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It’s a good thing UCLA (4-2, 3-0 in Pac-10) has a bye this weekend because they won’t have to face questions Saturday night about how they let another game slip through their fingers.
After losing 20-6 to previously winless Notre Dame last weekend despite outgaining them by over 140 yards, Coach Karl Dorrell has to answer plenty of questions over the next week, none greater than his quarterback situation.
When Ben Olson went down in the first quarter with a knee sprain, Dorrell went with freshman walk-on McLeod Bethel-Thompson instead of talented third-year sophomore Osaar Rasshan from Pomona Garey High.
Dorrell admitted that there hasn’t been a game this year where the top two quarterbacks have been healthy. It made it all the more puzzling that Rasshan continued to practice the week prior as a wide receiver instead of getting time as the third quarterback.
Even as he warmed up on the sidelines last week, Dorrell didn’t call his number as Bethel-Thompson made error after error during the game. When asked if he regretted not giving Rasshan more practice time as a quarterback, Dorrell said, “No, I don’t regret that at all, I made the right decision.”
It is only the most recent coaching decision that has come under fire during Dorrell’s five years at the helm. After suffering one of the most embarrassing losses in recent years, however, this move might be the most scrutinized in the coming days.
After spending his first two years at the bottom of the depth chart, Rasshan was converted to wide receiver over the summer. Despite the injury to back-up quarterback Pat Cowan two weeks ago; no attempt was made to reintegrate Rasshan in the role he was originally recruited for.
It harkens back to the philosophy that Black quarterbacks, when low on the depth chart, will more likely be converted into a wide receiver than given the chance to prove themselves on the field as a quarterback.
This philosophy seemed more evident when Dorrell even mentioned that in solving the quarterback dilemma, his staff wanted to look at true freshman Chris Forcier in addition to Rasshan.
If you’re counting, that’s two freshmen given the equal chance to shine over a sophomore who has more experience and familiarity with the offense.
Rasshan confirmed after the game that he was told he would practice at quarterback this week, which would be his first snaps since spring ball.
“I believe it’s my time to go and help the team because we have two quarterbacks down,” he said, “I do have the most experience as a quarterback, being here for three years.”
He said that he made the switch to wide receiver for the team but stressed that his natural position is at quarterback and that is where he hopes to contribute.
“I am a quarterback, I’ve been doing it my whole life but I’m going to take it step by step and see how [it] goes,” said Rasshan.
UCLA has not started a Black quarterback since Bernard Quarles in 1979 and the last Black quarterback to play in a game was Bert Emanuel in 1990. Emanuel later transferred to Rice and went on to an eight-year NFL career as a wide receiver mostly with Atlanta and Tampa Bay.
Rasshan may end the latter streak as injuries continue to befall the quarterbacks ahead of him but the ball is not just in his hands, it’s up to Dorrell to decide if he’s willing to utilize what he recruited.
Speaking of Dorrell, he has to hear the rumors once again that his job is on the line. But this loss is squarely on his shoulders for not preparing his quarterback rotation in case of injury and, once again, failing to take advantage of a golden opportunity to beat a weaker opponent.
The problem with UCLA, as was the case last year, is their inconsistency. It’s a reminder of when the UCLA basketball team under Steve Lavin somehow found ways to lose games they should have won and won games they should have lost.
The proof is there in the pudding. With the talented lineup they possess, Bruin fans deserve more sweet results than sour grapes.
Anyone who has watched the Bruins recently can see they tend to struggle more under the spotlight. The defense can’t take most of the blame since they played lights out in two of their last three high-profile games (USC last year and Notre Dame), but the offense has been unable to get anything going, scoring only four field goals in their two losses this year.
If the Bruins, who are surprisingly still in first place in the Pac-10, play like cubs against No. 2 Cal next week, count this season over and count on Dorrell looking for employment because not even another USC victory can save his job.
Clearly they need a spark from somewhere and as Dorrell continues to give Olsen and Bethel-Thompson their chances, the more athletic Rasshan might just be the match necessary to re-ignite this Bruin offense.