Just when you think this quarterback business can't get any tougher, everyone ratchets up the pressure by comparing you to the guy across town, the senior putting up ridiculous numbers for his undefeated team. But keep your chin up, Matt Leinart. While it's true that UCLA's Drew Olson is having the superior season-he's thrown 21 touchdowns to your 16; three interceptions to your five-he can't keep this up forever.
Right? If recent seasons are our guide, the Bruins have instructions for a late-season collapse embedded in their powder-blue DNA. Yes, Olson threw a school-record six touchdown passes last Saturday in the Bruins' 51-28 blowout of Oregon State, and five the week before. He's got to cool off sometime. Then again, this band of Bruins has been galvanized by multiple comeback wins. It has more character than UCLA teams past. And Olson has a sidekick, junior tailback Maurice Drew, who's so spectacular that even if the quarterback has an off game, the Bruins, 7-0 for the first time since 1998 and ranked eighth in the country, might not even notice.
With his team trailing by seven points early in the first quarter on Saturday, Olson rolled to his right, then threw back to Drew, who scooted down the left sideline for a 43-yard score. It was the first of Drew's two touchdown receptions against the Beavers and his 15th and 16th TDs of the season-a season in which he has dealt with tragedy and increased attention from opposing defenses with toughness and grace.
Maurice Jones was a probation officer in Pinole, Calif., who was forced to retire in 1991 after suffering a second heart attack. The upside was that it gave Jones more time to spend with his eldest grandson and namesake. Because Drew's mother, Andrea, an account manager at a telecommunications company, had to leave the house early in the morning for her long commute, her son got in the habit of staying with his grandparents. Even after Andrea transferred closer to home, Drew continued to live with her parents. Asked why, he smiles and says, "'Cause I got my way."
Did they spoil you? "A little bit."
The two Maurices became "best friends," says Drew. The grandfather became a fixture at practices and games of De La Salle High, the Concord, Calif., powerhouse for which his grandson starred. After Drew cast his lot with the Bruins-declining scholarship offers from nearby Cal and ascendant USC, among others-Jones missed only one game in his grandson's first two years. "He was always smiling," says Drew. "He never made an enemy. And he loved football. All he could talk about was how he couldn't wait for the season to come around."
Sitting in the Rose Bowl on Sept. 10 as he watched the Bruins pound Rice, Jones was felled by his third heart attack. He was taken to a hospital but died later that night. He was 69. To honor his grandfather, Drew added his name to the back of his jersey, which now reads jones-drew.
The extra letters have not exactly slowed him down. Against Oregon State, Drew ran for 120 yards, caught three passes for 67 yards and had 63 yards in punt returns. For the season he has returned three punts for touchdowns and leads the nation in punt return average. He ranks second in scoring and is fourth in all-purpose yards. So scintillating has Drew's play been that, following his five-touchdown performance in UCLA's 47-40 comeback win over Cal on Oct. 8, Bruins sports information director Marc Dellins could not resist issuing a cheeky release describing his star as "perhaps the top all-purpose performer in the nation."
Marc, please. Everyone who follows the college game knows that its top all-purpose performer plies his trade on the other side of the Santa Monica Freeway. While taking nothing away from USC's Reggie Bush, Dellins seeks only to point out that, with three times as many punt returns for touchdowns this season as Bush, Drew has been more effective in that role.
Drew's grandfather foresaw UCLA's success this fall. "He heard about how hard we were working," says Drew. "He thought something special was gonna happen."
He must've heard about Football 101. Last spring the Bruins had a series of meetings designed to improve communication, "to give players and coaches a chance to connect," says third-year coach Karl Dorrell. It was his hope that once they'd "connected," the members of the program could develop a trust and belief in one another that had been lacking in Dorrell's first two seasons, during which UCLA was 12-13.
"I've been telling myself for two years, when I'm a senior, and really able to make a difference, I'll be damned if we go 6-6," says All-America tight end Marcedes Lewis. "We got everything on the table, what we like about the program, what we don't like. Things a family would talk about."
Dorrell, 41, is a former Bruins wideout whose previous job had been as receivers coach for the Denver Broncos. Though he had worked most recently as a college assistant at Colorado, Arizona State and Washington before joining the Broncos, Dorrell had no head coaching experience, making for a bumpy transition. He had to figure out everything from where he was supposed to stand on the sidelines-it's not O.K. to hang out behind your players, it was explained to him-to how best to deal with college students when you're the man in charge.
Where the NFL is "primarily X's and O's," says Dorrell, coaching collegians "is more about communication, about building relationships, building confidence and self-esteem. I was an X's and O's kind of guy, thinking that [once I installed my system] everything would fall into place."
Instead, the Bruins in 2003 fell into a tie for fifth place in the Pac-10, dropping their last five games to finish 6-7. They were better in '04, losing six games but by smaller margins. "And the attitude was changing," says Dorrell, who continued to mold his team's mindset in Football 101. "Now they're playing really hard for one another and have tremendous confidence in each other."
One Football 101 assignment was to read a book called The 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader. No Bruin embodies more of those qualities than Olson, whose career appeared to be in jeopardy 10 months ago when he blew out his left knee in UCLA's Las Vegas Bowl loss to Wyoming. Olson's injury, went the thinking among Bruins fans, would open the door for UCLA's quarterback of the future. That would be Ben Olson (no relation to Drew), who transferred from BYU last winter. Having just returned from a two-year mission, the highly rated, 6'5" redshirt freshman shook off the rust in spring practice, then came on strong in preseason camp.
Pat George, who coached Drew Olson at Piedmont (Calif.) High, recalls visiting his ex-pupil a couple of days after the knee surgery. "He's on his back with his leg in this machine that's keeping it elevated, moving it in different directions," George says. "He was looking at such a long, hard road back. I was afraid he might be done."
That same fear drove Olson to pour himself into his rehab, during which he discovered, he says, "a work ethic I didn't have before." He dropped 15 pounds and became more nimble in the pocket. Says Dorrell, "He's more athletic with the bad knee than he was with two good ones."
The Olsons dueled right up to the start of the season, but then Ben fractured a bone in his left (throwing) hand. While none of his coaches will admit that Ben might have gotten the nod had he not been hurt, it doesn't matter now. "Drew has won everybody over," says offensive coordinator Tom Cable. "He's made the statement: This is my team."
He made it emphatically, dramatically and repeatedly in October, leading the Bruins to come-from-behind victories on three straight Saturdays. In the fourth quarter of those games, UCLA trailed Washington by seven points, Cal by 12 and Washington State by 17. Now Olson ranks fifth in the nation in passing efficiency while directing an attack that is averaging 44.4 points a game, fifth best in the land. Olson, says quarterbacks coach Jim Svoboda, "has gotten out of his own way." Asked to explain, he adds, "Drew has a real quick mind, which is a gift." Or a liability. Olson was able to read a defense so fast, says Svoboda, "that he had time to second-guess himself. He's not doing that anymore."
With Olson, Drew and Lewis, who may be the best tight end in the country, this Bruins offense is every bit as much fun to watch as the touchdown machine Leinart is operating across town. And, like the Trojans, UCLA has issues on defense, most notably a rushing D that ranks 113th in the nation. The Bruins' defensive linemen may be undersized and young, but you have to give them this: They're slow.
"Have we been perfect? No," says Dorrell. "But it's fun to strive for perfection." His team is on a quest for what he calls "the elusive day, when everything clicks."
There's an excellent chance that both Los Angeles teams will be undefeated when they meet in the Coliseum on Dec. 3. How interesting if that also turns out to be the elusive day.
Tale of Two Tandems
For the second straight year, USC's Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush are getting a lot of Heisman hype (and deservedly so), but Drew Olson (left) and Maurice Drew are putting up comparable and, in some categories, better statistics.
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Look for Stewart Mandel's Power Rankings and Gene Menez's Heisman Watch at SI.com/collegefootball.
Drew gave Dorrell (opposite) plenty of reason to applaud, racking up 250 all-purpose yards against the Beavers.
Drew dedicated his season to his late grandfather.