Bruins can see progress by the yard
PALO ALTO -- There was the Stanford band, working its way through the university’s alma mater, though the tune came off more like taps.
There was the UCLA football team, crammed into the northern corner of Stanford Stadium, whooping it up in front of the thousands of Bruins fans who made the trek north.
The Bruins came for this; their fans came to watch it. Even the Cardinal and its following -- judging by the number of empty seats -- probably saw this coming.
Yet, the Bruins’ 45-17 dismissal of Stanford on Saturday managed to raise an eyebrow or two in their own locker room, with warnings they felt needed to be heeded.
“I think everybody expected us to win, but I don’t think they expected us to put that many points on the board,” defensive end Bruce Davis said.
“There was some anxiousness before the game, the unknown factor. People were worried during training camp, asking, ‘What’s up with the offense? Are they going to be able to score points?’
“I think they answered the question today. They were going against one of the best defenses in the country during practice, us. They come out here against these guys and just light it up.”
There were plenty who deserved to take a bow to the UCLA fans who made up at least a third of the announced 38,860 in attendance.
Quarterback Ben Olson, who sat out the final eight games in 2006 because of a knee injury, passed for 286 yards and five touchdowns -- as many as he had in five games last season.
Tailback Kahlil Bell had a career-high 195 yards rushing, as the Bruins churned out 338.
Nine receivers caught passes, with Joe Cowan catching two -- both for touchdowns. The last covered 77 yards to put the Bruins up, 28-10, with 4 minutes 49 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
All that was part of an offense that had 624 yards in offensive coordinator Jay Novell’s debut, and brought a word of caution from Olson following the 31-point second half.
“I think we left a lot of yards out there,” Olson said.
Then again, this was against Stanford.
The Cardinal last had a winning season four coaches ago. There was no sense that Stanford, which was 1-11 last season, mailed this game in. The Cardinal probably played up to its capabilities. The Bruins were just better.
Still, it did take a little more than a half to prove that point.
The Bruins spent the first half struggling to find a rhythm. Olson was efficient, connecting on touchdown passes to Cowan (19 yards) with 4:26 left in the first quarter and Gavin Ketchum (six yards) 38 seconds into the second quarter. Bell had 107 yards rushing by halftime, which included a 59-yard run that set up the second touchdown.
But that left the Bruins with only a 14-7 lead.
“We knew we needed to open up the ball a little more,” Coach Karl Dorrell said. “I think we were just a touch conservative in the first half. We decided, ‘Let’s get the ball to some of our playmakers and see if they can make some plays.’ ”
That happened on the Bruins’ second series in the third quarter. Norvell, the team’s third offensive coordinator in four seasons, called for a flea-flicker.
“I started laughing in the huddle,” wide receiver Brandon Breazell said.
Said Olson: “We all were. I had been begging Coach to call that play.”
Said Breazell: “I just knew the safety was ripe for that one.”
Olson found Breazell for a 49-yard gain, setting up a four-yard touchdown pass to Dominique Johnson. It was a pivotal moment, a signal that the one-two-three-punt Bruins were a thing of last season.
On the next series, Cowan caught a quick screen and turned it into a 77-yard touchdown play. That too, was contrary to the Bruins of a year ago, when caution seemed the basis for game plans.
“We want people to defend the field, and we feel like we have lot of players who make those kind of plays,” Norvell said.
As for the flea-flicker, Norvell said: “We don’t need to save anything. We got a lot of plays, more plays than we’ll be able to use in one season.”
There were loud hints that the Bruins are more capable offensively than they were last season. They scored four of the five times they had the ball inside the 20-yard line against Stanford, whereas they settled for field goals 20 of the 39 times they drove into the red zone last season. Also, the 31 second-half points were more than they scored in a half last season.
That offset what, from the Bruins’ perspective, was a slip-shod day on defense. The Bruins gave up 331 yards passing, including three pass plays of more than 40 yards.
“You can’t be a one-dimensional team and have the kind of success we’re hoping to have,” Olson said. “We stressed that we need to carry our load this year and not just rely on the defense to keep us in the game.”
KEYS TO THE GAME
Chris Foster’s keys to the game and how UCLA measured up:
1. Defensive pressure: UCLA cornerback Trey Brown sacked Stanford quarterback T.C. Ostrander on the first series, forcing a fumble. Linebacker Christian Taylor rushed Ostrander on the second series. The Bruins didn’t sustain consistent pressure, but they still finished with four sacks -- two by Korey Bosworth. Defensive end Bruce Davis, who faced double teams all day, did not have a sack. “I didn’t have one until my third game last year, so let’s see how this season unfolds,” he said.
2. Run blocking: The Bruins had 338 yards rushing. Kahlil Bell had 195 yards and Chris Markey 71. The holes were there. “When you can run the ball effectively, you can do some things with the passing game,” Coach Karl Dorrell said.
3. Show up: The Bruins came north and got the gimme victory this was supposed to be. A sluggish first half, typical in first games, gave way to an offensive blitz in the second half. Now, can they show that intensity against a non-patsy?