring drives, one that ended in a touchdown and the other in a field goal.

Rosario had one reception for 14 yards, coming on the touchdown drive that gave UCLA a 17-14 lead in the fourth quarter.

"I knew I was going to have to play more because Marcus was hurt," Rosario said. "I was just ready. They have been preparing us all summer, all week, it was just like another game. There is more to come. This is just the beginning."

Moore's moment, though, may have been what turned the game. A Tennessee touchdown probably would have put the game out of reach. Moore reacted like a veteran on the play.

"I was about to go hit Foster," Moore said. "I saw a little bit of his body peeking, then I saw the ball come out. I played it safe, fell on it. I got up and showed the referee that it was our ball and everyone went crazy."

Moore handled himself well at safety throughout the game and was in the right spot at the right time, then said the right things.

"This was a team victory," said Moore, who started in place of the suspended Bret Lockett. "Everyone had a hand in it. The veterans told me, 'Just do your job and don't try to make outrageous plays. Play the pass and stay focused.' We all stayed focused, that's why this was a team victory."

Still, Moore was impressed with his fellow freshmen.

"This is what they brought us here to do, that's the reason we're here, to make the team better," Moore said.

The Bruins had other first-time contributors. Redshirt freshman Akeem Ayers blocked the punt that was returned for a touchdown.

Carter, another redshirt freshman, had only 19 yards rushing behind a line that is still a work in progress, but his race for the flag on a three-yard touchdown gave the Bruins a 17-14 lead.

"We aren't the NFL, we can't get waiver wire," Neuheisel said. "The waiver wire is right here and we're going to have to keep calling on our youngsters. If it's not freshmen, then it's going to be guys who lack the experience."

Against Tennessee, it was enough.


Linebacker Reggie Carter suffered a strained medial collateral ligament, but the injury is not considered, "significant," Neuheisel said.


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