It’s like being in a jail cell with two 300-pound tackles, two 300-pound guards and a 275-pound center.
Yet George Kase talks about the freedom he enjoys as UCLA’s nose guard, perhaps strange because he will have to contend with sometimes almost half a ton of Nebraska offensive linemen today at the Rose Bowl.
Kase claims he weighs 245-250, probably a slight exaggeration.
“The only way he can play is to get in the first lick,” said Wayne Nunnely, the Bruins’ defensive line coach. “If he doesn’t, he might not get in another.”
Kase has understood that from the day he lined up at the position in a springtime tryout. Nominally a defensive end with five plays’ experience, all in the 1992 blowout by California, Kase was asked if he wanted to try to move inside. Starter Bruce Walker was having trouble with the law that eventually cost him probation and a one-year suspension from the team. No. 2 nose guard Sale Isaia had back trouble that eventually required surgery and academic trouble that only recently has been remedied.
“I wanted to play--anywhere,” Kase said. “I can’t go head to head, can’t bull over anybody, but I’ve learned that my quickness can help me a lot inside--that I had to be quick in getting off the ball and I had to take a lot of different approaches.
“Sometimes I go hard into the gap. Sometimes I lay back. Sometimes I slant, but the people across from me won’t know in what direction. The idea is just to keep them off balance. They won’t see a lot of guys like me. They tend to see more guys like Bruce, maybe 340 pounds, and Sale, maybe 320.”
In part to accommodate Kase, UCLA has turned the position into a misnomer. George Kase is a nose guard who plays on nobody’s nose.
“Most of the nose guards are big guys who play on the nose of the center and pound him every time,” Kase says. “Guys like me, who play in different places in the gaps (between guard and center) on different plays, can make them have trouble with their blocking schemes.”
Nebraska’s answer is an option offense run by players whose forte is pounding the opposition. The eighth-ranked Cornhuskers have beaten North Texas, 76-14, and Texas Tech, 50-27, and are rushing for an average of 338.5 yards a game with an attack that begins with power and adds quickness. Finesse is supplied by quarterback Tommie Frazier.
It’s an offense that is three decades old, UCLA Coach Terry Donahue says, adding: “It was there when I was a first-year assistant at the University of Kansas . . . and that was in 1967.”
It’s an attack that puts pressure on the defense, on making it play what Donahue calls “assignment football.”
“That means that somebody is assigned to the tailback, somebody is assigned to the fullback, somebody is assigned to the quarterback,” he said. “They make you play a very structured type of defense, and most defensive players don’t like that.”
When one part of the structure falters, the defense can collapse.
And it all begins in the middle, where Kase and inside linebackers Nkosi Littleton and Carrick O’Quinn hang out.
“My being handicapped because of my size, the power running game puts a lot of pressure on me when they run it up the middle,” Kase said. “You’ve got to respect Nebraska, but you can’t be afraid or you’re going to get killed. If I don’t go in there aggressively, I’m going to get crushed.”
Donahue has been impressed enough by Kase to put Isaia on the outside, spelling London Woodfin at defensive end. The Bruins back Kase with freshman Travis Kirschke, a 255-pounder who is still much lighter than Nebraska center Ken Mehlin and guards Brenden Stai and Rob Zatechka.
They will be trying to open holes for fullback Cory Schlesinger and I-back Damon Benning. Calvin Jones, the starting I-back, will not play because of a knee injury, but Benning, a redshirt freshman, rushed for 127 yards in 19 carries against Texas Tech.
The third option is Frazier, a sophomore who passed for 206 yards against Texas Tech.
All of that, and it’s not enough for Coach Tom Osborne.
“Offensively, we need to smooth out a little bit and be more consistent,” he said. “We’ve got to get to where we don’t miss chances. When we have an opportunity to get something done, we’ve got to get it done.”
It’s Kase’s job to see that the opportunity doesn’t begin in the middle of the line.