Norm Chow, do you believe in curses?
“I believe in football gods…” Chow says, shaking his head and exhaling, his mind running through every recent UCLA quarterback folly, whether injury or inefficiency. “Man, I don’t know.”
With the news dropping last Saturday that sophomore Kevin Prince would miss the rest of the season after knee surgery – both microfracture surgery to rebuild cartilage and the repair of a torn meniscus – the Bruins are once again facing a scary future.
Sophomore quarterback Richard Brehaut, who started in UCLA’s 42-28 win over Washington State and 60-13 loss to Oregon in Week 7 with Prince banged up, once again takes the helm, this time against the conference’s top defense in No. 15 Arizona, at 12:30 p.m today at the Rose Bowl.
Now facing the loss of two top targets for the second straight week, Nelson Rosario (ankle) and Ricky Marvray (suspension), and his left tackle, Sean Sheller (suspension), Brehaut understands that it’s up to him to silence UCLA’s ghosts.
“I for sure need to be better than we’ve been so far,” said Brehaut, who practiced extensively with the first team all season as Prince battled myriad injuries. “We had some pretty lofty goals for the season, and we haven’t been able to get on track. If Kevin was still here, he’d say he’d have to play better. We’re not doing what we need to do to get our team to win.
“We need to step up, we need to play better.”
But this isn’t just a one-year jinx.
Consider: The fifth-rated quarterback in the Pac-10, Cal’s Kevin Riley, currently sports a pass efficiency rating of 140.8.
For measure, UCLA’s best performance since Drew Olson’s breakout season in 2005: 115.5, by Prince last season as a redshirt freshman.
Since that blessed season, when the Bruins went 10-2 as Olson completed 242-of-378 passes for 3,198 yards and 34 touchdowns, UCLA is a black cat walking under a ladder holding a piece of broken glass.
All bad luck.
In 2006, former Thousand Oaks High quarterback Ben Olson went down with a torn medial collateral ligament in his left knee.
In 2007, Olson tore his left lateral collateral ligament and missed more than half the season.
The next season, the hits continued. Two on the same day.
On April 27, 2008, Pat Cowan tore his left anterior cruciate ligament and was lost for the season and Olson broke a bone in his right foot, later re-breaking the bone and missing the season.
“It’s a little bit mind-boggling. It’s hard to weather,” UCLA head coach Rick Neuheisel said. “You have to have consistent QB play to be effective over the long haul, no question about it. But look at Arizona’s quarterback last week – the backup goes in and has a great night. It requires a lot of things around them. We’ve just had a hard time putting everything together.”
Neuheisel was right – Wildcat backup Mark Scott did play great last Saturday in the team’s 44-14 win over Washington.
He might get his chance to do it again today.
Scott, who completed 18-of-22 passes for 233 yards and two touchdowns against the Huskies, practiced throughout the week with the Arizona first-team offense, as starter Nick Foles still nursed a right knee sprain.
Foles was upgraded to probable, but is still likely going to sit.
“I know he’s a great player,” Neuheisel said of Foles, who ranks second in the Pac-10 in passing yardage per game at 266.7. “Nick Foles is a great, big-time talent. But they’re going to want to make sure he’s 100 percent.”
UCLA doesn’t have that predicament this week, for the first time maybe all season.
It’s Richard Brehaut’s team, once and for all.
“I’m not extremely superstitious, so I don’t want to say I believe in curses, but there’s definitely a conspiracy or something,” said senior offensive tackle Micah Kia, who will start for Sheller at left tackle. “There is something going on. I don’t know what it is…but it’s weird.”