UCLA quarterback Ben Olson isn't exactly being thrown to the wolves Saturday against Utah.

The former BYU recruit, who is now a 23-year-old sophomore preparing to make his first collegiate start, has a big layer of protection in front of him.

The Bruins have six offensive linemen with starting experience, including talented juniors Shannon Tevaga (6-foot-3, 310 pounds) and Brian Abraham (6-6, 300). They were part of a unit that allowed just 26 sacks over more than 400 pass plays last season.

"Every Pac-10 team has got those big dudes up front. That's nothing out of the norm," said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. "Every Pac-10 team we have played since I've been here has been physical up front. They all have those same type of guys."

As always, he added, it'll be a challenge for the Utes — one that must be overcome.

"Football is football. You win the line of scrimmage and you've got a good chance to win the football game," Whittingham said. "That doesn't change. It's going to be key."

As always, Utah's method of operation defensively is to put pressure on the quarterback. Leading the charge this season are defensive tackles Kelly Talavou and Paul Soliai, as well as ends Martail Burnett and Soli Lefiti.

"We feel like we've got a physical defensive line that can match up well with the physicality of what they're going to bring to the table offensively," Whittingham said. "You can't let the quarterback sit back there and get comfortable. That's a situation that's a recipe for disaster."

Talavou, who expects Olson to stay in the pocket most of the time, said the UCLA quarterback's inexperience doesn't really change anything.

"Their offensive line is pretty good," Talavou said. "So it'll be a good battle between us and them."

Talavou, who started all 12 games at nose guard in 2005 and made 31 stops, gives Utah plenty of strength in the middle. The senior can squat 500 pounds and bench press 410 pounds, while maintaining two-second speed in the 20.

"We expect him to be the best defensive tackle in the conference. We're very high on him," Whittingham said. "He's had great two-a-days and has done nothing to this point to tell us anything different than he's going to have an outstanding year."

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Whittingham is also expecting big things from the other defensive linemen.

Burnett, a junior, said taking the field on Saturdays is all about business. As with any season opener, there are a lot of unknowns. Olson and the Bruins are no exception.

"Until you get in the game you don't know how the line is going to respond towards you or how the quarterback is because there's no film on him," said Burnett. "So we've just got to come out and see how he responds to it."

EXTRA POINTS: Junior Mike Liti will be Utah's starting tailback against UCLA. He'll share time with senior Darryl Poston, who has almost completely recovered from a strained hamstring. ... The season opener will be broadcast nationally on the Fox Sports Network. It'll be Utah's first appearance on FSN. ... The Utes will practice for two hours each afternoon before departing for Pasadena on Friday.


Utah at UCLA

Saturday, 5 p.m., MDT


Radio: KALL (700 AM)

E-mail: dirk@desnews.com