There is a very strange quiet on the UCLA front. It’s almost too quiet. It’s the kind of quiet that alerts the instincts, that says something or someone may be lying low, waiting in the weeds.
So think about it. What are we not hearing? What kinds of things does Coach Terry Donahue wants us to forget about until all the preseason hoopla is over?
What ever happened to Gaston Green, for example? Remember him? The super-quick freshman who had that incredible game against USC and then topped it when he finally started a game--the Fiesta Bowl?
UCLA coaches are being as reticent as Gaston Green himself when it comes to admitting his importance, and that’s pretty reticent. Donahue went into summer drills saying that he wasn’t even sure who would start at tailback. Now, finally, he has said that Green will start.
But there is no raving, no big buildup.
Donahue doesn’t want to have any great expectations heaped upon his Bruins. That happened two years ago, when he was facing a similar schedule, and he doesn’t want to go through that again.
In 1983, UCLA was ranked No. 1 by Sports Illustrated before the season started. The Bruins played what Donahue called a murderous schedule, including early road games, and got off to a 0-3-1 start before recovering to win the Pac-10 and beat Illinois in the Rose Bowl.
This season will start with a game at Brigham Young, the team ranked No. 1 at the end of last season. The Bruins then will play at Tennessee, 7-4-1 last season, come home to play San Diego State and then go on the road again to play Washington, ranked No. 2 at the end of last season. UCLA will play just four games on its home field.
With the young team he has, Donahue is understandably wary of the schedule.
“The difference is that two years ago I was stupid enough to think that we could beat Georgia and Nebraska and BYU,” Donahue said. “My expectations for this season are not unrealistic. In ’83 we went in cocky. This year we’re going in scared to death.”
He’ll confess only that the team could be really competitive, that there are some obvious strengths--kicker John Lee, the wide receivers, the running backs and the overall defense--and that he, personally, is approaching the season with “a great deal of enthusiasm and a degree of optimism.”
It could be that Donahue is underestimating the ’85 Bruin team, even taking into consideration the key injuries that have occurred in the last two weeks.
Lee is the best kicker in the nation, showing by far the best percentages as he climbs toward all the National Collegiate Athletic Assn. records. He became the Bruins’ all-time scoring leader in the fourth game of last season. Now he’s just adding to his records.
Green, as a freshman who started just one game, was the team’s second-leading rusher and averaged 5.7 yards a carry. The other two tailbacks, James Primus and Eric Ball, are also talented. Primus, who has missed several days of practice because of a broken nose, averaged 4.1 yards a carry last season, Ball 4.0.
That’s why when Donahue discusses his offense he says that there will be more emphasis on the tailback position. The Bruins use multiple sets in a diversified offense, and that will continue. But with tailbacks like that, the ball will have to come their way a lot.
“Our offense will be very similar to last year,” Donahue said. “We’ll try to balance throwing and running. But we will feature the tailback a little more.”
There is also depth at fullback, with junior Marcus Greenwood listed as the starter ahead of sophomore Mel Farr Jr. Junior Greg Francois and freshman Danny Thompson, who shifted from tailback, will also play.
David Norrie, a fifth-year senior, won the starting quarterback job over junior Matt Stevens, but Donahue has said that he plans to use his quarterbacks in a rotation similar to starting pitchers and relief pitchers in baseball.
Neither has a lot of experience. Norrie has never started at UCLA, and Stevens started just three games last season. But both express confidence, based on the receivers they have to work with.
Split end Mike Sherrard is back for his senior season. Sherrard led the Bruin receivers last season. Sherrard is backed up by sophomore Flipper Anderson.
At flanker, junior Karl Dorrell is the starter, backed up by sophomore Paco Craig and senior Al Wilson.
Any one of those receivers is capable of striking with the big play.
Junior Derek Tennell, who started most games last season at tight end, returns, but he was challenged throughout the spring and fall.
There is some concern about tight end, but there is more concern about the rest of the offensive line. Sophomore Russ Warnick, who started two games at tight end last season, has been moved to right tackle.
Donahue said going into fall practice that the starting front line was pretty solid, but that he was not sure about the depth. He then lost left guard Mike Hartmeier to an eye injury and was forced to do some juggling. Right guard Jim McCullough has been out with an ankle injury, but is expected to play against BYU Saturday.
The Bruins experimented with several combinations in the offensive line, which may show up Saturday, but for the start of the game, they are leaving senior Robert Cox at left tackle and junior Joe Goebel at center, and they are moving junior Jim Alexander from backup right guard to starting left guard.
The offensive line ranks as Donahue’s No. 1 worry. “That was the place where we were the thinnest and could least afford to get anybody hurt,” Donahue said. “Hopefully, the running backs will be able to help the line for a while and, eventually, the line will be able to help the running backs.”
The Bruin defense is young, but it was younger last season. Most of the freshmen and sophomores listed in the two-deep lineup got some experience last season. Donahue classifies it “a notch above last season because of the experience in the secondary.”
Winning bowl games on three straight New Year’s Days brings with it some top recruiting classes, and those spoils are starting to pay off.
Of the top 12 defensive backs, two are seniors, and that’s not necessarily bad. Free safety James Washington is a sophomore, and he led the team in tackles last season. Strong safety Craig Rutledge is a junior. Left cornerback Chuckie Miller is a junior, and Darryl Henley is a freshman. Henley was moved from left to right cornerback to replace starter Dennis Price, who has a dislocated shoulder.
Senior Steve Jarecki has moved up to replace Lee Knowles at one inside linebacker spot. He is backed up by Ken Norton Jr., a sophomore who played last season as a first-year freshman. The other inside linebacker is Tommy Taylor, a senior, a third-year starter and one of the strengths of the defense.
The loss of Neal Dellocono will be felt at outside linebacker. Sophomore Melvin Jackson has won the battle for Dellocono’s spot, beating out redshirt freshman Chance Johnson. The other outside linebacker is Tony Phillips, who is out temporarily with a twisted knee. He’s being replaced by sophomore Eric Smith.
The strengths of the defensive line are Mark Walen, a fifth-year senior at right tackle, and Terry Tumey, a stand-out sophomore at nose guard. Junior Frank Batchkoff, who backed up David Randle last season, is at left tackle.
Except for Lee, the Bruins are seeking to replace kickers with players who are untested in game situations. Either senior Jim Bray or junior Dave Franey will replace Ken Potter, who kicked off for the Bruins for four years. If that doesn’t work out, Lee is ready and willing to do the long kicking, besides the placekicking. And redshirt freshman Harold Barkate is scheduled to replace all-conference punter Kevin Buenafe.
As the Bruins headed into their week of preparation for BYU, Donahue said that the team had made, in general, very good progress. “We have a good competitive edge,” he said. “It’s a hungry, aggressive team. They’re quite eager. I think they’re getting better. UCLA SCHEDULE
DATE OPPONENT TIME Sept. 7 at BYU 4:45 p.m. Sept. 14 at Tennessee 4:30 p.m. Sept. 21 *San Diego State 7:00 p.m. Sept. 28 at Washington 12:30 p.m. Oct. 5 *Arizona State 3:00 p.m. Oct. 12 at Stanford TBA Oct. 19 at Washington State 1:00 p.m. Oct. 26 *California 12:30 p.m. Nov. 9 at Arizona 5:30 p.m. Nov. 16 *Oregon State 5:00 p.m. Nov. 23 USC at Coliseum 1:30 p.m.
* at Rose Bowl. All times PDT or PST.