For the first four games of the season, UCLA's ground game was its calling card.
With sophomore running back Maurice Drew setting the pace and senior Manuel White providing the power, the Bruins steamrollered opponents, ranking among the nation's best rushing offenses.
Then the gaping holes opened by the Bruins' offensive line disappeared and UCLA's running attack has been shut down the last two weeks.
"It's kind of hard to tell what the difference is," fullback Michael Pitre said. "Everything basically looks the same at the start, but Maurice and I talked [during Saturday's 45-28 loss at California] and we've noticed that sometimes there's penetration with [defenses] going pretty hard against us backside."
In the Pacific 10 Conference, there are no secrets. Thanks to improved scouting, teams must stay fresh by adding new wrinkles every week.
"Teams are ready for us," senior wide receiver Tab Perry said. "They know we have good running backs so they are going to stack the box. It's not a surprise because we figured teams would do that, since we've been so successful with the run."
Arizona and California certainly executed game plans geared to stopping UCLA's ground attack.
By keying on the movements of strong-side linemen Paul Mociler and Steven Vieira, along with Pitre, the Wildcats and Bears effectively disrupted the Bruins' zone blocking patterns.
"It's frustrating, but we just have to be patient," White said. "We have to keep working and find a way to make it happen."
After averaging more than 250 yards rushing in their first four games, the Bruins have gained only 193 in the last two and had a season-low 79 yards against the Bears.
"A lot of people know we want to run the ball and we've been trying to mix it up," said Drew, who set a school record with 322 yards rushing in the Bruins' Pac-10 opener against Washington but has gained only 64 in the last two games.
"Sometimes the holes were there and other times they weren't," he added. "It's tough when teams overload where we're running the ball with nine men in the box."
Coach Karl Dorrell said that the best way for the Bruins to revive their ground game was to pass effectively.
In the 37-17 victory over Arizona, Drew Olson opened the game with screen passes and finished with a big day passing to tight end Marcedes Lewis.
But against Cal, UCLA was more conservative and Olson got off to a sluggish start. By the time he completed his second pass, the Bruins were down two touchdowns in the second quarter.
"We had a plan to really try and dominate the ball and keep [Cal] off the field," offensive coordinator Tom Cable said. "We were hoping to maybe frustrate them a little bit, but that didn't happen. We were hit and miss early."
The Bruins didn't get through their scripted first 12 plays until their fourth possession, when they opened up the offense.
"Once we figured out that some things were not working, I thought we moved the ball pretty well," said Olson, who has completed 37 of 61 passes for 533 yards with eight touchdowns and no interceptions the last two weeks.
"Our running game is obviously facing better defenses, so we have to make more plays with our passing game."
Except for one poor drive to start the second half, UCLA's offense moved the ball after its sluggish beginning. With Olson completing passes to seven receivers, the Bruins either scored touchdowns or drove into Cal territory on seven of their final nine drives.
"You can see that our passing game is starting to open up a little bit," Perry said. "We're getting more people involved who can beat you in our offense and that's a good thing."
Based on their last two games, it's clear that the Bruins can no longer count on dominating opponents with their ground attack.
Cable said the Bruins have to be able to throw to keep defenses from crowding the line of scrimmage.
Against Cal, "we really caught and threw it well from about the seven-minute mark in the second quarter throughout the rest of the game," Cable said. "And, we protected very well against some unbelievable pressure. That's what I'm going to take from the game. That's what we're going to have to build on."
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UCLA's rushing game, a formidable force in its first four games, has fallen off in the last two:
*--* Opponent Att. Yds. TDs Avg.* Oklahoma State 33 191 2 5.8 Illinois 47 273 2 5.8 Washington 54 424 5 7.9 San Diego St. 42 204 1 4.9 Arizona 39 114 1 2.9 California 30 79 0 2.9 *Rushing average per carry