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A quick look: UCLA

Over the summer I will be previewing all of Utah's opponents. I've already done Oregon State and Air Force today I'll take a look at UCLA, who Utah will play the third week of the season.

2006 Record
7-6 (5-4 P-10, Fourth)
Season in review
If there has been one thing consistent about UCLA during the Karl Dorrell era, it's been their inconsistency. Since taking over the Bruins in 2003, UCLA has struggled to find its identity. Last year wasn't any better, as they entered the season with high hopes of winning the Pacific Ten and having another 10-win season. Yet even after starting 2-0, including a fairly dominant win over Utah, the Bruins were embarrassed by a mediocre Washington team and endured a 4-game losing streak that took them out of Pacific Ten contention.

Things were looking rather bleak for UCLA, as they sat at 4-5 with only 3 games left in the season. Yet a surprisingly easy win over Oregon State started a resurgence of sorts, as the Bruins would finish the regular season winning 3-straight and guaranteeing a fifth consecutive bowl berth. That third straight win was rather epic, as it came against the presumed national championship bound USC Trojans. The low scoring game ended the Trojans national championship hopes and saved an otherwise disappointing season for Karl Dorrell's boys. However the Bruins failed to capitalize on their big victory over USC and faltered in the Emerald Bowl.

Bowl Recap
Entering the 2006 Emerald Bowl on the heels of a 3 game winning streak, including a surprising victory over USC, the Bruins faded against the Seminoles. They opened up a 20-13 lead in the first half and held a slight 27-23 edge heading into the third quarter before giving up 21-point fourth quarter and losing the game 44-27. That ended UCLA's season at a rather mediocre and poor 7-6.

The Bruins enter the 2007 season with hopes of leaving last year's 7-6 year firmly in their rearview mirror. And they very well could, however the program will have to mature in the coaching department for this to happen.

UCLA has the talent to compete for a conference crown and there really isn't a logical excuse as to why they've been so mediocre under the leadership of Karl Dorrell. Outside of 2005's 10-2 season, UCLA has struggled to remove itself from the dominant shadow of cross-town rival USC. And even though last year's victory against the Trojans showed what UCLA was capable of doing, they will need to consistently play at that level if they are going to be a true Pacific Ten force. Otherwise they will be stuck winning 7 or 8 games most years with the occasional 10-win season. That probably sounds familiar to Ute fans, as this is something they experienced under the leadership of Ron McBride during the 90s.

But there is talent and if the talent can be properly utilized by the UCLA coaching staff this season, look out, because they will be a force.

UCLA returns 10 players on offense, including Pat Cowan at quarterback. Utah won't be familiar with Cowan, as he replaced the injured Ben Olson, who went down against Arizona a few weeks after UCLA's victory over Utah. Cowan stepped in and guided the Bruins to a 3-5 record, competing 145 out of 276 passes for 1,782 yards and 11 touchdowns.

Cowan is pretty much an enigma for UCLA. While he guided the Bruins to a win over USC, he was also at the helm of five losses. Certainly this means Ben Olson will most likely be seeing a ton of playing time in 2007. As the two battle it out for the starting spot, UCLA will probably still have far too many weapons on offense to struggle. Yet one wonders if the change, bringing in Jay Norvell as the offensive coordinator from Nebraska, will help.

Look for the Bruins to run a solid and successful version of the West Coast offense. And even though UCLA has talked up its offense in years past, it often fizzled, leading to wide sweeping coaching changes under Dorrell's leadership. Yet Jay Norvell is a solid offensive coach, who spent three years at Nebraska running the same offense under Bill Callahan. UCLA will also benefit from a strong offensive line and running game. They return senior Chris Markey, who ran for 1,107 yards last year. He was also the Bruins leading receiver, with 35 receptions and 261 yards. However if the UCLA offense is going to succeed, they will need to be far more consistent. Last year saw the Bruins average only 20 points in their six losses. They will also need to step up redzone production, which was a major weakness for UCLA last year. The Bruins were 2nd in the NCAA in redzone field goals and while points are points, this is a sign of a weak offense and against tougher opponents, UCLA will need to punch it into the end zone far more times than they did in '06 to have a highly successful season. They also might not want to settle for field goals this season, as they replace kicker Justin Medlock with freshman Kai Forbath. It remains to be seen how good he can be.

On defense, the Bruins should be solid as they return 10 starters from last year's decent unit. UCLA was atop the Pac Ten in run defense, as well as tackles for losses. Which means they have a solid defensive line and that might pose a problem for Utah if the offensive line struggles and they can't find any running game. But the Bruins aren't without their losses, as they have to replace defensive end Justin Hickman. Luckily for them though, they have three seniors returning, including Bruce Davis. Davis was the Bruins leader in sacks last year and is a potential All-American.

UCLA also has a solid secondary with the return of Chris Horton at safety. Horton led the Bruins in tackles last year with 95 and he will be joined at the safety spot by another senior, Dennis Keyes. The Bruins' defense is experienced, tough and surprisingly quick. That could spell trouble for Utah if they aren't competent on offense, which plagued them when these two teams met last season.

On paper, UCLA might be the toughest team Utah faces this year. However I'm not sold on Karl Dorrell's ability. And it appears I'm not alone, as Bruins Nation has advocated possible change at the top and there is even a website up urging the athletic department to Dump Dorrell. If UCLA struggles to be consistent again this season, it won't be because of not having the talent to do so. The failures of this team will be because the coaching staff is incapable of getting the most out of this team and that could ultimately lead to the demise of Coach Dorrell.

Utah won't win this game by having more talent than UCLA. It will take Coach Whittingham out coaching someone that at times looks completely lost out there. Yet last year Whittingham was the one that looked confused and lost, as the Bruins ran circles around the Utes. However this game is being played in Salt Lake, with Brian Johnson returning and UCLA is only 1-10 on the road against teams above .500. That stat might doom UCLA to a defeat here. Then again, sometimes talent can compensate for coaching, which should be the case this September. UCLA has no business losing to Utah, not at home and not even on the road. The Utes are good, but UCLA has far too much depth and talent to lose this game.

Quick Look
Head Coach: Karl Dorrell (29-21)
Last Bowl: 2006 Emerald Bowl (44-27 loss to Florida State)
Returning Starters: 10 on defense, 10 on offense
2007 Schedule:
@ Stanford
BYU
@ UTAH
Washington
@ Oregon State
Notre Dame
Cal
@ Washington State
@ Arizona
Arizona State
Oregon
@ USC