Bruins must protect the quarterback, whoever it is

UCLA linemen Chris Joseph, left, and Shannon Tevaga provide protection for quarterback Patrick Cowan. Their ability to contain a USC defense that averages 3.3 sacks per game could be a key to the Bruins' chances on Saturday.
(Alex Gallardo / LAT)
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

UCLA offensive linemen were confident about being able to keep their quarterback upright and in the game Saturday against USC.

“We just have to do our assignments and block our schemes,” center Chris Joseph said.

USC ranks ninth nationally in sacks, a concern to Coach Karl Dorrell. The Bruins have two fragile juniors and an inexperienced sophomore as quarterbacks this week, though Dorrell was encouraged that Ben Olson, Patrick Cowan and Osaar Rasshan will all be available.

Cowan is just back from a collapsed lung, and did most of the work with the first team during practice Wednesday. Olson is still bothered by a knee injury that forced him to sit out four games. Olson sat out most of Tuesday’s practice because of a sore knee but was able to participate Wednesday.

Olson, though, has to show he can maneuver enough to be effective.

“This is a pretty fast defense,” Dorrell said. “Whoever is playing has to have his mobility. That’s a concern with Ben, given his injury and his recovery from the injury. We want to make sure if he’s available for the game and that we feel good about his health and movement.”


Protecting him, or Cowan, falls on an offensive line that has given up 29 sacks this season. Olson has been sacked 16 times while playing only three complete games, plus one quarter against Notre Dame and one half against Oregon.

USC averages 3.3 sacks. Lawrence Jackson has 9.5 sacks and Sedrick Ellis 8.5.

“They’re quick up front and they’re very shifty,” UCLA guard Shannon Tevaga said. “Those guys can play.”

Still, asked if there was concern about pass protection given how fragile the Bruins’ quarterbacks have been this season, Joseph said, “He’s not going to get hit. But we have more quarterbacks if he does.”

Dorrell said he would name a starting quarterback today. The coach has said he might use more than one quarterback, which made Olson’s knee problems worrisome.

“I was concerned yesterday, I’ll be honest about that,” Dorrell said. “But he did respond pretty good today. We’ll see how much more he can do tomorrow.”

Bruins defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker is on the short list for the head coaching job at Washington State, though no contact has been made with UCLA, an athletic department source said.

Defensive tackle Brian Price was named second-team freshman All-America by and, and was named to the Sporting News’ Pacific 10 Conference all-freshman team.


Price, a 6-foot-1, 295-pound true freshman, has started three of the last four games and has regularly drawn double-team blocking from opponents. He picked up his first sack against Oregon on Saturday.