The math is simple: UCLA won 10 games in 1997 and 10 in '98. Then the Bruins won 10 games again—in the last two seasons combined. At first glance the defense was to blame for the drop-off to 4-7 and 6-6 records. UCLA couldn't stop most teams, permitting 28.3 points per game in '99 and 31.5 last year. In January coach Bob Toledo hired Arizona State defensive coordinator Phil Snow to make the defense more aggressive. A closer inspection of the downturn, however, indicates that the Bruins need to make big strides on offense as well, and they have the tools to do so.
It's a tribute to Toledo, a career offensive coach, that last season's injury-riddled, oft-overmatched unit scored the 30.3 points per game that it did. UCLA depended heavily on big plays from wide-outs Freddie Mitchell, who left early for the NFL, and Brian Poli-Dixon, a senior this season. The Bruins believe they will improve if they better mix the run and pass. That will happen, says assistant coach Mark Weber, if his linemen sustain their blocks longer. Toward that end, he wants them coming out of their stances about eight inches lower than they did in the past. That will give them more leverage to control would-be tacklers.
This offensive line is the Bruins' most experienced since the conference-winning team of '98. Its cause will be helped if senior tailback DeShaun Foster and junior quarterback Cory Paus can make it through the season injury-free. Foster missed almost all of two games after breaking a bone in his right hand on Sept. 30 against Arizona State. Paus separated his right shoulder on UCLA's first play of last season and missed four games. He returned to complete 56% of his passes, throwing for 2,154 yards and 17 touch-downs with nine interceptions. However, on the last play of the first half in the Sun Bowl, he refractured the left collarbone that he broke late in '99. Paus, who threw without a hitch in spring practice, will be ready for the season opener, at Alabama.
These Bruins have high expectations. A few players were contributors on the league championship team three years ago. Many of the others signed with UCLA because of that success. "This is our chance," says junior offensive tackle Mike Saffer, "to prove what we can do."