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Bruins misfire on all cylinders

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The question caused Patrick Cowan to stop for a moment. Standing in front of his locker, the UCLA quarterback wiped his face with a towel.

What had gone wrong with the Bruins' offense?"Um," Cowan said. "I'm not sure."

This was supposed to be the week the running game got back on track. Instead, the Bruins managed only 74 yards on the ground.

This was supposed to be the week Cowan built on a decent performance against Notre Dame. Instead, he completed less than half of his passes and two of them were intercepted.

It added up to a single touchdown and an otherwise frustrating performance as UCLA lost to Washington State, 37-15, at the Rose Bowl on Saturday.

The offense did not deserve all the blame — the defense struggled too. But center Robert Chai echoed Cowan's sentiments afterward.

"It seems like there's always one person messing up on the job," he said. "The line will block well and someone drops a pass. Or it's a good pass and the line misses a block."

The game started off well for UCLA, the Bruins taking their second possession into Washington State territory. Then tailback Chane Moline was stuffed for no gain and a third-down pass fell incomplete.

Thus began a stretch in which UCLA moved the ball consistently only to settle for three points on three occasions.

"That kills us right there," receiver Junior Taylor said. "Turn those field goals into touchdowns and it's a different game."

As it was, the Bruins needed a second-quarter touchdown by Taylor — he slipped between defenders and raced 36 yards — for a 15-14 halftime lead.

Offensive coordinator Jim Svoboda wasn't too worried at that point. What concerned him was the impending third quarter, something of a Bermuda Triangle for his offense in recent weeks.

"We've just really struggled," he said.

Sure enough, the offense ground to halt. And this was against a Washington State defense that had suffered so many injuries that coaches switched to a 3-4 alignment because they ran out of linemen.

The Cougars compensated by sending their linebackers on blitzes more often than UCLA had expected.

"We felt like we got enough pressure on [Cowan] to where he would make some mistakes," Washington State defensive end Mkristo Bruce said, adding, "You could sense their frustration."

After a couple of three-and-out possessions, Coach Karl Dorrell decided to go for it on fourth down at midfield, saying his offense needed a spark.

The Bruins tried to pass. Incomplete.

"We had a couple of guys open and didn't hit either one of them," Dorrell said.

Washington State's Bruce mused: "If a team doesn't run on fourth and one, that tells you something."

Losing by two touchdowns in the fourth quarter, the Bruins gave up hope of mounting a comeback with the ground game, briefly finding a rhythm when they switched to a no-huddle offense.

This time, Washington State cornerback Tyron Brackenridge stepped in front of a pass intended for Taylor.

The interception put a fitting end to the kind of night that can give a quarterback pause, leave him searching for answers.

The best Cowan could say was: "We're just not getting it done."


david.wharton@latimes.com

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