UCLA spent a lot of spring practice addressing its No. 1
No one had to tell UCLA coach Bob Toledo last season that his
defense was "horrible" and "frightening." Those were the words he
was using to describe it. Since attaining a No. 3 ranking with a
10-0 record in December 1998, the Bruins have gone 10-15 with
defensive numbers that have plummeted so low UCLA could have been
a listing on the NASDAQ. The '99 unit set a Bruins record for
yards allowed per game (444.6), and the 2000 defense set the
standard for points given up in a season (368).
Toledo, who was either an offensive coordinator or an assistant
in charge of quarterbacks during the 13 years before becoming
UCLA's coach in 1996, has been going through defensive
coordinators as if they were tissues. After firing Bob Field in
January, he hired Arizona State defensive coordinator Phil Snow
to become the fourth man to fill that spot on his staff. To
combat the Bruins' horrible defensive performance on third down
last year, when they allowed a 42% conversion rate, Snow will put
his cornerbacks in man coverage and send as many as eight rushers
after the quarterback.
He also believes that the Bruins can play harder. In his first
meeting with the defense, on April 2, he evoked the term "six
seconds" to inspire his players. "From the snap of the ball to
the whistle, the average time is six seconds," Snow says. "It's
amazing, inside that six seconds, how many players will take time
off. They get knocked down and watch, get blocked and stay
blocked--you have to start the play and finish the play."
Snow had made a highlight tape of former Sun Devil Derrick
Rodgers, an undersized linebacker whose motor never stopped, and
showed it to UCLA senior defensive end Kenyon Coleman. Then Snow
asked Coleman if he played like that. "He said, 'Not all the
time,'" says Snow. "The more guys that do it, it's amazing how
many others will follow."
The 6'6", 281-pound Coleman is exhibit A of another Bruins
bane--injuries. After tearing the meniscus in his left knee in the
third game last year, he missed the rest of the season (one of
three defensive linemen to go down for a game or more during the
year), and UCLA was left with no experienced pass rusher up
front. The Bruins had only 19 sacks in 2000, compared with Pac-10
leader Cal's 44.
Though Coleman hasn't yet played for Snow, he is inspired by what
he has seen and heard. "I like the pressure Arizona State put on
the quarterback and how it relied on the front four to get the
sack," says Coleman, who is fully recovered from his injury. "We
haven't depended on our defensive line to get sacks. This year it
will be 'Front four, go get 'em.'"
Snow hasn't set any statistical goals for the UCLA defense, but
there's one number he'd like to see the Bruins spike up:
Randle El's Career Move
Passer Decides To Go Deep
In January, when Indiana junior quarterback Antwaan Randle El was
trying to decide whether to leave school early for the NFL or
return for his senior year, he sought the advice of the league's
draft advisory committee, which projected that Randle El would be
drafted, but as a wide receiver and kick returner instead of a
quarterback. So Hoosiers coach Cam Cameron made a deal with
Randle El: If he would stay at Indiana, Cameron would help him
improve his draft potential by moving him to wideout. "Having him
back as a receiver," Cameron says, "is better than not having him
The 5'10", 194-pound Randle El, who over the last three seasons
threw for 5,805 yards and 33 touchdowns and rushed for another
2,931 yards and 36 scores for the Hoosiers, is only the second
Division I-A quarterback to throw for 200 points and rush for 200
points. Now he'll be Indiana's No. 1 wideout and its primary punt
returner, and he'll still see action at quarterback, mostly
inside the red zone. The change will also get promising junior
quarterback Tommy Jones on the field.
In the Hoosiers' spring game last Saturday, Randle El caught five
passes for 37 yards, rushed four times for 36 yards and returned
one punt for 22 yards. With his Red team trailing Jones's White
squad 21-7 in the fourth quarter, Randle El lined up at
quarterback and led two scoring drives. Jones completed 15 of 25
passes for 162 yards and two touchdowns in the 21-21 tie.
"I got the sense of how it's going to be. I'll play some
quarterback and some receiver," says Randle El. "I'm doing this
to help the team. Spring ball wasn't about convincing anyone that
this is the right thing to do. I had to trust in Coach Cam and my
teammates. We're trying to impress each other."
Bowl Rout Drives Wildcats
No, coach Randy Walker says, "we don't have any signs that say
REMEMBER THE ALAMO!" The Wildcats, who tied Purdue and Michigan
for the Big Ten title, don't need the reminder. How could they
forget after they were humiliated 66-17 by Nebraska in the Alamo
Bowl? "In the back of everybody's mind, that's what's driving
us," says junior center Austin King. "As well as we did last
year, we learned where we were compared with Nebraska."
Maybe not as far away as the Wildcats think. Now that quarterback
Drew Henson has bailed out on Michigan for a $17 million contract
with the New York Yankees, and Drew Brees has used up his
eligibility at Purdue, and Wisconsin is regrouping, Northwestern
is the Big Ten favorite. The Wildcats have 17 starters coming
back, including senior Damien Anderson, the nation's leading
returning rusher, and will get a break from the league's rotating
schedule. Northwestern won't face Michigan and Wisconsin this
season; instead, it picks up Penn State and Ohio State, both of
which are trying to rebuild.
Walker says now isn't the time for the Wildcats to rest on their
laurels. Following a lackadaisical showing by his defense one
afternoon a few weeks ago, he lectured his defensive players and
sent them off to run gassers. "I have a real sense of urgency,"
he says. "I realize how little time you have to play the game."
Illini Tandem Is Clicking Again
Illinois fell from 8-4 in 1999 to 5-6 last season in part
because quarterback Kurt Kittner's favorite deep threat,
sophomore Brandon Lloyd, stepped off a curb last July, broke his
leg and missed the season. On the first play of the Illini's
spring game last Saturday, Kittner threw a 47-yard touchdown
pass to Lloyd.... By agreeing to move the Civil War from Nov. 17
to Dec. 1 so it can be televised nationally by ABC, Oregon and
Oregon State gave themselves three weeks to prepare for each
other.... After discovering that USC had 12 kicks blocked last
season, new coach Pete Carroll appointed Kennedy Pola, a former
USC fullback and linebacker, as special teams and outside
linebackers coach. Carroll then sent Pola to pick the brain of
New England Patriots assistant Brad Seely, a former NFL Special
Teams Coach of the Year.
COLOR PHOTO: PETER READ MILLER Coleman (99) hopes to get in his licks when the Bruins unveil their new attacking defensive scheme.
COLOR PHOTO: AL TIELEMANS Triple threat Randle El will return punts and play a little quarterback in addition to his receiver duties.