Let's get to some good news right away. Per LA Times' report this morning Cowan is expected to be "nearly 100%" today. So the coaches will not be able to use Cowan's throat as an excuse, besides, at this point, we can expect they have all the contingency plans in place with hand signals should Cowan have issues again during the game with his voice.
So far this season, it's been the Bruin DL which has been the best unit of this UCLA team. So everyone is going to see how the Bruin OL fares against the Irish OL, which has enabled Brady's bunch put some impressive numbers in their first 6 games. From the LA Times:
Led by 300-pound Dan Santucci, the Irish start an experienced front -- four seniors plus freshman tackle Sam Young. The line does a consistent job protecting senior quarterback Brady Quinn and opening holes for running back Darius Walker.
UCLA, which relies on quickness rather than size, needs a huge game from undersized ends Justin Hickman and Bruce Davis. In last week's 30-20 loss at Oregon, the duo combined for only one sack.
"We definitely need to bring our A-game because [Coach] Charlie Weis runs such a diverse offense," said UCLA defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker, who coached in Notre Dame Stadium as an assistant with USC when the Trojans lost to the Irish in 2001. "We definitely have our work cut out for us."
Today, the Bruins' challenge will be to slow down Notre Dame's workhorse running back, Darius Walker, who has gained 526 of the team's 641 rushing yards.
Walker, a junior who averages 4.4 yards a carry, has rushed for 299 yards in his last two games. He will be a marked man for UCLA linebackers Christian Taylor, Aaron Whittington and Reggie Carter.
"No matter who you are playing you have to do things right," said Chuck Bullough, who coaches UCLA's linebackers. "You have to fill the right gap, get into the right coverage and do the things you are supposed to do. It's really about us."
Walker, who led Notre Dame in rushing the last two seasons, is also dangerous as a receiver. He leads the team with 38 catches and has a streak of 21 games in which he has caught at least one pass.
In Walker's last game, against Purdue, he had a career-high nine catches.
Here are the LAT's keys to today's game:
2 Stop or go. UCLA's ground game has been inconsistent with tailbacks Chris Markey and Kahlil Bell, but Notre Dame's defense against the run has been shaky. The Irish give up an average of nearly 135 yards a game on the ground and have already seen two individual opponents run for more than 100 yards in a game this season.
3 Timing is everything. UCLA ranks second in the Pacific 10 Conference in time of possession, averaging 31 minutes 23 seconds a game. But Notre Dame holds the ball even longer on average, 31:57.
It is Notre Dame quarterback and Heisman contender Brady Quinn, it is Touchdown Jesus and the ghosts of Notre Dame Stadium against the powder blue, the forgotten program cast in the shadows of the Irish's archrival, USC.
"I can't remember the last time we lost two games in a row," UCLA middle linebacker Christian Taylor said, "and we're not going to let that happen now."
The Bruins, who are two-touchdown underdogs, ended the 2004 season with a pair of losses and history suggests more difficulty at Notre Dame Stadium.
Following last week's 30-20 loss to then-No. 18 Oregon, Bruins coach Karl Dorrell is 0-9 on the road against ranked teams. Even during last season's 9-0 start, national respect was hard to come by for UCLA, which climbed to No. 7 before being blown out at Arizona, and not being taken seriously again.
"I think it's a very important game. I mean, it's Notre Dame," Bruins tailback Chris Markey said. "Everybody knows Notre Dame, you know, for being a great football team. I feel that this win is going to get us back on track. I think it's going to do a lot for this program."