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DeShaun, defense pace Bruins

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Posted: Wednesday October 17, 2001 2:54 PM

DeShaun Foster's 301 yards led UCLA's rout of Washington last week. AP
1   UCLA
2   Oregon
3   Washington State
4   Washington
5   Stanford
6   USC
7   Oregon State
8   Arizona State
9   Arizona
10   California
Rushing yards Washington had against UCLA. The Huskies had 349 yards on the ground against the Bruins in 2000.
"We're for real and we should be ranked, and we should be ranked high."

-- Washington State coach Mike Price. His unbeaten Cougars jumped into the AP poll at No. 19.

By Ted Miller, Special to

DeShaun and DeFense: That's the formula UCLA envisions leading it to a national title.

DeShaun Foster turned in the third-best rushing performance in Pac-10 history when he ran over Washington for 301 yards and four touchdowns in the Bruins' 35-13 victory.

Now the nation's leading rusher at 162.6 yards per game, Foster is on the short list for the Heisman Trophy.

"He will be a top-five pick in the NFL draft, barring injury," Washington coach Rick Neuheisel said. "He's that kind of talent."

The Bruins' defense, which set various records for futility over the past three seasons, held the Huskies to minus 8 yards rushing. They are limiting opponents to just 12 points per game, which ranks fifth in the nation.

Unlike Virginia Tech, the nation's top-rated defense, the Bruins have dominated first-rate opponents. UCLA is the nation's only team to post victories against the SEC, Big 12, Big Ten and Pac-10. Four opponents were ranked before being buried by the Bruins.

"They had everything," Washington quarterback Taylor Barton said. "They were big. They were physical. They flew around. They mixed their coverages up. They mixed their fronts up. They're playing with a level of confidence you don't see many teams play with."

When the pressure is on, the Bruins thrive. UCLA has allowed opponents to convert on just six of 47 third-down plays. Only one of the Bruins' 11 turnovers has resulted in an opponent scoring.

The Bruins are trying to be coy and adopt the old "one-game-at-a-time" cliche. They are trying to stay focused on hapless Cal, which visits the Rose Bowl this weekend. They don't want to hear about potential problems with the BCS should more than two teams finish undefeated.

"It's too early to be concerned about that," UCLA coach Bob Toledo said. "We're not even bowl eligible yet."

Yet Toledo can't help but allude to the possibility of playing at home for the national title. He can't help but tout Foster for the Heisman, or call his defense the best he's ever seen.

He's not the only one tossing out superlatives. Oregon State coach Dennis Erickson went as far as to compare Bruins linebacker Robert Thomas, a leading candidate for the Butkus Award, to Baltimore Ravens All-Pro Ray Lewis, whom Erickson coached at Miami.

"I don't know if I've seen a whole lot better [defense] in my career," Erickson said.

It's not just a matter of the Bruins having a handful of future NFL stars on their defense, from Thomas to end Kenyon Coleman to safety Marques Anderson. It's their depth. Their second-team players are nearly as good as the starters.

"You think you've got them tired and you start a little drive and, boom, here comes a whole new set of guys," Washington guard Elliott Zajac said. "And they're just as good as the first-team guys. All eight of their [defensive linemen] should be starting."

Because UCLA's defense has been so dominant, the offense has been conservative. Quarterback Cory Paus hasn't thrown an interception in 106 passes this season.

Everyone knows the ball is going to Foster. They just can't stop him. Foster finds gaps in the defense and then discards tacklers like Russell Crowe dumps girlfriends.

"I thought I would be able to knock him down," said strong safety Greg Carothers, one of the Huskies' hardest hitters. "I found out I wasn't. You've got to wrap him up. He's a great running back."

UCLA has some stout work ahead. While the national media is pointing to a Nov. 10 game against No. 5 Oregon in the Rose Bowl, the Bruins typically have more trouble winning on the road. After Cal, the Bruins will be at Stanford and at Washington State on consecutive weekends. Pullman in November is nothing like Westwood. That will be a gut check.

The Bruins are brash and talking a lot of smack after languishing for the past two seasons as an injury-ravaged crew stereotyped as soft. Before playing Washington, they openly hooted about rattling Barton and chopping freshman wide receiver Reggie Williams down to size.

But after talking the talk, they simply stomped.

"You couldn't do anything but jog to the sidelines," Barton said. "Everything they were saying was pretty much true."

Ever heard of Oregon State's Cole Clasen? Don't feel bad. Apparently, OSU officials hadn't either until the a few weeks ago. Clasen isn't in the Beavers' media guide or on the preseason roster.

His official This Week in the Pac-10 nickname is hereby "Stealth."

He's 5-foot-8 and 184 pounds. He's from Lake Oswego, Ore. And he is the first true freshman walk-on to start a game in OSU history.

Against Arizona, he blocked a punt that was returned for a touchdown and caught four passes for 58 yards and a touchdown.

Clasen has displaced Seth Trimmer in the starting lineup at slotback. Beavers coach Dennis Erickson said the former high school running back will receive a scholarship.

"He's been a pleasant surprise," Erickson told The Oregonian.

HOT: The Pac-10

The nation's toughest conference, according to the Sagarin Ratings, with three unbeaten and four Top-20 teams. The Pac-10 is 19-4 in non-conference games and 4-1 against Top 25 teams.

NOT: California and Arizona

Call it the Toilet Bowl when Cal and Arizona play on Nov. 3. The head-to-head matchup assures at least one will not finish winless in conference play.


The Bruins believe they will play a home game when the Rose Bowl hosts the national title game.

NOT: Washington QBs

Both starter Cody Pickett and backup Taylor Barton are nursing injuries. Next in line is true freshman Casey Paus.

Perhaps UCLA defensive lineman Dave Ball thought he was in the WWF.

Ball nailed Washington QB Taylor Barton from behind in the second quarter of the Bruins' 35-13 victory. That was fine. But when Barton's pass was intercepted, Ball decided a two-fisted club to Barton's head was in order, which dropped the Huskies' quarterback a second time.

The thuggish play made all the post-game highlight shows.

Ball was flagged for a personal foul not only by the referees but also by Bruins coach Bob Toledo, who instructed the sophomore to write an apology to Barton.

Huskies coach Rick Neuheisel said the apology was accepted.

"There's no ill-will," he said.

USC QB Carson Palmer

He's taken a lot of (justified) grief. But after throwing for 295 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions in a 48-17 victory over Arizona State, he posted his second consecutive solid outing.

Stanford RB Brian Allen

Allen had 133 yards on 20 carries against Washington State. He's third in the Pac-10, averaging 95.5 yards per game, and leads the conference with 6.5 yards per carry.

UCLA LB Robert Thomas

A frontrunner for the Butkus Award, Thomas had 12 tackles (11 solo, three for a loss) against Washington. He leads the Pac-10 in tackles (10.2 per game) and tackles for a loss (16).

With Florida State losing at home to Miami, Oregon now owns the nation's longest home winning streak at 23. Stanford figures to be a test at Autzen Stadium. The Cardinal dominated statistically in their loss to Washington State but made too many critical mistakes. The Ducks pounded Stanford 63-28 last year, but the Cardinal has won six of the last eight in the series.

USC coach Pete Carroll said he doesn't care that the Notre Dame-USC rivalry was tapped "overrated" by Sports Illustrated. Then he won't care that we don't care that he doesn't care. Smart cracks aside, this is a key game for both teams. The winner figures to have a shot at a low-rung bowl. Perhaps that's what SI was talking about?

Washington is beat up, but fortunately for the Huskies, Arizona is coming to town. It looks like a chilly, wet Saturday at Husky Stadium. If the UW can finally get out of the gate quickly -- UA has been outscored 73-38 in the first quarter -- then the Wildcats might pack it in.

The winner of Oregon State's visit to Arizona State figures to stake a claim as a potential bowl team. The Sun Devils have surrendered 99 points in their only two conference games. OSU hasn't won in Tempe since 1969.

UCLA will end Cal's two-game winning streak in their series, while Washington State may well have whipped Montana State (a Thursday night game) by the time you read this.

UCLA coach Bob Toledo said the media members voting in the AP poll were smarter than the coaches. Washington State coach Mike Price said the coaches are smarter. Why? The AP voted UCLA fourth, the coaches sixth. The coaches voted WSU 18th, the AP 19th. ... Arizona State coach Dirk Koetter promoted redshirt freshman Andrew Walter to backup quarterback ahead of Matt Cooper, which is important because starter Jeff Krohn is nursing a sprained ankle ... The NCAA record for worst turnover margin is minus 3.1. Cal's turnover margin currently is minus 3.2. Not coincidentally, the 0-5 Bears are off to their worst start in 119 years of football. ... Oregon State's defense has not given up a touchdown in six quarters. ... Oregon has beaten its last three opponents by a combined score of 149-56. Those opponents' combined record is 3-14. The Ducks next four opponents are 17-3. ... Cal is the first of three UCLA opponents -- Stanford and Washington State are next -- that will have played Oregon the week before facing the Bruins. ... Before beating Stanford, Washington State had lost its last nine games against ranked opponents. ... A number of key Pac-10 players apparently will miss games because of injuries, including USC running back Sultan McCullough, Stanford defensive lineman Matt Leonard, UCLA receiver Brian Poli-Dixon, Cal quarterback Kyle Boller, Oregon free safety Keith Lewis and Washington State running back Dave Minnich.

Ted Miller covers the Pac-10 for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. His "This Week in the Pac-10" column appears each Wednesday during the season.

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