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UCLA: ROUGH PATCH OF ROAD AWAITS.

Byline: BRIAN DOHN Staff Writer

EUGENE, Ore. -- The Autzen Stadium crowd is the loudest in the West, with pushed-up seats against the visitor's sideline, a fact that often makes life brutal for veteran quarterbacks.

But UCLA starting neophyte quarterback Patrick Cowan, a redshirt sophomore, is only part of the Bruins' potential issues entering today's showdown with No. 18 Oregon.

Certainly, Cowan making his first start is one huge unknown for the Bruins, but other tidbits provide an interesting canvas as UCLA enters a brutal portion of its schedule.

First, junior middle linebacker Christian Taylor, considered the team's defensive leader, is questionable because of a sprained ankle. Bruins coach Karl Dorrell already said sophomore Kyle Bosworth will make his first career start in place of Taylor, whose availability is a game-time decision.

Beyond the personnel matters is the ramifications of the outcome. The Bruins (4-1, 2-1 Pac-10) cannot afford another conference loss after their unexpected slip-up at Washington four weeks ago. Another defeat within the Pac-10 would all but doom UCLA's hopes of winning a conference title.

Then there is the fact UCLA is beginning a brutal four-week stretch of its schedule. The Bruins travel to No. 9 Notre Dame next week, and play at No. 10 Cal on Nov. 4.

``This is exciting to be able to play games like this,'' Bruins offensive tackle Noah Sutherland said. ``It's great going on the road.

``I like going to other places, and when it's noisy, being able to quiet them. This is an exciting stretch for us.''

But it is also a difficult one, and will give an indication of just how good this team is. UCLA's wins (Utah, Rice, Stanford and Arizona) came against teams that are a combined 9-17.

Sandwiched between UCLA's games at Notre Dame and Cal is a home date with Washington State, which could be a trap game.

Beginning with Oregon, the Bruins' next four opponents are a combined 18-5, with all five of the losses coming to teams currently ranked in the top 11.

With Ben Olson sitting at home with an injured knee, Cowan will try to duplicate his impressive relief outing against Arizona, in which he completed 20 of 29 for 201 yards and two touchdowns.

Just as intriguing is how UCLA's defense deals with Oregon's dynamic and explosive offense.

The Bruins are ranked second nationally against the run (50 ypg) and in total defense (221.6 ypg), and are 11th in scoring defense (12.4 ppg).

Meanwhile, Oregon (4-1, 2-1) is tops in the Pac-10 in total offense (469.2 ypg) and second in scoring (37 ppg).

Dual-threat quarterback Dennis Dixon runs Oregon's spread-option offense, but he is not alone.

Tailbacks Jonathan Stewart and Jeremiah Johnson have rushed for a combined 724 yards and nine touchdowns, receiver Jaison Williams is leading the conference in receiving yards (105.6 ypg) and Dixon is completing 63.4 percent of his passes.

But one thing that could help the Bruins is familiarity. They saw similar offenses against Utah and Rice, and history is also on the Bruins' side.

Despite Autzen's tough reputation, the Bruins have won 12 of their past 14 games there, including a 34-26 upset in 2004. Oregon's wins came in 1990 and 2000.

brian.dohn@dailynews.com

(818) 713-3607

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UCLA (4-1, 2-1) at NO. 18 OREGON (4-1, 2-1)
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Oct 14, 2006
Words:559
Previous Article:USC FOOTBALL NOTEBOOK: GABLE FIGHTING FOR PLAYING TIME.
Next Article:UCLA FOOTBALL NOTEBOOK: OFFENSE LOOKS FOR MORE CONSISTENCY.


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