Vitalis Sun Bowl


Northwestern (7-4) vs. No. 17 UCLA (9-2)
December 30, 2005 - 11:00 a.m. MT
CBS Sports - El Paso, Tex.

Northwestern Website Northwestern Roster Northwestern Schedule Northwestern Statistics
UCLA Website UCLA Roster UCLA Schedule UCLA Statistics

The 2005 Vitalis Sun Bowl should prove to be a high-scoring affair as both Northwestern and UCLA will bring explosive offenses to El Paso.  The Wildcats', led by coach Randy Walker, posted a conference record of 5-3 to put them in a four-way tie for third place.  Coach Karl Dorrell, Pac-10 co-Coach of the Year, and UCLA ended their season 9-2, which was good enough for third place in the Pac-10 and are coming off a loss to No. 1 USC.

The two teams are among the best offensive powers in the country, and are led by their respective quarterbacks, Brett Basanez and Drew Olson.  Both teams will looking to rebound after their most recent bowl games, with Northwestern being edged by Bowling Green in the 2003 Music City Bowl and UCLA being upset by Wyoming in last year's Las Vegas Bowl.   

The game will mark the sixth all-time meeting between the teams, but the first since 1970 when the Bruins topped the Wildcats.  Northwestern holds a 3-2 record against UCLA but has lost the last two. 

Northwestern Bowl Record: 1-4
UCLA Bowl Record: 12-13

Northwestern on Offense...
The Wildcats' offense is ranked eighth in the nation after averaging close to 500 yards and 31.8 points per game.  Basanez, who will make his 40th consecutive start, has been the force behind the offense for four years, and is leading the team during his senior season by passing for almost 300 yards per game and throwing for 20 touchdowns.  The Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year has completed better than 64 percent of his passes during the regular season and has thrown only six interceptions while competing against some of the top defenses in the country.  Wide receivers Mark Philmore, another All-Big Ten selection, and Shaun Herbert have proven to be good options for Basanez, combining for 1,418 yards and 10 touchdowns.

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Balancing out the Northwestern attack is true freshman Tyrell Sutton.  The FWAA National Freshman of the Year, Sutton ran for 1,390 yards and 16 touchdowns, and also caught for 329 yards and two more scores.  He will be an invaluable resource for Basanez and the offense against UCLA's rush defense, which ranks 115th nationally.  Clearing the way for Sutton will be second-team All-Big Ten tackle Zach Strief.

UCLA on Offense...
Drew Olson shattered UCLA record books by throwing 31 touchdowns in his senior campaign.  That is good enough for third in the nation, as is his efficiency rating of 165.23, which put him on the short list for several national awards.  This season he has had a six-touchdown game against Oregon and a five-touchdown game against Arizona State, a game in which he led the offense to amass 510 yards in the air and 660 yards of total offense, two totals that are among the most ever.

Joining Olson on the attack are a pair of All-Americans in tight end Marcedes Lewis and Maurice Drew.  Lewis is one of the top receiving tight ends in the country and has contributed 10 touchdowns and 741 yards to be Olson's favorite receiver by far.  Drew, who is also a standout punt returner, has gained 900 yards en route to his 13 rushing touchdowns.  Against Cal, Drew scored five touchdowns in a game for the second time in his career.

Northwestern on Defense...
There is no doubt that the Wildcat defense is led by senior Tim McGarigle.  The All-Big Ten honoree seemed to be all over the field to earn his 139 tackles.  He also contributed two sacks, one interception and two fumble recoveries to be Northwestern's fiercest defender.  Senior Herschel Henderson had three interceptions and a fumble recovery in his final campaign, while Nick Roach was second on the team with 71 sacks and a forced fumble.

As a unit, the Wildcats forced 17 interceptions and 20 fumbles this season to give the team a +10 turnover ratio.  They have also compiled 11 sacks for 42 yards through 11 games, with two of those coming from All-Big Ten lineman Barry Cofield, who also had six tackles for loss.    

UCLA on Defense...
Spencer Havner, a senior linebacker is an All-Pac-10 pick after leading the Bruins with 92 tackles, two interceptions, two sacks and two fumbles.  Fifteen of his tackles were for loss, as were 10.5 of sophomore Brigham Harwell's.  Another senior linebacker, Justin London, has the potential to be a draft pick next year.  A tough competitor, London can defend both the run and the pass to provide problems for opposing offenses.

Strong safety Jerrod Page has been a starter at UCLA for four years, and is an aggressive defender who earned a place on the short list for national defensive awards as a senior.  Page ranks second on the team with 50 solo tackles, including seven for loss.   

Keys to the Game...
The Wildcat defense may have to come up with their best game of the season to contain the powerful Bruin offense.  McGarigle and lineman Barry Cofield, another All-Big Ten selection will have their hands full with Olson, Lewis and Drew, and have to find a way to stifle any opportunities for a big play from the Bruin offense.  Safety Reggie MacPherson will have the difficult job of shutting out Lewis. 

Conversely, Basanez must be able to set fire to the explosive offense that he has been marshalling for four years.  Philmore and the other receivers will be expected to make the break out plays as needed, while Sutton will be counted on to create opportunities on the ground against one of the nation's worst run defenses.  Northwestern's adaptation of the spread offense could give the Bruin defense fits as well.

The Wildcats will also have to work hard to get good field position and win the battle of the special teams.  UCLA kicker Justin Medlock, whose status for the game is questionable, is one of the best in the country and can pin an offense inside its own 20 more often than not.  On the other side, Northwestern's kicking teams will have to make sure to keep the ball out of dangerous return man Maurice Drew's hands