Road Only Gets Tougher

Times Staff Writer

For a football program that has won 14 of its last 18 games, UCLA finds itself in a difficult position heading into this week’s game at Notre Dame.

The Bruins (4-2 overall, 2-2 in the Pacific 10 Conference) are coming off a 30-20 loss at Oregon in a game in which they never challenged for the lead. UCLA trailed by at least two touchdowns most of the afternoon and was 21 points behind at the start of the fourth quarter.

Playing the Irish, ranked No. 8 in Sunday’s BCS poll, will certainly bring national attention at a shaky time for the Bruins, who start a backup quarterback, lack offensive punch and feature a defense that tackled like last year’s team and gave up 404 yards to Oregon.


“We have to win the remainder of our games,” junior cornerback Rodney Van said. “We can’t go out there and have any letdowns any more.... This is Notre Dame. It’s a game that will have a big impact on our season.”

Over the first five games, UCLA’s problem areas alternated from week to week. One game, the Bruins would struggle to run the ball; the next, they had trouble scoring touchdowns in the red zone.

But one constant was the strong play of first-year coordinator DeWayne Walker’s defense, which was ranked No. 2 in the country last week in yards allowed and defense against the run.

Then the Bruins faced the Ducks, who scored the first three times they had the ball and finished with 256 yards rushing.

“Usually, I do a good job scheming against an offense,” Walker said. “Instead, they did a good job of scheming me, especially in the first quarter. They had me on my heels.”

Added Van: “We were prepared, but they were more prepared for the things that we did at the start of the game. Stuff we worked on in practice, we did well against, but the bottom line is that if we’re going to be the No. 1 defense in the nation, we have to tackle.”

Last season, poor tackling was a major issue for the Bruins, who were horrible against the run. That problem resurfaced against the Ducks, who gained a lot of yards after first contact with a UCLA defender.

“You’re not going to make every tackle, but we missed some at some unfortunate times for us,” UCLA Coach Karl Dorrell said. “And they executed well and blocked us well, which gave them a chance to make some plays against us.”

For the Bruins to rebound against Notre Dame, they can’t afford another weak run-stopping effort. The Irish, who average only 3.3 yards a rush, rely heavily on Darius Walker, who has 119 of Notre Dame’s 192 carries this season.

“We just missed too many tackles overall, it wasn’t just one person, it was the whole defense,” Van said about UCLA’s effort against Oregon. “We have to play 60 minutes of football, from the first half to the end of the game. That’s the only way we’re going to get it done.”


Though UCLA’s defense improved over the final three quarters against Oregon, the Bruins’ offense failed to have any flow behind sophomore quarterback Patrick Cowan, who made his first start in place of injured Ben Olson.

Cowan was at his best when he improvised, but he failed to make enough plays when UCLA’s offense needed someone to take over. After completing 10 of 15 passes for 74 yards in the first half, Cowan was six of 16 for 38 yards with one interception over the final two quarters. His longest completion was for 14 yards.


Former defensive end William Snead will get more work at tight end since Ryan Moya, who suffered a broken fibula in his left leg against Oregon, is expected to be sidelined the rest of the season.... The status this week of starting offensive tackle Aleksey Lanis, who suffered a right ankle sprain in the first half Saturday, is uncertain. Brian Abraham filled in for Lanis and played most of the final three quarters against Oregon.