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Thursday, October 01, 2009

Stanford's Chris Owusu is dangerous right from the start

He has returned three kickoffs for touchdowns in the first four games.

By Chris Foster

October 1, 2009

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UCLA special teams coach Frank Gansz Jr. is giving nothing away this week other to say that Stanford's Chris Owusu is dangerous and the Bruins' kick coverage has to be better.

Call it the blatantly obvious plan.

Owusu, who attended Westlake Village Oaks Christian, is the X factor in Saturday's game. He already has returned three kickoffs for touchdowns this season, tying the Pacific 10 Conference season record held by USC's Anthony Davis (1974) and UCLA's Matthew Slater (2007).

He returned kickoffs for 91 yards (Washington), 94 yards (San Jose State) and 84 yards (Washington State).

That game-changing ability has already altered the momentum twice this season.

Said Stanford Coach Jim Harbaugh: "It happened on the opening kickoff twice, so right away we're playing ahead. It affects the field position the rest of the game."

UCLA's counter is Gansz, who knows what the Bruins face in Owusu.

"He gets downhill fast and he has great vision," Gansz said. "I thought this kid was good last year, so I'm not surprised with what he's doing."

Owusu averaged 28 yards on four kickoff returns, with a long of 54, against the Bruins last season. He enters Saturday's game leading the nation with a 59.2 average and has taken three of six kickoff returns to the end zone.

"We've seen every touchdown return five times," said Jeff Locke, who kicks off for UCLA. "So we've seen what not to do."

That challenge comes at a time when Gansz is unhappy with UCLA's kickoff coverage. Every other area of the Bruins' special teams has been solid, but they gave up 33.8 yards a return against Kansas State in their last game.

Making the point, though, is easy this week.

"All you got to do is put the tape on" of Owusu, Gansz said. "But as much as it is about him, it's about the 10 other guys blocking for him."

The Gansz solution?

"You got to change it up, give him different things, different looks," he said. "That's all I'm going to say about it."

Said Harbaugh: "I know who coach Gansz is and he'll have a great plan." But, he said, "you make a decision to kick to [Owusu] or not. Either way it's good. The mortar kicks, short kicks, kicks out of bounds, they all give us good field position."

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