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Safety Horton backs up coaches

Times Staff Writer

After eight games last season, UCLA was undefeated and ranked No. 5 in the BCS standings. This year, the Bruins are 4-4 and heading south with a three-game losing streak.

Karl Dorrell, co-coach of the year in the Pacific 10 Conference last season, and his staff have been feeling the heat because of UCLA’s recent struggles, which is unfortunate, junior strong safety Chris Horton said.

“The coaches have been putting us in good position to win, but we have to go out and execute the game plan,” Horton said about the Bruins, who play at California this week.

“Whenever coach is criticized, the team is being criticized. It’s not just him. Whatever he’s feeling, we’re all feeling the same. So, whatever people say about him, they are really saying it about us. The coaches are not out there playing, they’re just coaching.”

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Added Athletic Director Dan Guerrero: “To me, this is just an indication of a young team. Look at last year’s team, we had some senior leadership. We had go-to guys that we don’t have this year. Karl won’t say it, but I will. It’s tough to play with two young quarterbacks like we have. Our offense has been struggling and that has put a lot of pressure on our defense.

“It’s just a matter of evaluating and making adjustments that one would expect your coaching staff to do in order to get more productivity.”

For a team that has started a backup quarterback the last three games and has only five seniors among its two-deep list -- which includes kicker Justin Medlock -- UCLA’s woes might not be much of a surprise.

Sophomore Patrick Cowan has done an admirable job since taking over at quarterback after Ben Olson suffered a knee injury. However, Cowan has not been consistent and is 0-3 as a starter.

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With Olson close to returning -- he could resume practicing with the team this week -- the Bruins’ quarterback situation could be an issue for the remainder of the season.

UCLA’s running game has been shaky at best. The offensive line has been intact for the majority of the season but has not shown much improvement. Every game has been a learning experience for a group that plays like it’s still a year away.

Junior running back Chris Markey’s status has slowly declined since he rushed for a career-high 208 yards against Rice. In UCLA’s 37-15 loss to Washington State on Saturday, Markey split playing time with freshman Chane Moline and junior Derrick Williams.

With Kahlil Bell -- who has been out because of an ankle injury -- soon to return, expect the Bruins to continue a back rotation unless one emerges before the end of the season.

“Every week, they prepare everyone to be ready to play,” said Williams, who had 164 all-purpose yards against Washington State.

“I knew that there might be an opportunity for me to contribute with Kahlil down.”

UCLA’s defense was exposed, especially in the secondary, against Washington State. The Cougars’ above-average group of receivers made life tough for the Bruins’ small cornerbacks, who were often in position but failed to break up passes.

“I just have to go back to the drawing board and look at what we’re doing,” defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker said after his unit gave up 515 yards on Saturday. "... It’s disappointing. It’s the first time I have to say that this season.”

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Cornerbacks Trey Brown and Horton have played well but Walker said he plans to open up competition in the secondary with Rodney Van again being challenged by freshman Alterraun Verner and free safety Dennis Keyes getting pushed by sophomore Bret Lockett.

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lonnie.white@latimes.com


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