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Fresno State Game Will Serve as a Tryout Camp for Donahue : UCLA: Bruins had been 2-0; now they are at 2-2, and the coach will do whatever he can to turn it around again.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

UCLA will take the field at the Rose Bowl at 7 tonight to face the Fresno State Bulldogs.

But which UCLA team will it be?

Will be it the one that demolished Miami in its season opener, the team that soundly beat Brigham Young despite a series of injuries that might have hobbled a lesser squad, the team that was rated among the top 15 in the nation at the start of the season?

Or will it be the one that has collapsed defensively in its two Pacific 10 Conference games, the team that has staged late but unsuccessful rallies after falling way behind to Oregon and Washington State in the first halves of those games?

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Bruin Coach Terry Donahue doesn’t really know which team he will have for the rest of the season. But he is determined to find out.

And to do so, he has taken his squad back to Square 1, back to the mind-set of summer camp.

The practices have been far more intense this week, the exhortations a few decibels louder. Bodies have been bouncing in and out at all positions.

“We need to keep searching,” Donahue said. “We’re taking a look at everyone. Just pick a position. That’s how I feel. We’re looking everywhere but left tackle [manned by preseason All-American Jonathan Ogden]. I’m looking at the whole thing. I’m probably looking at left tackle too.”

This game should be a good one for that. The Bruins are playing a nonconference opponent they figure to beat.

UCLA has next weekend off, then plunges into the core of its season with conference games the rest of the way.

So this is the last chance to experiment. Donahue said he will play both Ryan Fien and Cade McNown at quarterback. With defensive tackle Travis Kirschke out because of an ankle injury, Donahue can get a look at George Case, Gary Walton and Marcus Daly.

Fresno State Coach Jim Sweeney is well aware of the Bruins’ struggles. And he’s not thrilled to have to face UCLA at this point in its roller-coaster season.

“I’d rather fight a happy dog than a hungry dog,” Sweeney said. “If they had won all their games, they might be apt to take us a little bit lightly.”

Sweeney has his own frustrations to deal with, coming off a loss last week to Utah.

That one hurt. And not only because it ruined a previously unbeaten season for the 3-1 Bulldogs. For one thing, it was Fresno State’s Western Athletic Conference opener. For another, the Bulldogs led with just under four minutes to play, 21-10, then lost, 25-21.

Having coached at Fresno State for 18 seasons, Sweeney knows when to put pressure on his team and when to take it off. For this week, he has put the pressure on himself, taking the blame for the Utah loss.

“I guess the job of the head coach is to have them ready,” he said. “For some reason, I didn’t get them ready as well as I might have.”

Still, Sweeney got his team ready enough to beat a Pac-10 school, Cal, 25-24, in the Bulldogs’ second game. And over the years, Sweeney has an impressive 13-7 mark against the Pac-10.

Fresno State comes in tonight with some obvious problems. The Bulldogs’ leading rusher, Michael Pittman, is doubtful because of a strained knee ligament. Pittman has run for 348 yards, a 5.9-yard average and four touchdowns. Their starting quarterback, Richie Donati, has thrown five interceptions and four touchdown passes.

Fresno State is especially thin at linebacker, where Dion Laffitte, the former Manual Arts High star, was expected to be a key performer, but became academically ineligible.

“We have no linebackers who can play football,” Sweeney said. “They are not only slow, but . . . they don’t have good instincts.”

The Bruins have problems of their own at linebacker, where the loss of Donnie Edwards, who is suffering from a compression fracture of upper vertebrae, has been devastating. UCLA surrendered 17 points while he was in there and 62 points in his absence.

How do you replace him? Yet another question for Donahue, who will spend this evening looking for answers.

UCLA Notes

Because Chad Overhauser is hampered by a pinched nerve in the neck, senior Mike Rohme will get his first start at right tackle. If he is able to play at all, Overhauser will back up Matt Soenksen at right guard.


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