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Where the NFL is "primarily X's and O's," says Dorrell, coaching collegians "is more about communication, about building relationships, building confidence and self-esteem. I was an X's and O's kind of guy, thinking that [once I installed my system] everything would fall into place."
Instead, the Bruins in 2003 fell into a tie for fifth place in the Pac-10, dropping their last five games to finish 6-7. They were better in '04, losing six games but by smaller margins. "And the attitude was changing," says Dorrell, who continued to mold his team's mindset in Football 101. "Now they're playing really hard for one another and have tremendous confidence in each other."
One Football 101 assignment was to read a book called The 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader. No Bruin embodies more of those qualities than Olson, whose career appeared to be in jeopardy 10 months ago when he blew out his left knee in UCLA's Las Vegas Bowl loss to Wyoming. Olson's injury, went the thinking among Bruins fans, would open the door for UCLA's quarterback of the future. That would be Ben Olson (no relation to Drew), who transferred from BYU last winter. Having just returned from a two-year mission, the highly rated, 6'5" redshirt freshman shook off the rust in spring practice, then came on strong in preseason camp.
Pat George, who coached Drew Olson at Piedmont ( Calif.) High, recalls visiting his ex-pupil a couple of days after the knee surgery. "He's on his back with his leg in this machine that's keeping it elevated, moving it in different directions," George says. "He was looking at such a long, hard road back. I was afraid he might be done."
That same fear drove Olson to pour himself into his rehab, during which he discovered, he says, "a work ethic I didn't have before." He dropped 15 pounds and became more nimble in the pocket. Says Dorrell, "He's more athletic with the bad knee than he was with two good ones."
The Olsons dueled right up to the start of the season, but then Ben fractured a bone in his left (throwing) hand. While none of his coaches will admit that Ben might have gotten the nod had he not been hurt, it doesn't matter now. " Drew has won everybody over," says offensive coordinator Tom Cable. "He's made the statement: This is my team."
He made it emphatically, dramatically and repeatedly in October, leading the Bruins to come-from-behind victories on three straight Saturdays. In the fourth quarter of those games, UCLA trailed Washington by seven points, Cal by 12 and Washington State by 17. Now Olson ranks fifth in the nation in passing efficiency while directing an attack that is averaging 44.4 points a game, fifth best in the land. Olson, says quarterbacks coach Jim Svoboda, "has gotten out of his own way." Asked to explain, he adds, " Drew has a real quick mind, which is a gift." Or a liability. Olson was able to read a defense so fast, says Svoboda, "that he had time to second-guess himself. He's not doing that anymore."
With Olson, Drew and Lewis, who may be the best tight end in the country, this Bruins offense is every bit as much fun to watch as the touchdown machine Leinart is operating across town. And, like the Trojans, UCLA has issues on defense, most notably a rushing D that ranks 113th in the nation. The Bruins' defensive linemen may be undersized and young, but you have to give them this: They're slow.
"Have we been perfect? No," says Dorrell. "But it's fun to strive for perfection." His team is on a quest for what he calls "the elusive day, when everything clicks."
There's an excellent chance that both Los Angeles teams will be undefeated when they meet in the Coliseum on Dec. 3. How interesting if that also turns out to be the elusive day.