UCLA’s 34-16 victory over San Diego State before 54,625 fans at the Rose Bowl Saturday night will not be remembered as one of the great college football games of our time. Or any time, for that matter.
It will be remembered, however, as the game that made UCLA Coach Terry Donahue the winningest coach in the history of his school.
In the 10 years since UCLA gave Donahue his first head coaching job at the age of 31, he is 73-29-6.
With victory No. 73 Saturday night, Donahue broke the record set by Bill Spaulding over a 14-year period between 1925 and 1938.
Not bad for a guy who came to UCLA as a walk-on defensive tackle.
Donahue was honored in a brief ceremony on the field after the game at which UCLA Athletic Director Pete Dalis presented him with a cut crystal Bruin.
“I feel a real sense of several things tonight. . . . It is hard to put 10 years of experiences into words in one night,” Donahue said. “The impact of the record, and of tonight’s game, probably won’t hit me until the off-season, when you have more time to sit around and bask in the sun.
“The key thing in this is the building of a football program at UCLA. It has been a 10-year struggle, and all I can think of right now is being grateful to (former athletic director) J.D. Morgan, who gave me the opportunity when I probably wasn’t the best person qualified for the job.
“It was an unbelievable opportunity and has been an unbelievable experience.”
Donahue wasn’t the only one setting records for UCLA Saturday night.
--Eric Ball, a freshman tailback who had never before scored for the Bruins, ran for four touchdowns in the first half. That tied the UCLA single-game record shared by Kermit Alexander, Freeman McNeil and Jojo Townsell.
--Mike Sherrard, senior split end, made four catches to become the leading receiver ever at UCLA with a career total of 110. In the second quarter, he passed the record of 108 set by Cormac Carney in 1982.
--John Lee, senior placekicker, tied the Pac-10 record for consecutive conversions when he kicked the extra point that gave UCLA its 28-0 lead in the second quarter. It was Lee’s 75th straight successful extra point.
UCLA went into the game without its starting tailback, sophomore Gaston Green, who suffered a knee injury in practice last Tuesday.
But Green was not needed in this game, as Ball--the backup tailback at the start of the game--scored every touchdown while rushing for 94 yards.
James Primus, who started in place of Green, rushed for 75 yards as the Bruins rolled up 285 yards on the ground.
It was a rout in the early going as the Bruins--namely Ball--scored four touchdowns to take a 28-0 lead.
Chris O’Brien’s 47-yard field goal with three seconds left in the second quarter gave San Diego State its only points of the first half.
Ball scored twice in the first period and twice in the second. On his first touchdown, Ball ran wide to the right from the four, evading defenders and finally finding his way into the corner of the end zone. On his second score, Ball started from the six on third down and found his way through the left side of the line, finally powering into the end zone.
Ball’s third touchdown was set up by a 20-yard punt return by Gifford Irvine, a 19-yard catch by Sherrard and an impressive 11-yard run by Primus that ended in what might well have been called a fumble. The officials ruled that Primus was already down when he lost the ball, and the Bruins went on to score from the 1 on Ball’s dive over the pile.
With just over a minute to play in the first half, Ball scored again, this time carrying the ball through the right side of the line from the 2.
The second half was more reminiscent of last year’s season opener, when the Bruins could not score a touchdown against the Aztecs. In that game, Lee kicked six field goals to give the Bruins an 18-15 victory. Saturday night, Lee kicked two field goals and four extra points.
As Ball left the field after the ceremony for Donahue, he said, “I wasn’t even aware that four touchdowns tied a record. That’s great.”
Then Ball, who scored six touchdowns and rushed for 302 yards in the opening game of his senior year at Yspilanti (Mich.) High, added, “I’m rooting for Gaston to get back next week, because Washington is so tough. That would give us two dominating running backs.”
Sherrard, of course, knew that his receiving total was about to surpass Carney’s.
“This is something that I had never dreamed of when I came here as a walk-on five years ago.” he said “When I first got here, I thought the best I could do was maybe play part-time. I never thought about anything like this, catching 50, 60 balls and more. I just never figured on it. Heck, thinking back on it, my real dream maybe was to just make it.
“I’ve played with some great quarterbacks over the years (Tom Ramsey, Rick Neuheisel, Steve Bono) and they share in this record, also.”
Sherrard has been playing with two quarterbacks this season. David Norrie started the first game, Matt Stevens the second game, but Norrie really came into his own with Saturday night’s victory.
Norrie completed 12 of 18 passes for 148 yards as the Bruins totaled 446 yards of offense.
UCLA led in every statistical category, holding San Diego State to 274 total yards. The Aztecs scored their two touchdowns in the fourth quarter.
Aztec quarterback Todd Santos found split end Webster Slaughter with a nine-yard touchdown pass early in the final period. Then Santos’ backup, Jim Plum, hit fullback Kevin Yates with a 16-yard touchdown pass with less than a minute to play.
The Aztecs were never a threat to the record-happy Bruins.
“The win was easier than I expected,” Donahue said. “I may have overestimated San Diego State after looking at the films of their big Long Beach victory.”
San Diego State Coach Doug Scovil pointed to UCLA’s offensive line as the difference in the teams.
“I knew they were strong up front--that’s the part of the team that gets the least publicity,” Scovil said. “I actually think they’re stronger up there than they were last year.
“UCLA is an excellent team. You’ll be seeing them win a lot of games this year.”