THE UCLA defense spent last season making second-tier running backs look like Adrian Peterson. Saturday, a reportedly much improved squad gets a chance to reverse that trend. The Bruins, 2-0 after glorified scrimmages against San Diego State and Rice, get their first real opponent of the season in Oklahoma, a team that began the year with national-title aspirations but is now struggling to stay in the top 25. All told, the Bruins allowed seven 100-yard rushers and four 200-yard rushers in 2004. UCLA coach Karl Dorrell oozed confidence Monday, asserting this UCLA defense is better against the run than the 2004 squad and noting the team’s success against running backs its first two games. “A year ago, Rice was the top rushing offense in the country and we held them under 200 yards and 255 yards of total offense,” Dorrell said. “It’s hard to do that versus an option team.” That might be so, but Rice running backs John Wall, who led the team Saturday with 58 yards on four carries, and Andrew Cates, who was second with 50 yards on 10 carries, are a far cry from Peterson, who set an NCAA freshman record last season with 1,925 rushing yards and finished second to USC’s Matt Leinart in Heisman Trophy voting. Peterson gained 220 yards and scored three touchdowns on 37 carries Saturday against Tulsa, shouldering the load to offset the Sooners’ hapless passing game. Oklahoma scored on three of five second-half possessions, none of which included a pass attempt. TCU defeated Oklahoma 17-10 by adding an eighth player to the defensive front and forcing the Sooners’ unheralded quarterbacks to throw the ball. Tulsa tried the same system, but Oklahoma went with the run anyway and Peterson wore the front down in the second half and broke through in a closer-than-it-sounds 31-15 Sooners victory. The Bruins’ game plan should be the same. Whether they succeed as TCU did or fail like Tulsa will show whether or not their defense has improved. As Dorrell said: “This game is a measuring stick to see what we’re all about.” — Walter Hammerwold can be reached at (626) 962-8811, Ext. 2239, or by e-mail at [email protected] 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! UCLA enters Saturday’s game at the Rose Bowl a 6 1/2-point favorite, but the Sooners should provide the Bruins with a bigger test than their lackluster performances against TCU and Tulsa would indicate. UCLA’s rush defense ranked 105th last season, and the presence of Peterson, the lone weapon on what has become a one-dimensional Sooners offense, will show the Bruins how far their defense has or has not come. AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREThe top 10 theme park moments of 2019 Peterson was suspended from practice Monday and Tuesday for missing classes but will likely play Saturday, according to press accounts quoting Sooners coach Bob Stoops. “They’re going to come out and run the ball,” UCLA defensive back Jarrad Page said. “They have a lot of weapons, and we know he (Peterson) is going to be coming right at us.” Opponents’ running games were the bane of UCLA’s existence last season, with missed tackles, inexperience and a general lack of athleticism all serving as contributing factors. The Bruins fielded a young front seven that frequently found itself outmatched by relatively average offenses. And the Bruins secondary often found itself having to chase down rushers in the open field. Good but not great running back Vernand Morency of Oklahoma State hung 261 rushing yards and two touchdowns on the Bruins in their 2004 season opener, and the Cowboys as a team ran for 426. Washington State’s Jerome Harrison, a running back more renowned for his junior-college prowess at Pasadena City College than anything he has done in Division I, gained more than a quarter of his 2004 season total of 900 yards in a 247-yard, three-touchdown performance against UCLA.