Postcard from camp: UCLA
After shocking USC in '06, Bruins ready for big season
Posted: Monday August 20, 2007 4:38PM; Updated: Tuesday August 21, 2007 6:38PM
LOS ANGELES -- There are signs all around UCLA's campus proclaiming the school's latest athletic achievement: "First to 100 NCAA Championships."
Most UCLA fans, however, couldn't tell you which sport was responsible for their most recent championship. "Softball?" guessed one fan watching football practice from the sun-soaked bleachers of Spaulding Field. "Gymnastics?" guessed another nearby. Um, close. It was actually women's water polo, but that's really inconsequential. They all know the answer to the most important question: What was the score of last year's UCLA-USC football game?
The score sounds more like an affirmation than a result when it's yelled out by dozens of UCLA fans about eight months after the game. The two numbers read together have become synonymous with everything that is right in Westwood these days. It is the ultimate trump card for any Bruin that runs into a Trojan on Rodeo Drive or Sunset Boulevard.
"I still have people coming up to me and talking about that game," said defensive end Bruce Davis. "That game was amazing. To take down a team that was supposedly going to the national championship and hold them to nine points. It doesn't get any better than that."
Of all the NCAA championships housed in the hallowed halls of the J.D. Morgan Center -- which sits in the shadows of Pauley Pavilion and a stones throw from the practice fields -- it could be argued that none are as valuable right now as the painted Victory Bell that greets visitors as soon as they walk through the glass doors.
"It changed our mindset," said UCLA coach Karl Dorrell. "Our team felt like we had a good team a year ago and for one reason or another we didn't always put it together."
The Bruins figure to put it together this season with 20 returning starters from last season, 10 on offense and, more importantly 10, on a defense that held USC to nine points and 55 yards rushing last season.
"They understand now," Dorrell said. "What's great about this team is that they've been with me four years now. Everybody in this program is someone that I have recruited and they have a greater expectation and knowledge of what I'm looking for. That's what's so refreshing when you have a senior class of 25 guys who have been here for four or five years. They get it. They get what we're trying to do here."
Despite breaking the Trojans' seven-year stranglehold on the inter-city rivalry, the Bruins are constantly reminded about their neighbors to the south. As Smith walks off the practice field, he spots a lost soul walking around Pauley Pavilion in a cardinal and gold Reggie Bush jersey.
"We're the team in this city now," Smith said. "Until [USC] comes and takes it from us, this is our city."
Until that time, bragging rights and the Victory Bell will remain at UCLA along with its 100 national championships.
1. Davis' pass-rushing skills are almost as impressive as his trash talking. Davis is one of the best defensive ends in the nation and he isn't shy about letting the opposition know about it, even if the opposition these days happens to be his own teammates.
"We're on the same team, but he's so competitive," said tailback Chris Markey. "Bruce has a motor mouth. He talks a lot, but he can back it up."
Davis, who boasts the most sacks nationally among returning players (after recording 12.5 last season), is the heart and soul of a Bruins' defense which figures to be one of the best in the country. "I try to be a vocal leader, but I try to lead by example as well," say Davis. "You got to do both. You can't just do one or the other or else people won't buy in."
With 10 defensive starters returning this season, including three defensive lineman, Davis will not have to carry the load all by himself this season. In fact, UCLA's secondary has all four starters coming back and figures to be one of the best units in the nation. As opposing quarterbacks struggle to find open receivers, Davis and his pass-rushing teammates should increase their sack total from last season.
"This group gets it and it starts with Bruce bringing the energy and respect," said defensive coordinator Dewayne Walker. "He leads by example and works his ass off every play."