LOS ANGELES — Ben Olson waited nearly five years to become a starting college quarterback. Now, the 23-year-old UCLA sophomore will miss at least part of the toughest portion of the Bruins’ schedule because of a knee injury.
Olson sprained his knee in the first quarter of Saturday’s 27-7 victory over Arizona at the Rose Bowl when his left leg was rolled on after a pass. He had an MRI on Monday, and the results were not immediately known.
“He will probably be out weeks. I don’t know how many,” coach Karl Dorrell said. “He won’t play this week.”
Patrick Cowan, effective after Olson went out, will get his first start Saturday when the Bruins visit No. 18 Oregon.
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“It’s unfortunate it had to happen like this,” Cowan said following the Arizona game.
The Bruins (4-1, 2-1 Pac-10) and Ducks (4-1, 2-1) are tied for third in the Pac-10, along with Washington and Washington State.
“We need another week of improvement going up to Eugene,” Dorrell said. “We still aren’t quite at our potential yet.”
After Oregon, the Bruins play at No. 9 Notre Dame, and visit No. 10 California on Nov. 4.
If Olson’s injury is no more than a sprain, he might be back in the next few weeks. If not, he’ll almost surely miss a key stretch of the season, or more.
“I don’t think my season’s over at all,” Olson said after watching the rest of the Arizona game on crutches.
Olson and Cowan competed for the starting job in training camp, with Olson emerging as the starter after spending a redshirt season at BYU, two years on a Mormon mission in Canada and one season as a reserve in Westwood.
Cowan’s resume was equally spotty.
The sophomore made a single brief appearance last season, and had not attempted a pass until Saturday. But he proved an able replacement against the Wildcats, completing 20 of 20 passes for 201 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions.
“Our team will rally around him,” Dorrell said. “As the starter, Ben got 70 percent of the reps. He (Cowan) watched and always registered what to do. He stays involved in the game plan.”
ARIZONA’S TUITAMA QUESTIONABLE: Adam Austin will start at quarterback when Arizona visits Stanford on Saturday in a showdown of last-place Pac-10 teams.
Austin replaces Willie Tuitama, who suffered his second concussion in a month during last weekend’s 27-7 loss at UCLA.
But that may not be the only personnel change as the flagging Wildcats (2-4, 0-3) try to salvage their season against the moribund Cardinal (0-6, 0-3). Unless they make a quick turnaround, the Wildcats appear likely to extend their bowl-less streak to eight straight seasons.
“There are obviously things that are broken and obviously need to be fixed,” Arizona coach Mike Stoops said Monday at his weekly campus news conference. “What we are doing doesn’t seem to be working as well as we would like. There will be minor changes as we move forward.”
Stoops did not specify what changes might take place, but the offense looks as if it needs a facelift. The unit ranks 118th of 119 Division I-A teams in rushing (54.8 yards per game), 115th in scoring (11.7 points) and 113th in total offense (248 yards).
Arizona has rotated the same six players along the offensive line all season. The line has been unable to protect Tuitama and has failed to open holes for the rushing attack.
The Wildcats have lost yardage on the ground in each of their last three games. When opponents don’t have to respect the run, it makes it easier for them to tee off on the passer.
“We are letting people get away with a lot and it is hindering our passing game,” Stoops said. “You say, ‘But we are throwing the ball (well).’ But the play they hit Willie they don’t even respect the run fake and they go up and hit our quarterback.”
Tuitama was knocked out of Arizona’s loss to UCLA in the opening minutes of the second quarter when Bruin defensive end Bruce Davis hit him below the chin. Tuitama also suffered a concussion on the first play against LSU on Sept. 9 and missed the first three quarters of Arizona’s game against Stephen F. Austin the following week. He came in for the final quarter to spark the Wildcats to a victory against the Division I-AA team.
Stoops said he doesn’t want to risk further injuries to Tuitama, a sophomore who showed promise after taking over midway through last season.
“We are going to be conservative with him because he has a long career in front of him,” Stoops said.