First-half deficits don't derail Bruins

Updated: October 27, 2003, 9:37 PM ET
ESPN

LOS ANGELES -- Karl Dorrell has been so serious during his rookie season as a head coach that he felt compelled to explain he was kidding around a bit Monday at his weekly meeting with reporters.

"You think I'd tell you?" Dorrell replied when asked why UCLA has been so successful in the second half during a five-game winning streak.

More seriously, Dorrell returned to previous form, praising his coaching staff and the players.

"We've been really, really fortunate," he said. "I don't think there's any formula to it. That's kind of the makeup of our team right now.

"I try to make sure our team's in shape," he continued, quickly adding he didn't know if conditioning was a factor in the late-game success. "There's something about our team in the second half that we're able to take things up a notch."

The Bruins (6-2, 4-0 Pac-10) have led just once at halftime in their last five games, over California, and were tied once, with San Diego State. They trailed Washington 16-7, Arizona 21-10 and Arizona State 13-10, but outscored those three teams by a combined 63-0 after halftime.

"It's definitely nice to know we do come out explosively in the second half," said quarterback Matt Moore, who guided the Bruins to a 20-13 victory over Arizona State last weekend in his first start since the season-opener when he suffered a severe bone bruise in his left leg.

"We don't want to be a second-half team," Moore said. "We want to be explosive from the beginning. It's not anything special."

The Bruins began their streak after being demolished by top-ranked Oklahoma 59-24 -- a defeat that prompted severe criticism of Dorrell from fans on talk radio and some media members as well.

Such talk has quieted as UCLA has moved to the top of the Pac-10 halfway through its conference schedule.

"I do think we have surprised some people," Moore said.

What about themselves?

"I wouldn't say surprised," he said. "Well, I don't know. I think the way coach Dorrell has run this ship it's all worked out according to plan. It's something we've earned, I think."

UCLA has done it mainly on defense. Its offense is averaging 299.6 yards per game to rank ninth in the Pac-10 -- ahead of only Stanford (2-4, 0-4), which hosts the Bruins on Saturday.

"They probably are," Dorrell said when asked if people are surprised about his team's 4-0 conference record. "What we try to do is focus on what we can control. We're not in the Top 25. Those are things I really don't think much about."

When asked if the Bruins should be in the Top 25, Dorrell turned the question on reporters.

"I don't know, what do you guys think? I have no control over that," he said.

No. 3 Southern California and No. 6 Washington State are the only two Pac-10 teams in the Top 25.

Asked how his players feel about not being ranked, Dorrell replied: "I'm sure in the back of their mind they're probably wondering why. The only thing we can do is prove people wrong. I think when it's all said and done, things will wash out where they should be."

Dorrell said he believed the Bruins showed significant improvement on offense in their victory over ASU. A major factor was true freshman Maurice Drew, a stocky 5-foot-8, 200-pound tailback who gained 176 yards on 18 carries including an 83-yard touchdown run for the go-ahead touchdown early in the third quarter.

Drew gained 144 yards on 37 carries in UCLA's first seven games.

"I think he shocked everybody," Moore said. "He was just unbelievable. The 83-yard run, he ran by everybody. And two guys had angles on him."

Manuel White, UCLA's leading rusher with 379 yards on 96 carries, broke his right shoulder blade in the first half of the ASU game and will be sidelined for the rest of the season. Despite Drew's outstanding performance, Dorrell said he will back up Tyler Ebell, who is averaging only 3.6 yards on 86 carries compared to Drew's 5.8-yard average on 55 attempts.

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index