October 20, 2004
After an offseason of change, the West Coast offense that second-year coach Karl Dorrell envisioned for UCLA has come to fruition.
The Bruins (4-2, 2-1 Pac-10), who visit Arizona State (5-1, 2-1) on Saturday, are ranked among the nation’s 25 most potent offenses, averaging 434.3 yards per game.
They have the balance coaches strive for, averaging 220 yards in the air and 214 on the ground.
After last year’s team struggled by averaging just 294.9 yards, Dorrell fired mentor and former boss Steve Axman as offensive coordinator. Axman now coaches at Washington.
He was replaced by former Idaho coach Tom Cable, who also took over tutoring the offensive linemen.
Under Cable’s leadership, the running game has improved dramatically from its 2003 average of 91.9 yards.
Starting quarterback Drew Olson has emerged the past two weeks by throwing eight touchdown passes.
"Tom has the experience in this offense," Dorrell said.
Cable ran the offense during his four seasons as coach at Idaho and worked under Steve Mariucci at California. "The biggest thing is teaching it," Dorrell said. "He’s been effective doing it."
Olson’s emergence, not coincidentally, has taken place as defenses have loaded up on stopping running backs Maurice Drew and Manuel White.
Drew, who had a record 322 yards against Washington earlier in the year, has had just 64 rushing yards the past two weeks against Arizona and California.
"Maurice has drawn a lot of attention," Dorrell said. "Teams have done a much better job of defensing him."
But Olson has "started to blossom," Dorrell noted.
Olson has flourished despite not having his best receiver, Craig Bragg, who has missed the past three games with a dislocated left shoulder. Junior tight end Marcedes Lewis has five touchdown passes among his 19 receptions.
"The element we need to get going again is the running game, " Dorrell said. "We are working on trying to keep the balance we had early in the season."
Olson didn’t rank in the top ten in passing efficiency in the Pac-10 last year (Cal had two quarterbacks that did) after completing 173-of-325 passes for 2,067 yards and 10 touchdowns with nine interceptions. Olson has thrown 12 TD passes this season.
"Drew is playing pretty well," Dorrell said.
The same can’t be said of the Bruins’ defense.
UCLA ranks 105th among the 117 NCAA Division I-A teams, allowing 438 yards a game.
Injuries have taken their toll, particularly in the defensive line. UCLA has yet to start the same defensive front four on consecutive weeks.
The youth and inexperience in the offensive line prompted Dorrell to move senior Eyoseph Efseaff, a 36-game starter on offense, to defensive tackle. He’ll start if junior C.J. Niusulu hasn’t recovered from a swollen left ankle.
Last week freshman end Brigham Harwell, who was hotly pursued by Arizona State last year, made his first start.
UCLA needs linebacker Justin London (nagging ankle injury) to return to good health to have any defensive improvement.