Battered Bruins Battle To Stay In Rose Bowl Race

Thursday, November 1st 2007, 1:39 pm
By: News On 6

Arizona and UCLA meet Saturday in Tucson, and neither team knows what to expect from the other.

Both have mixed flashes of brilliance with stretches of mediocrity, and worse.

``(The Bruins) have been up and down, but in the good games they have played they have really executed and played well,'' Arizona cornerback Antoine Cason said. ``UCLA is going to come in here and be prepared to win again, but we have to go out and play hard.''

The Bruins (5-3, 4-1 Pac-10) still have a shot at the conference title because they play No. 6 Arizona State at home on Nov. 10 and No. 4 Oregon two weeks later. The Bruins finish up with 13th-ranked USC.

The stretch run should add a sense of urgency for UCLA, whose up-and-down season has included a victory over then-No. 10 California and a loss to Notre Dame, the Fighting Irish's only victory.

UCLA, which has been hampered by injuries, is reeling after a 27-7 loss to last-place Washington State last weekend in Pullman.

``We're going to have to be ready to play and improve from this unfortunate setback,'' coach Karl Dorrell said. ``And this team is ready to respond and do that, like we've done in the past. We're going to push things forward. We're going to work through our injury issues and find a way to continue to be productive.''

Arizona (3-6, 2-4) is all but out of the bowl picture. But the remaining games are anything but meaningless to coach Mike Stoops, whose future has been the subject of speculation.

``The next month of the season will be critical,'' Stoops said. ``This is big preparation for us.''

The Wildcats won't win the Pac-10, but they will help determine who does. After UCLA, Arizona plays host to No. 4 Oregon on Nov. 15 and then visits sixth-ranked Arizona State Dec. 1 in the regular-season finale. An upset in either of those games could alter the race for the Rose Bowl and, possibly, the national title.

Arizona is coming off an exhilarating 48-41 victory at Washington. Quarterback Willie Tuitama passed for a school-record 510 yards and five touchdowns, including a 27-yarder to Mike Thomas for the decisive score.

Tuitama shared conference Player-of-the-Week honors with Thomas, who caught 10 passes for 165 and three touchdowns, and Oregon safety Matthew Harper.

The Wildcats have struggled at times in new offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes' spread offense. But the game at Seattle revealed how potent the attack can be.

``Watching their last game, it was a pretty exciting game,'' Dorrell said. ``Tuitama had an unbelievable game, made some great throws.

``Defensively, they've always played well,'' Dorrell said. ``They're obviously going to build off the win, and now they're playing back at home and we need to play a great game.''

The Bruins didn't do that against the Cougars. Part of UCLA's problem is at quarterback, where injuries have sidelined starter Ben Olson and second-stringer Patrick Cowan.

Cowan, who has a knee injury, completed 17-of-36 passes for 167 yards and did not throw a touchdown pass or an interception. He'll play at Arizona.

``Pat is no worse for wear,'' Dorrell said. ``He's better than he was last week at this point (on Monday).''

Middle linebacker Christian Taylor, who missed the last game with a concussion, is expected to play, but tailback Kahlil Bell will not.

The Wildcats expect UCLA to give them their best shot.

``They are capable,'' Stoops said. ``Any time you watch them, and that is the thing that is scary, they have a very good football team.''