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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    “UCLA beaten up, but still in chase”

    Losing a quarterback (or two) to injury isn’t fun, and nobody knows that better than Arizona.

    In last year’s game at UCLA, UA quarterback Willie Tuitama suffered his second concussion of the season on a helmet-to-helmet hit. The injury forced him to miss the following two games and limited him to sparse playing time the remainder of the season.

    One season later, the tables have turned. Tuitama is enjoying an injury-free, career year – the junior has thrown for 2,804 yards and 21 touchdowns – while UCLA finds itself with an array of injuries, especially at quarterback.

    With both starting quarterback Ben Olson and backup Patrick Cowan dealing with knee injuries, the Bruins have struggled with an assortment of different signal-callers.

    “”They hurt our quarterback, and it wasn’t a great experience,”” said UA head coach Mike Stoops. “”Losing two quarterbacks and being hurt has affected them, as well.””

    Stoops noted that UCLA’s attack runs through Olson, Cowan and injured running back Khalil Bell. If Arizona lost playmakers Rob Gronkowski (tight end), Nicolas Grigsby (running back) and Tuitama, “”it would have a profound effect on our offense, too.””

    During the Bruins’ home loss to Notre Dame on Oct. 6, third-string walk-on McLeod Bethel-Thompson – who had yet to throw a pass in his college career – was thrown into action after Olson went down late in the first quarter and Cowan was unavailable.

    Bethel-Thompson finished 12-for-28 with four interceptions and a fumble, miscues that eventually helped the Fighting Irish land their first – and only – victory of the season.

    UCLA head coach Karl Dorrell said not having a consistent starter at quarterback might be why the Bruins have struggled with consistency this season, especially having two regulars behind center, Olson and Cowan, with different styles.

    “”It has been very difficult to really gain the continuity that you need when you haven’t had your first two quarterbacks in your program healthy at any one time this year,”” Dorrell said. “”It is one of those circumstances you deal with sometimes in college football.””

    The Bruins started the year with Olson at the helm of the offense, but a series of injuries has had Cowan in and out of the lineup seemingly every other week.

    Now with Olson sidelined yet again, it will be up to a banged-up Cowan – who is making his third consecutive start tomorrow – to try and help the Bruins rebound from their 27-7 loss to Washington State last weekend. Arizona defeated the Cougars 48-20 at Arizona Stadium on Sept. 29.

    “”That is just the way things are, so you just have to adjust on the run and do what you can to help your team succeed,”” Cowan said. “”The more you play, the more comfortable you feel, and I feel better every week.””

    Usually when a coach installs a system that incorporates two quarterbacks, it is meant to keep the defense off balance. But with the injuries UCLA is suffering from, it is doing that out of necessity.

    And as if the quarterback situation wasn’t bad enough for the Bruins, their leading rusher, Bell, will miss the remainder of the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament.

    Bell – who averaged 99.4 rushing yards per game this season – scored on the third play from scrimmage against the Cougars on Saturday with a 50-yard touchdown run before the injury.

    “”It was pretty unfortunate for Khalil,”” Dorrell said. “”He is such a competitive kid and one of our best leaders on our football team and played very passionately. He is a really good player and was off to a really good season.””

    Incredibly, the Bruins are still very alive in the Pac-10 race. With only one loss in conference play, UCLA finds itself tied for second with No. 4 Oregon, behind only undefeated No. 6 ASU.

    With both teams still remaining on the Bruins’ schedule, their hopes for a Rose Bowl will certainly be on their minds when they make their trip to Tucson.

    “”We are still in a really good position this year in the conference given the setbacks we had,”” Dorrell said. “”We need to try and maximize our opportunities that we have right now.””

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