Friday, September 10, 1999

Buckeyes face thinned UCLA squad




BY SCOTT MacGREGOR
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The Bruins are limping. But don't underestimate them.

        UCLA, Ohio State's opponent in Saturday's 8 p.m. home opener in Columbus, comes in with 11 players suspended in the school's embarrassing handicapped parking scandal, has a young offensive line and two inexperienced quarterbacks. Its star wide receiver, Danny Farmer — one of the best in the nation — is hobbled by an ankle sprain, and his playing time will be limited.

        Yet the Bruins are ranked 14th nationally, and Ohio State coach John Cooper said their skill players — Farmer, split ends Brian Poli-Dixon and Brad Melsby and tailbacks DeShaun Foster and Jermaine Lewis — are the best collection the Buckeyes will face this season. That's not good news for an Ohio State defense that was burned in the opening loss to Miami by the Hurricanes' skill players.

        And UCLA is 1-0 after a 38-7 win over Boise State last Saturday, a stat the 0-1, 13th-ranked Buckeyes envy.

        “They don't want to lose,” UCLA coach Bob Toledo said. “You're going to have two teams out there fighting pretty hard.”

        Farmer, a preseason candidate for the Biletnikoff Award as the country's best receiver, caught 58 passes for 1,274 yards and 12 touchdowns last season.

        If he can't play much, Foster (10 TDs last year) and Lewis (12 TDs) figure to take up the slack on the ground. The tight ends are also more a focus of the offense this season, including catching both touchdown passes against Boise State.

        And one of the two UCLA quarterbacks — redshirt freshman Cory Paus, who will rotate with junior Drew Bennett — has the poise, accuracy and touch to remind some of a young Cade McNown, who led UCLA to the last two Pac-10 championships before going in the first round of the NFL draft.

        As with Ohio State, the quarterback position is drawing the most attention in Los Angeles, with Toledo sticking to his plans to play both Bennett and Paus early, then decide on a starter. Bennett started against Boise State, completing eight of 16 passes for 120 yards and a touchdown, while Paus was 12-of-18 for 128 yards and a touchdown.

        Paus, a strong-armed thrower from the southern suburbs of Chicago, is the popular pick for the job in L.A.

        “Cory has really good poise; he's a good leader; he throws a really catchable ball; he has great touch,” Bennett said. “I think I know the offense a little bit better than he does and have a little more athletic ability. Overall, we're fairly similar.”

        The parking scandal — in which 11 players were suspended for two games for their role in illegally obtaining handicapped parking passes — didn't hurt much in UCLA's opener, but it may play a big factor against the Buckeyes, who are just a little bit better than Boise State.

        Suspended are three defen sive backs (including starting safety Ryan Roques and corner Marques Anderson), four linebackers (including sophomore Ryan Nece, a preseason candidate for the Butkus Award), two offensive linemen and two running backs. Seven of them were starters.

        “It hurt us from a depth standpoint (against Boise State),” Toledo said. “Guys were fatigued, cramped. We just didn't have quality depth.”

        “It took out a little bit of experience from both sides of the ball, which makes a difference,” Bennett said. “But we still have great athletes who know the game plans and know the schemes. We still have some quality players in the positions we need.”

        It most affects a defense that had trouble stopping opponents last year, especially in the big games. The Bruins (10-2 last season) gave up 49 points in a loss to Miami and 38 in a Rose Bowl loss to Wisconsin and Ron Dayne, who ran roughshod.

        To remedy that, Toledo promoted former Bruins defensive coordinator Bob Field back to that position and was impressed with the results against Boise State, despite a late scoring drive that prevented a shutout. The defensive front took a big hit, though, when senior end Travor Turner suffered a season-ending knee injury in the opener.

        The Bruins are taking nothing for granted — not even that they're down with so many players out.

        “I don't want to say we've got nothing to lose. We're UCLA, and we're going to go out there and play hard and play to win,” Toledo said. “We're going to respect our opponents ... (but) I want our players feeling good about themselves.”

       



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