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Baca to take on key role

September 27, 2008|Chris Foster | Times Staff Writer

Jeff Baca will trot onto the field today as UCLA's starting left tackle, the first time the Bruins have started a true freshman on the offensive line since Shannon Tevaga in 2004.

Baca, who this time last year was playing for Mission Viejo High, will be asked to help improve a running game that ranks 117th out of 119 major-college teams, as well as protect quarterback Kevin Craft's blind side.

That's a big order for anyone, even if he's 6 feet 4, 280 pounds.

But Baca knows it's an honor. And he knows what's expected.

"Nothing is set in stone," he said. "I have to prove I deserve to be out there."

Baca was thrust into the lineup in the third quarter last week, when starter Micah Kia experienced back spasms.

"There is so much more I have to learn," Baca said. "I have to keep my knee bent. I've got to get lower. I made a lot of freshman mistakes.

"The game showed me that practice is much more important. You have to value each rep and make it into a game situation."

That eagerness must seem like music to offensive line coach Bob Palcic's ears.

"Baca has a long way to go, but I like what I've seen so far," Palcic said.

The key, according to the coach, is "patience."

"The jump from high school to college is like going from college to the pros," Palcic said. "In high school, you face maybe one or two guys who will play Division I college football."

Still, Palcic said, "There comes a point that if you're going to play, you have to step up and take care of business."

Injury report

Fresno State linebacker Nick Bates practiced with a cast on his injured arm this week and is expected to play. Wide receiver Jason Crawley, out because of a hamstring problem, is questionable. Wide receiver Devon Wylie, out because of a foot injury, is doubtful.

UCLA tailback Kahlil Bell (ankle) and wide receiver Nelson Rosario (knee) are expected to play. Center Micah Reed (knee) and tight end Cory Harkey are questionable.


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