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Ducks turn to Leaf, defense

PASADENA, Calif. — Oregon and UCLA will bring banged-up offenses into today's game at the Rose Bowl.

With quarterback Dennis Dixon lost for the season, the Ducks' defense has taken on added responsibility to try to ensure a possible return trip to Pasadena on Jan. 1.

"It's time for us to step it up a little more," junior defensive tackle Cole Linehan said. "It's on our backs a little bit more now. The Rose Bowl is definitely still a real possibility, so we just need to take care of business."

In the wake of Dixon's season-ending knee injury, Brady Leaf again takes over, in less-than-ideal circumstances. The ninth-ranked Ducks (8-2, 5-2 Pacific-10 Conference) are struggling to rebound mentally and physically from the 34-24 loss on Nov. 15 at Arizona, which foiled their national championship hopes, and they need an effective Leaf to reach the Rose Bowl.

"I know I can get the job done, and the biggest thing is the guys on the team know I can get the job done," Leaf said.

Leaf has had his moments. In the final seven minutes of the 2005 Holiday Bowl against Oklahoma, he completed 11 of 18 passes for 118 yards and nearly pulled off a comeback victory. Last year against Oregon State, he completed 25 of 42 passes for 274 yards and again nearly led the Ducks to a comeback win.

"Brady is not your average, everyday second-team quarterback," Oregon coach Mike Bellotti said.

In the loss at Arizona, the Ducks held the Wildcats to three points in the final two quarters, forcing six punts and one fumble to keep the game within reach.

"Our defense played an extremely good football game," Bellotti said. "They understand now they can truly affect a game."

Junior defensive end Nick Reed, who leads the Pacific-10 Conference in sacks (11) and tackles for loss (191/2), said the loss to Arizona was a "reality check."

"With Dennis down, our offense, I'm not going to say they'll struggle, but it's not going to come as natural as it did for them before," Reed said. "So it'll give us an opportunity to shine. All year long, it's been Oregon's offense, and I think these next two games, it's going to be Oregon's defense."

Oregon's Jonathan Stewart, the Pac-10's leading rusher with 1,273 yards, has toe and shoulder injuries, but is also expected to play.

Osaar Rasshan will be making his second start for UCLA.

"He's made a lot of progress," UCLA coach Karl Dorrell said. "He's starting to feel more comfortable in commanding the huddle, and then running the plays at the line of scrimmage. Having more repetitions has really helped."

The Bruins have lost three straight, the most recent a 24-20 setback to Arizona State two weeks ago. With 20 returning starters, they had high hopes entering the season, but injuries and inconsistency have gotten in the way.

"Our spirits are pretty good on the team," said Dorrell. "We want to win again and feel good about ourselves, and this is the last time to do that at home."

The Bruins are 15-3 at the Rose Bowl since 2002.