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December 1, 2006
Pac-10 Game of the Week: USC at UCLA
"This is the game Olson NEEDS to start imo. If he is not the future of the program, then the program does not have a future. He needs the pressure, he needs the experience for a game like this. Otherwise what do we have to look forward to next year?"
-- sxewesley1 on the The Bruin Lounge message board on BruinBlitz.com.
At this time last year Patrick Cowan was a redshirt freshman quarterback, biding his time on the bench behind a pair of Olsons.
At the same time, C.J. Gable was finishing up his senior season at Sylmar (Calif.) High School.
Injuries intervened over the last 12 months, forcing UCLA's Cowan and USC's Gable into key roles for each of their teams in Saturday's game at the Rose Bowl.
Cowan - UCLA's starting quarterback after the departure of Drew Olson and the injury to fellow sophomore Ben Olson - is trying to ensure a winning season for the Bruins by ending USC's seven-game win streak in the series.
The true freshman Gable - stepping into the shoes of Reggie Bush - is trying to keep USC in national championship contention for the fourth consecutive season. Gable is a symbol of the depth that has kept No. 2 USC (11-1, 7-1 Pac-10) in this position.
Bush and LenDale White left Los Angeles for the NFL. True freshman Emmanuel Moody led the team in rushing for the first three games before being sidelined with a sprained ankle. Junior Chauncey Washington took over for the next six before being slowed by a knee sprain. That brought the Trojans back to Gable, who started the opener against Arkansas before giving way to Moody and Washington.
When he returned to the starting spot against Cal, his big-play ability and 159 all-purpose yards sealed USC's fifth consecutive Pac-10 title. In the next game against Notre Dame, his 128 total yards moved USC one win away from facing No. 1 Ohio State in the BCS Championship Game in Glendale, Ariz., on Jan. 8.
"When he takes off, he is going to get every single drop out of every single snap and squeeze it," USC coach Pete Carroll said. "He is really fun to watch. Fortunately, we have needed it desperately here at the end of the season where we have been banged up and he has just risen and really given us a great boost."
UCLA's (6-5, 4-4 Pac-10) depth has also been challenged - especially at the quarterback position.
Once a highly touted recruit, Ben Olson finally got his chance to start. His opportunity was short-lived when a torn medial collateral ligament knocked him out of UCLA's 27-7 win over Arizona on Oct. 7.
Cowan started the next six games in Olson's place. Cowan didn't fare as well as Gable did across town. Cowan lost his first four starts before setting into the role in the last two games, wins against Oregon State and Arizona State.
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Olson was cleared to play Nov. 15, but has not taken a snap in a game. Cowan has remained the starter.
"I did make the decision before practice (Wednesday) that we would go with Pat, and I talked about it with both of them and they understood," UCLA coach Karl Dorrell said. "Pat has a little more seasoning with all the experience he has been playing with the last several weeks."
It hasn't been an ideal situation for Dorrell. However, the key for UCLA may be on the other side of the ball. The Bruins are greatly improved under new defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker. His unit will be the last barrier between the Trojans and another chance for the national championship.
"We have had our ups and downs and challenges throughout the season but we have been able to survive primarily with the quality of depth that can come off the bench and fill the voids," USC's Carroll said. "We have had a lot of challenges and it speaks of the mentality of our players and coaches to get the guys to step forward on these challenges and play at the level that is necessary to maintain winning ways."