Olson needs surgery on injured knee

Times Staff Writer

Ben Olson will have arthroscopic surgery on his left knee today, leaving UCLA’s quarterback situation unsettled.

Olson suffered a partial tear of the lateral collateral ligament in the knee in the first quarter of the Bruins’ 20-6 loss to Notre Dame on Saturday. The surgery is termed as “precautionary” by UCLA officials and is being done to check for a possible tear in the lateral meniscus.

A timetable for Olson’s return will not be known until after the surgery determines the extent of the damage, though a UCLA official said Olson would sit out the Bruins’ game against California on Oct. 20. Last season, Olson sat out the Bruins’ final eight games after suffering a torn medial collateral ligament in his right knee.

Patrick Cowan, his backup, is in murky territory as well. He has sat out the last two weeks because of what is called a partial tear of the medial collateral ligament in his right knee. If Cowan is unavailable, the Bruins’ options at quarterback are walk-on McLeod Bethel-Thompson, Osaar Rasshan, who moved to wide receiver this season, and freshman Chris Forcier.


Coach Karl Dorrell said Sunday that Cowan would “be back doing some practice on a limited basis this week, and hopefully by the end of the week his status will continue to improve.” But Dorrell is facing serious unanswered questions at quarterback as he tries to correct a season that has been damaged by losses to Utah and Notre Dame.

Requests to interview Dorrell on Monday night were turned away with the explanation that he could not be located.

Dorrell, though, was available to comment through a prepared statement released by the school’s sports information department Monday night: “The rash of injuries that has hit our team is unfortunate. We are optimistic that everything will go well with Ben’s procedure. We hope to have all of our injured players back as soon as possible. We will continue to work hard and improve as we prepare for our next opponent.”

On Sunday, Dorrell said that Olson’s knee had passed the initial examination, “the main structure is all intact,” but the MRI exam Monday revealed more damage.

Without Olson and Cowan, Dorrell’s options all come with severe limitations.

Bethel-Thompson proved to be a significant drop-off in ability after replacing Olson against Notre Dame. He completed 12 of 28 passes for 139 yards and had four passes intercepted. He also had a fumble that was returned for a touchdown.

Rasshan came to UCLA as a quarterback but shifted to wide receiver over the summer and showed promise. Dorrell was prepared to use Rasshan as an emergency quarterback in the season opener at Stanford, when Cowan was out because of a torn hamstring. But Dorrell stopped giving Rasshan time at quarterback after that game, even though the Bruins have yet to have both Olson and Cowan healthy for a game this season.

Forcier, meanwhile, was the quarterback at St. Augustine High in San Diego last fall and was ticketed to redshirt. His only duty this season has been as the quarterback on the Bruins’ scout team.

This is yet another pothole on the road Olson has followed since being a heralded recruit as a senior at Thousand Oaks High in 2001. Olson was unavailable for comment.

A week ago, Olson said he has had a “unique” college career, noting he has played in few games in the five years since he left high school. He has started only nine college games since high school.

Olson spent one year at Brigham Young and then served a two-year Mormon mission before transferring to UCLA. He expected to establish himself as a top college quarterback this season.

Olson threw five touchdown passes against Stanford in the season opener, but his season took a downturn from that point. He did not play against Washington on Sept. 22 because of “headaches,” Dorrell said. A source familiar with the program said Olson suffered a concussion against Utah a week earlier.

Olson has thrown only two touchdown passes in his three starts since the Stanford game. On the season, he has thrown for 976 yards while completing 50.8% of his passes, the lowest completion percentage among starting quarterbacks in the Pac-10.