Ducks, Bruins rely on backup QBs

PASADENA, Calif. &

No. 9 Oregon and UCLA know all about the old football adage regarding a backup quarterback being one play away from the starting job.

They're living it.

Actually, where the Bruins are concerned, it's two plays, since the UCLA press guide listed Osaar Rasshan as the team's No. — QB entering the season.

Rasshan and Oregon's Brady Leaf will be calling signals Saturday when the Bruins and Ducks meet at the Rose Bowl.

It's a huge game for Oregon (8-2, 5-2 Pac-10), which knows it will return to Pasadena to play in the Rose Bowl game on New Year's Day should it beat UCLA and archrival Oregon State on Dec. 1.

The Ducks are tied atop the Pac-10 with Southern California and Arizona State, but would win the tiebreaker since they beat both teams.

It's significant for UCLA (5-5, 4-3) as well, since the Bruins need to beat the Ducks or No. 11 USC in their final game to become bowl eligible, not to mention that fifth-year coach Karl Dorrell's job might be in jeopardy.

Leaf is replacing Dennis Dixon, a leading candidate for the Heisman Trophy before being lost for the season with a torn knee ligament.

"We've had other players go down this year, perhaps none as important as Dennis," Ducks coach Mike Bellotti said. "The story of the season can be Dennis Dixon and the Heisman and ... that it ended. Or it could be the greatest story ever told by going to the Rose Bowl despite that."

Dixon's college career ended in the first quarter of Oregon's 34-24 loss at Arizona on Nov. 15, knocking the Ducks out of national championship contention.

"I've got some big shoes to fill, but we've got a great team," Leaf said. "We've just got to go out and win the next two ballgames, and I think I can lead us to that. I know I can get the job done."

Leaf, a senior and the younger brother of former Washington State quarterback Ryan Leaf, was unable to do so after Dixon crumpled to the ground without being hit. Leaf completed 22 of 46 passes for 163 yards and two touchdowns with two interceptions, one of which Arizona returned for a touchdown.

Leaf was slowed by the sprained ankle he sustained early in the third quarter &

an injury he said shouldn't be a factor in this game.

"It was a difficult situation, but I had to stick it out," Leaf said. His backup is redshirt freshman Justin Roper.

Offensive coordinator Chip Kelly said he believes Leaf has an opportunity to make his mark, and that's what he expects.

"I have all the confidence in the world in Brady," Kelly said.

Oregon's Jonathan Stewart, the Pac-10's leading rusher with 1,273 yards, has toe and shoulder injuries, but is also expected to play.

Rasshan will be making his second start and Ben Olson, the No. — quarterback when the season began, will serve as his backup. Olson hasn't played since injuring his left knee Oct. 6.

"He's made a lot of progress," Dorrell said of Rasshan. "He's starting to feel more comfortable in commanding the huddle, and then running the plays at the line of scrimmage. Having more repetitions has really helped."

Asked what Olson's availability would be, Dorrell replied: "If needed."

Patrick Cowan, who started four games in Olson's absence, has been sidelined since suffering a concussion and slight collapse of the right lung against Arizona on Nov. 3. Rasshan made his first appearance at quarterback for the Bruins that day, and his first start a week later. He had been moved to wide receiver before the season began, but back to quarterback because of the injuries.

The Bruins have lost three straight, the most recent a 24-20 setback to No. 7 Arizona State two weeks ago. With 20 returning starters, they had high hopes entering the season, but injuries and inconsistency have gotten in the way.

UCLA's first seven opponents rushed for 557 yards, an average of less than 80 yards per game. The last three foes have gained 554 yards on the ground, an average of nearly 185.

"Our spirits are pretty good on the team," said Dorrell, whose 34-26 record includes one win in four bowl games. "We want to win again and feel good about ourselves, and this is the last time to do that at home."

The Bruins are 15-3 at the Rose Bowl since the start of the 2005 season.

Regarding his job status, Dorrell said: "We're trying to focus on our season. There are two great games left and a lot of things can happen this next couple of weeks. And that's really where we have to spend most of our energy &

on how we play and coach."

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