Preview: UCLA at Notre Dame
By Douglas Kroll
Notre Dame (5-1) is used to playing one team from the Los Angeles area each season, but this year the Irish will face both UCLA and USC. This Saturday, the Bruins head to South Bend to tangle with the Fighting Irish for just
the third time ever, and first time since 1964, with ND winning both prior contests.
It may be tough for UCLA (4-2) to pick up its first win in the series, as they lost starting quarterback Ben Olson to a torn MCL. His replacement, Patrick Cowan, also suffered an injury in a 30-20 loss to Oregon last week. When being sacked, Cowan was punched in the throat, which left him unable to talk for much of this week, and could prove very costly in the loud confines of Notre Dame Stadium. Cowan completed 16-of-31 passes for only 112 yards and threw an interception.
On the ground for UCLA, running back Chris Markey has impressed many, as he is 18th in the nation, and 4th in the Pac-10 in rushing, with 98.2 ypg. Kicker Justin Medlock ranks first in the nation with 2.33 field goals per game, and leads the conference with 9.67 points per game.
One plus for the Bruins has been their defense, an unusual characteristic for a Pac-10 team. UCLA is giving up only 167.7 yards per game through the air, and has the 15th best run defense in the nation, allowing 84.3 yards on the ground each game.
For Notre Dame, the first game following a bye week has usually treated them well over the years, as they have gone 25-5 since 1984. The last two years against USC were instances where things did not break there way following a bye, falling 34-31 in an instant classic last season, and getting blown out 41-10 the year before.
The Irish have rebounded nicely since a lack-luster loss to Michigan, 47-21 at home. They have won three games in a row, and in the process, the offense has really been put into high gear. ND has averaged 35.3 points per game during the win streak, backed by quarterback Brady Quinn. The Notre Dame passing game ranks 12th in the country, as they have put up 273.5 passing yards per game. But this isnt a one-dimensional offense either, as running back Darius Walker has helped ND average 106.8 yards on the ground, with his 87.7 ypg. In their last game, Walker rushed for a season-high 153 yards against Stanford.
Rhema McKnight has been Quinns favorite target, bringing in seven TDs, and picking up 82.5 yards per game. Wide receiver Jeff Samardzija has continued his success from a year ago, with five touchdown catches, and averaging nearly 11 yards per catch.
With Olson out, UCLA will have to try and stop the high-octane Notre Dame offense that has run opponents over the last few weeks. For the Bruins sake, they should hope that the Irish are a little out of synch following the week off. Either way, it should be fun to see two classic programs battle one another for the first time in 42 years. The two are slated to play in the Rose Bowl next October. Kickoff is set for 2:30 ET on NBC.
Douglas Kroll is an independent contributor to College Football Poll.com.