PASADENA, Calif. (AP) -- Ben Olson had to hurry up and wait and
even take a lengthy break on the path to his first college start.
Once he fielded his first snap, though, the big redhead proved
worthy of the hype that has trailed him since 2001.
Olson threw for 318 yards and three touchdowns in his debut as a
starter, leading UCLA to a 31-10 victory over Utah in the opener
"Wow, I didn't know anything about this dude, but I know a lot
about him now," Utes wide receiver Brent Casteel said.
The 6-foot-5, 227-pound lefthander hadn't started a game since
his senior year in high school nearly five years ago, when he was
the nation's No. 1 recruit. He transferred from Brigham Young in
January 2005, after sitting around watching his freshman year and
spending two years on a Mormon church mission in Canada.
"My path to get here has been a little bit different than most
people, but I knew my time would come," Olson said.
"I was a little bit nervous, but I wasn't as nervous as I
thought I might be. I was feeling good and the 'O' line was giving
me time back there. It was a total team effort," he said.
Last season, Olson played sparingly as the backup to Drew Olson
after missing the first three games with a broken left throwing
This Saturday was all his.
Olson showed the poise of his 23 years, completing 25 of 33
passes for 318 yards and no interceptions in a game that began in
96-degree heat at the Rose Bowl. The victory was UCLA's 100th in
the venerable stadium since moving here in 1982.
Olson's passing yardage was the most by a first-time starting
quarterback since Tommy Maddox had 353 at Michigan in 1990.
"He looked fantastic," UCLA coach Karl Dorrell said.
Olson was perfect on his first seven passes, hitting seven
different receivers, all for first downs.
"He wasn't the number one high school quarterback in the
country for nothing," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said.
The Utes had won their last four games against Pac-10 opponents,
but they didn't mount a serious challenge in the second half.
Utah was 0-for-11 on third down, and managed 285 yards of total
offense to UCLA's 418. The Utes' defense forced five fumbles, but
the Bruins recovered them.
"We didn't really have any idea what they were going to do,"
Utah senior quarterback Brett Ratliff said. "They changed it up a
lot. We tried to adjust to one thing and they'd do something
Olson was clearly superior to Ratliff, who came in 2-0 as a
starter after leading the Utes to season-ending victories over BYU
and Georgia Tech in the Emerald Bowl.
Ratliff was 13-of-31 for 162 yards, with one touchdown and one
UCLA extended its lead to 21-10 on Olson's 19-yard pass to Matt
Willis in the third quarter.
Justin Medlock kicked a 25-yard field goal that kept UCLA ahead
24-10 in the fourth quarter. Olson's third touchdown made it 31-10
on a 9-yard pass to Marcus Everett.
Olson had the crowd of 59,709 cheering early when he connected
with Ryan Moya over the middle for a 16-yard touchdown pass on
UCLA's opening drive.
"We didn't know for sure how he would respond on the first
series," Dorrell said. "We wanted to get him started on the first
play with a pass and not a run. We protected him well."
The Bruins then stopped Utah on its 44-yard line before being
penalized for too many players on the field, keeping the Utes'
drive alive. But Ratliff's 30-yard pass to Marquis Wilson was
called offsides and the Utes were forced to punt.
"You can't hope to win the game when you turn the ball over
three or four times without any takeaways," Whittingham said.
The Utes tied the game at 7 on a 26-yard pass from Ratliff to
Casteel in the second quarter, giving their sizable section of
red-clad fans reason to cheer.
The drive's big play came on fourth-and-one at Utah's 41-yard
line, when defensive back Eric Weddle carried 5 yards for a first
down. The Utes then notched consecutive first downs, leading to
Ratliff's scoring pass.
The Utes pulled Ratliff on their next possession, replacing him
with Oklahoma transfer Tommy Grady, whose second pass was picked
off by Alterraun Verner. It was UCLA's first interception return
for a touchdown by a freshman since 1989.
Stepping in front of Casteel, Verner snagged the ball and ran 34
yards up UCLA's sideline for a 14-7 lead. He also had an 18-yard
fumble recovery in the closing minutes.
"I was able to read the route and he pretty much threw right to
me," Verner said. "It got me fired up."