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It's Go Time

I have to say I have never been this anxious about a season opener since Karl Dorrell's first game as the HC at UCLA (which didn't go so well). Last year's game against SDSU was not much of a big deal. And two years ago we played an Oklahoma State team with an injury ravaged roster.

This year is a little different.  We have almost all of our key players healthy. Yes Joe Cowan is out.  But even though we are going to miss no. 26 a bit, our talented and deep WR crew should be more than capable of stepping out and helping out Big Ben Olson in his much anticipated UCLA debut.

We have already analyzed this game. We have been talking about our opponent for the whole week. We have scouted them out. I have no doubt in mind that UCLA should win this game. This is the kind of game UCLA should never lose at home against some non power conference team.

Yet, there is a strain of anxiety of going through the Bruins Nation. And it's no doubt lot of it is coming from two of the last three regular games of this past season. Chris Duffresne from the LA Times points out the obvious:

5) How could UCLA, coming off a 10-2 season and returning Olson at quarterback, not be ranked in the top 25 of the coaches' or writers' preseason polls?

File that under "lack of respect." That returning Olson is Ben, not Drew, who led UCLA to that 10-2. And about those Terrible Two losses: One was 52-14 to Arizona, the other 66-19 to USC. Voters are obviously not convinced UCLA is a proven commodity.
Right now there is a huge disconnect between the national/(local (most of them) reporters/pundits (and even bloggers we have a lot of respect for) who do not have UCLA no where in their top-25 (projecting us to finish somewhere in the middle of the Pac-10), and Bruin faithful (who follow this team day to day), who fully believe this team is capable of winning 9 games and beat SC (our minimum expectations). Starting tomorrow we are going to find out exactly where that team is? And as we find that answer through this year we are also going to get a better picture on whether Dorrell is the long term answer to recent history of underachievements in Westwood.

Over the last few months we have made our case that why we believe we have the talent to carry the momentum from last year's 10 win season and at least meet the minimum threshold that should set us up for BCS/NC run next season. And Dorrell agrees with that's sentiment (emphasis mine throughout):
"I like this team," says Dorrell, entering his fourth season. "This is my best team in terms of having a little more grit. We're mentally and physically tougher. The inexperience factor is a big issue, but it's probably the most spread out in terms of talent. We're deeper in some areas than we have been.

"I'm not coaching this team anything like I did last year. It's a different chemistry. This team will be more balanced on both sides of the ball. We're trying to build an attitude, how to play defense at UCLA. It's about execution and being hard on each other, expecting supreme performance." [...]

[O]ne senses Dorrell believes he has it going. And he's in the right place.

"I wake up every morning and can't believe I'm the head coach here," Dorrell says. "Hopefully, we've wiped away issues that have been plaguing us."
We have a deep rotation of DL for the first time in Dorrell's fourth year in Westwood. Our LBs are inexperienced however they have had a solid training camp. And despite some inexperience at the DBs, coaches are confident that young whipper snappers like Al Verner should be stepping up.

As for offense our OL is anchored by one of the best guards (Tevaga) in the Pac-10. We have a solid group of RBs. And our set of WR/TEs are one of the most talented groups in the Pac-10. These guys will be led by the best QB talent to step on this campus since No. 8. So we are in pretty damn good shape. Now the coaches/players will have to get it done.

We are playing a good Utah team which is confident (well their fans certainly are). They are going to come out hard on defense, blitzing away to rattle Big Ben. Yet, I expect Ben to handle the pressure. The kid already sounds like pro. Who has been through the rigor. So I don't think all that blitzing by these Utes is gonna rattle him.  I'd be looking for UCLA to neutralize the blitzes by having Ben do a little roll outs, fire off short passes off quick 3 step drops, and often call draw plays. He will be fine.

Meanwhile, on defense we are going to have our hands full with an athletic QB who can throw and then run some. If you haven't seen the clip against BYU, check it out. Ratliff I believe threw for 4 TDs, and ran for more than 100 yards against the Cougs. Yes, the Cougs were hapless last year, but the win was still impressive given it was a win in rivalry game on the opponents home turf. But as we said before this is why Dorrell brought in Walker.  UCLA should have the advantage in this situation given Utah hasn't seen UCLA defensive formations under Walker. I'd look for UCLA to specially concentrate on completely shutting down Utah's running game by cheating a little and bringing the safeties up.  I just don't believe we are going to see Utah running backs having the kind of day opposing backs were enjoying against the front 7 last year.

The excuse of being young and inexperienced is really not going to fly considering we are entering fourth year of Dorrell's reign.  He needs to get this done. So this is really it.

Again we are not exactly Dorrell believers here on Bruins Nation.  That said we want desperately Dorrell to prove us wrong:

Photo: OC Register (KD ready for Judgment Year?)

With just about 24 hours to go in the kickoff of the 2006 season, we will give this former alum the benefit of the doubt. I have to say Dorrell sounds confident:
Dorrell believes steps have been taken, that he has a program poised to join the game's elite. [...]

Dorrell has had to deal with the unfortunate timing of trying to return UCLA to lauded status while rival USC has been experiencing one of the great runs in school history under Pete Carroll. A 66-19 beating by USC last season did nothing to win over Dorrell's doubters.

But no one in the Pac-10 lost more starters than USC, and conference coaches are hopeful the door is ajar.

"I wouldn't say it's wide open, but the door is open," Dorrell said. "And we have as good a chance as anyone to accomplish a conference championship."
If we win this game this Saturday, KD should be set up for a nice little run that should get this team to a 5-0 start.

We need this game Saturday.  Dorrell needs it.  He needs it badly.  We mean it when we say that we wish Dorrell nothing but luck. Because if things don't go well tomorrow we may be looking towards a long and grim season.

But we are going to think positively. What I see happening this Saturday?

I see a UCLA defense coming out breathing fire, stopping the Utah O in their first series, and leaving the field getting a standing O from the student section.

I see Big Ben coming out in control - staying calm in pocket, diffusing Utah blitzes by throwing/completing some short quick passes off 3 step drops and quick roll outs (using that God given athleticism). I see BO spraying bullets to keep the chains moving.

I see our two headed monsters of Markey, Bell, bowling over Utah defenders, setting up short yardage situations, and setting the tone for rest of the season.

It's that time of the year.  Let optimism reign and the season kick off with a great vibe that will carry over through rest of the season.  We want nothing less.

Good luck to Coach Dorrell.

Good luck to our boys.

Photo: Adak Bruin

It's go time.

Are you ready for some football?