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UCLA NOTEBOOK: SPECIAL TEAMS ARE JUST THAT.

Byline: Brian Dohn Staff Writer

BERKELEY - One area UCLA believes will be pivotal and could help it pull off an upset of No. 8 Cal today is special teams, which have been above average through the first five games.

Cal's loss at USC last week was due largely to malfunctions on special teams. Punter David Lonie dropped a snap, and Tim Mixon muffed a punt, leading to 10 points for the Trojans.

UCLA has improved in nearly every special teams category compared to 2003, particularly with its kickoff and punt coverage units.

``Special teams have been very good so far this year,'' UCLA coach Karl Dorrell said. ``They had their best game last week, and we had seven special team game ball winners last week, so I'm very pleased with their progress.''

A year ago, UCLA's special teams were a nightmare, so in the offseason Dorrell put linebackers coach Brian Schneider in charge of every special teams unit. The change is dramatic.

Last season, the Bruins allowed four punt returns for touchdowns - including the three by Oklahoma's Antonio Perkins that UCLA might never live down - and also yielded two kickoff returns for touchdowns.

In 2003, the Bruins were seventh in the Pac-10 in punt returns, averaging 8.2 yards per try, and were sixth in net punting with an average of 36.5 yards Furthermore, opponents averaged 14 yards on the 42 punts returned against the Bruins.

This year, UCLA is fourth in the league in punt returns, averaging 9.7 yards per try, and net punting (39-yard average). Of the nine punts returned, opponents are averaging 6.2 yards. The longest return allowed by the Bruins this season has been 13 yards.

Punter Chris Kluwe averaged 35.3 yards on eight punts in the first two games but is averaging 45.9 yards on eight punts in the past three.

Kicker Justin Medlock, who was fourth in the conference in field-goal percentage (73.7) last season, has made all seven of his attempts this season. He is 19 of 20 on extra points, and the accuracy has provided a sense of comfort.

``He's very valuable,'' Dorrell said. ``He works hard at it, and he puts a lot of pressure on himself to be good and he has a great work ethic.

``Kluwe seems like he's getting his rhythm now. The last couple of games, he's had some good distances on his punts, and we've had good coverage.''

The Bruins also are averaging 25.7 yards per kick return after averaging 22.4 last season.

--Operating deficit: For the first time in approximately a decade, UCLA's athletic department showed a net loss. According to the Equity in Athletics Disclose Act, which was released Friday, UCLA had an operating deficit of $163,943 for the 2003-04 school year.

The athletic department used the reserve accounts to offset the loss and also released information explaining the reasons for the deficit. UCLA spent $1.1 million in payouts to former men's basketball coach Steve Lavin and former football coach Bob Toledo.

The school also said the 32 percent-increase in tuition caused the athletic department to spend an additional $800,000 on scholarships. The school lost $900,000 in income because of a 30-percent cut in student registration fees.

Of the 20 varsity sports, only football ($5,728,711) and men's basketball ($3,473,533) showed a profit.

CAPTION(S):

photo

Photo:

JUSTIN MEDLOCK

UCLA kicker has converted all of his seven field-goal attempts this season.
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Oct 16, 2004
Words:582
Previous Article:CARROLL FULL OF COMPLIMENTS COACH RESPECTS ARIZONA STATE.
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