The last time UCLA faced the top-ranked team in the nation it was ugly. The last time they beat a No. 1 team, bell-bottoms were making their first appearance and leisure suits were the fad. The Bruins' hankering to become one of college football's elite programs again will take time.
They haven't finished in the top 10 since 1998, and little is expected these days as the transition to a new coaching staff with a young offense crawls along. However, the Karl Dorrell era could get its first severe jolt today, either positive or negative, when the Bruins play at No. 1 Oklahoma. Although Dorrell downplayed what a victory over the Sooners would mean, certainly it would be a boon to everything associated with the Bruins.
"I think every team is going to be vulnerable," Dorrell said. "That is the nature of sport. I think the teams that are better prepared to win the game are in a better position to win the game. [Oklahoma] could be just as vulnerable as anybody, but again I'm worried about UCLA. I'm going to get UCLA ready to play and play well and to obviously have the mindset to go into Norman and [win] the football game."
Perhaps there is a good reason Dorrell downplayed the significance of a victory. Few folks outside Westwood believe the Bruins have a chance, and not many unfortunate enough to witness the Bruins' offensive production in a loss to Colorado (16-14) and victory over Illinois (6-3) would argue. UCLA, once known as a team that scored at will but surrendered points even more quickly, is the worst offensive team in the nation. And facing the Bruins today is a Sooners defense that might be the most athletic, fastest and physical in the country.
"We don't really feel any pressure because we can't do any worse than what we've already done," UCLA junior receiver Craig Bragg said. "We're rated last, but we know we're a lot better talent than that and a lot better offense than that."
However, statistics and performance suggest otherwise. UCLA ranks last among Division I-A's 117 football teams with 223.5 yards a game. They are averaging 10 points and haven't scored a touchdown in 75 minutes.
The running game is averaging 74 yards, better than only seven other schools. And as if 83,000 hostile fans won't cause enough commotion, the Bruins face a Sooners team that has allowed three first-half points in their first three games.
"The run game is going to be huge for us against Oklahoma," Bruins quarterback Drew Olson said. "Their secondary is so good. If we execute, complete the 3-yard passes, keep the chains moving, I think if we get some established drives against Oklahoma, then I think we have a chance. We can't be going three-and-out."
UCLA has failed to get a first down in 11 of 23 possessions this season, and that doesn't count those possessions ended by halftime or the conclusion of the game. Against Illinois, the Bruins failed to get a first down in eight of 13 drives.
"In a sense you want to pick up the defense from this past week because they basically shut out Illinois, but going into this week is a great challenge for us as an offense to try and establish something," Olson said. "There shouldn't be any pressure on us because we're going against the No. 1 team and the No. 1 defense in the country and nobody expects us to win.
"We can go out there and play relaxed and play loose, and I don't think we did that last week."