clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

It's Southpaw Jesus Time ...

Game day is here. With less than 8 hours left in the game WHO do you think is THE storyline for today's season opener?

Photo: Myung J. Chun / LAT

Here is our first game day roundup for the 2006-07 school season:

Lonnie White on Big Ben's much anticipated debut:

"I've waited a long time for this," said Olson, whose last start came in 2001 when he was ranked the best high school player in the nation as a senior at Thousand Oaks High. "I'm really ready for this opportunity. I'm just excited. This couldn't be any better." [...]

"It's always interesting whenever a guy has to take charge of the whole team for the first time," said Jim Colletto, UCLA's veteran offensive line coach. "It's important for us to help him by not overloading the guy in his first game. I don't care who it is, a season opener is always a lot different for the guy playing in his first game of college football than for someone who has played for a while."

At 6 feet 5, 227 pounds, Olson has all the tools of a star-in-the-making. He has size, a strong left arm, plus the humbleness of a walk-on.
And we have been waiting for this moment ever since the season ended last year. Again as rest of the article notes, UCLA will not ask Big Ben to do everything today. All Ben will need to do is manage the game and let all his team-mates in skill positions help him out.  As I said yesterday, I am not all that worried about the Utah's relentless blitzing D. Ben has the athleticism and the calm to handle whatever Whittingham will be throwing against him.

You think Big Ben is ready for today? Well check this out from the Salt Lake Tribune:
[O]lson sounds supremely confident about his Bruins, saying "we believe we have an opportunity to do some special things. . . . We're going to throw the ball a little more this year. The West Coast offense has a lot of possibilities. And there are other things we can do to take advantage of some of the things I can do."

UCLA likely will roll Olson out of the pocket to avoid a Utah pass rush that Ute coach Kyle Whittingham says is a key to "making the quarterback uncomfortable." Bolstering the run game is thought to be a priority for the Bruins, in order to take pressure off their old, but inexperienced QB. Still, Olson says, throwing the ball remains his "biggest strength."

Informed that Whittingham has indicated some uncertainty as to what Olson will bring toward his defense, Olson laughs, and then says, "That's the way I like it. The world will soon know."

In the hours leading up to his long-delayed starting debut, he acts more excited, lifted, he says, by his preparation, than nervous. As he looks back at the extended delay, one that has caused already high expectations to swell further, Olson insists he's glad he went on a mission, and that he wanted to return to BYU, "but, at the end of the day, I knew I couldn't." Delayed or otherwise, the whole thing at UCLA, he says, has worked out for the best.
If that doesn't get you fired up about the South Paw Jesus's debut, not sure what will.

Brian Dohn has more on the Southpaw Jesus's first start for the Bruins.

Meanwhile, other big story line for the day is the new DC DeWayne Walker's defense. From OC Register's Robert Kuwada:
So what separates this defense from the one from a year ago that was ranked 113th of 117 Division I teams in total defense?
The schemes that new defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker brings to UCLA, for one.

"We're going to fly around and make plays, that's all I can say," defensive end Justin Hickman said. "People are just going to have to see, come (today)."

The attitude instilled since before spring practices by Walker and the new additions to the Bruins' defensive staff, for another.

"He's been talking about just letting loose, letting loose, attacking, and making plays," Hickman said.

Added Lombard: "This year it's been about starting fast, everybody doing their job and being in their gap, making a play when it's their turn to make a play."
It is going to be very interesting to see how the new, healthy, deep DL performs today.  As mentioned before UCLA will probably rotating 7-8 players today in the DL to keep players fresh in the 95 degrees heat, and keep constant pressure on Ratliff.  If the DL steps up it will take some pressure of the LBs who are a little young and inexperienced, and DBs who have to deal with some depth issues (although some great news this week as CB Matthew Slater returned to practice and will be backing up Trey Brown.

More on keys to today's game from Lonnie Whites' game notes:
1 Pressure Ratliff: UCLA's defense has to get a consistent pass rush on Utah quarterback Brett Ratliff, who has a strong arm and moves well in the pocket. The Bruins know the best way to shut down the Utes' air game is to not give Ratliff time to throw, and if the UCLA defensive line is ineffective, first-year coordinator DeWayne Walker may have to use more blitzes, thereby exposing the secondary to man-to-man coverage.

2 Test Taylor: Utah's spread offense is known for its passing, but expect the Utes to run at UCLA middle linebacker Christian Taylor, a junior making his second college start. Two former Orange County high school stars, running backs Mike Liti (Santa Ana Foothill) and USC transfer Darryl Poston (Huntington Beach Edison), should get plenty of early work against the Bruins' run defense, which ranked among the nation's worst last season. An interesting matchup to watch will be whenever Utah's 311-pound tackle, Tavo Tupola, a four-year starter, goes against UCLA's 237-pound right defensive end, Bruce Davis.

3 Earn field position: UCLA's kicking game is better than average because of senior Justin Medlock, one of the best in the nation. Medlock gives the Bruins a chance to score every time they cross midfield, but they'll also need a strong effort from sophomore punter Aaron Perez, who struggled at times last season. Sophomore Louie Sakoda will handle both punts and field-goal attempts for Utah. One of UCLA's return men -- Chris Markey, Alterraun Verner or Jeremy McGee -- could be a difference-maker.
So there you have it.  Of course there are lot of other great games on today.  We got Cal at Tennessee, ND at Georgia Tech, and then SuC at Arkansas.

We will have a game thread up later this afternoon for those who will be following the game both via the tube and online. Again, if you are headed towards the Rose Bowl you know what to do.

Here is to a perfect Saturday.