October 13, 2005 in Sports

Bruins can sit tight with Lewis

By The Spokesman-Review
Photo courtesy of UCLA photo

The play of 2004 Mackey Award finalist Marcedes Lewis has carried undefeated UCLA to big wins over Oklahoma and California.
(Full-size photo)

Washington State University fans may not have a strong recollection of Marcedes Lewis from last year’s game in the Rose Bowl.

The UCLA tight end injured his tailbone in the second quarter of that November contest last year, sparing the Cougars from having to defend him. But rest assured, even if the injury has made Lewis somewhat unfamiliar to some Cougars, Lewis is familiar with them.

“For seniors, we haven’t beaten Washington State yet,” Lewis said. “This is going to be a big game all the way around.”

To the rest of the Pacific-10 Conference, Lewis is generally known as the best tight end around. A finalist for the Mackey Award – given to the nation’s best tight end – in 2004, Lewis is his team’s leading receiver through five games with 23 receptions. (Last year’s 32 is a career high.)

But catching passes has never been much of a problem for Lewis, who is already the top receiver in UCLA history at his position. What has made him better this year, his coaches say, is the extension of that success into other phases of the Bruins offensive plan.

“He’s realizing he doesn’t have to catch passes to have an impact on the game,” UCLA tight end coach Jon Embree said. “The passing game, that’s always been a strength of his. But what he does now, he doesn’t really have any weaknesses.

“I think he’s the best complete tight end in the country.”

Opponents agree that Lewis’ maturation is obvious.

“He was a tall, skinny kid a couple years ago,” WSU head coach Bill Doba said. “And now he’s a tall, physical specimen. He’s 255 pounds.

“He’s got to be one of the best.”

It’s likely that Lewis’ maturation this season is a big reason why the Bruins have apparently matured in 2005.

Recently considered a team that would show flashes of brilliance only to fold at all the wrong times – bowl losses to Wyoming and Fresno State in the last two years, for instance – had many wondering in the preseason if the Bruins would amount to anything.

But an early win against Oklahoma gave some credence to UCLA, and last week’s 47-40 comeback win against California pushed the Bruins to 5-0 and No. 12 in the nation.

This will be just the second road game of the season for UCLA, and would appear to be just the type of game that the Bruins would struggle in were this 2003 or 2004.

Lewis said this team is different.

“We know what it feels like to lose and be on the downside,” he said. “We’re winning games now and handling it like champions. It’s a great feeling, playing every game like it’s your last. Whether we’re 12th or 112th, we’re going to play like there’s no tomorrow.”

For WSU on Saturday, a team that appears to be playing to keep hope alive for this season, finding the senior and figuring out how to stop him – injury aside – is going to be a major concern.

“When we move him around and do things with him it makes people decide if they want to double him and how. It affects run support sometimes,” Embree said. “He’s understanding how he fits in the scheme of things on every play. He’s more comfortable with the offense, just kind of figuring everything out.”

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