There was a bit of a smirk to Tommy Taylor’s smile as he made his leisurely strut off the field, pausing to grant interviews, shake hands and just generally gloat after UCLA’s stunning 45-28 victory over Iowa Wednesday in the Rose Bowl game.
The Bruins’ big inside linebacker was literally steaming as he looked for a particular local TV sportscaster and anyone else who had picked Iowa to beat UCLA.
It was a cool day, not the usual beautiful Pasadena showcase weather, and since the sun had set and a mist had settled in, the sweat that Taylor had worked up during the game while stopping the Hawkeyes and much-heralded quarterback Chuck Long, was rising from his body in the form of steam.
It made for an eerie effect as he said, “I’ve been angry. Every time I heard somebody say that we couldn’t stop Iowa’s offense or that they were just bigger and stronger or that they were taking this game seriously and we weren’t, it just made me angry. When I’m angry, that gives me incentive.
“I hope we set some people straight. What we just did was win our fourth straight New Year’s Day game. Now, you don’t do that by backing in to a game or by not taking football seriously.”
UCLA did put on quite an impressive show of football for the 103,292 fans at the Rose Bowl and an international television audience.
Eric Ball, a freshman running back who took over when starter Gaston Green went out in the second period with a pulled hamstring, scored four touchdowns--on runs of 30, 40, 6 and 32 yards, respectively--to tie the modern Rose Bowl record set by USC’s Sam Cunningham in 1973. Ball carried the ball 22 times for 227 yards--a Rose Bowl yardage total second only to the 247 yards of USC’s Charles White in 1980.
Junior quarterback Matt Stevens, who became the starter for this game two days earlier when the coaches decided that senior David Norrie could not play with his pulled thigh muscle, directed the Bruins to a total of 488 net yards.
The Bruin defense, which rated hardly a mention in the buildup for this game, forced an unprecedented number of fumbles and generally played havoc with Iowa’s offense. Long, as expected, did roll up some passing yardage--completing 29 of 37 passes for 319 yards. That’s why he was the runnerup in the Heisman Trophy race. But with the running game shut down and with star running back Ronnie Harmon held to just 55 yards, Long’s passing wasn’t enough.
UCLA made a true believer of Iowa Coach Hayden Fry, for one. But, then, Fry was never among the Bruins’ detractors.
After the Bruins had scored more points against the Hawkeyes than any other team this season, after the Bruins had physically handled the very physical Iowa team on the line of scrimmage, after the Bruins had won their third Rose Bowl game in four years to give the Pac-10 the bragging rights to the series with 15 victories in the last 17 years, Fry could only tip his hat.
“You have just witnessed the complete annihilation of our football team,” he said. “They were blocking us, tackling us, moving the ball against us. They have the finest group of athletes, by far, that we have faced this season.
“They have great skill people and they were getting great blocking. We came into this game with a great defensive team, but they were opening up holes that I could run through.
“They got great execution from Stevens; and their running backs are just fantastic. We were missing tackles, but not because we weren’t in position. We just couldn’t bring them down on the first hit.
“This just wasn’t our day. UCLA was just the superior football team today.
“I can’t tell you why. I can’t tell you why they just won eight football games this season. There wasn’t any indication on the films that they would be as good as they were tonight. . . . If they played all season like they played tonight, they’d be the national champions.”
UCLA’s record improved to 9-2-1 with the victory, while Iowa, which went into the Rose Bowl game ranked No. 3, dropped to 10-2.
UCLA’s two losses this season were at Washington--in a very good 21-14 game--and at USC--in a fluke 17-13 game in which the Bruins rolled up more yardage but beat themselves with fumbles.
The most costly fumble of the USC game belonged to Ball, who was diving into the end zone with what would have been the winning touchdown when he lost control of the ball.
UCLA Coach Terry Donahue described Ball as “extremely distraught” after that fumble.
But, Ball said, he was quite relieved when, later that evening, Arizona beat Arizona State and he was given the chance to redeem himself in the Rose Bowl game.
Ball certainly made up for a lot with his game against the Hawkeyes.
As Stevens said, “When somebody carries the ball 22 times for 227 yards, that does a lot to help a quarterback. You like to be able to run the ball like that. It’s safer than passing, and you can control the tempo of the game.”
The tempo of the game was a little wild in the early going, with both teams turning the ball over. Stevens admitted that he was a little nervous early. “Not as nervous as his coach,” Donahue said.
Iowa scored first, taking advantage of Stevens’ only really bad pass of the day.
“The ball kind of floated on me and went over his (Bruin flanker Karl Dorrell’s) head,” Stevens said. It was intercepted by Hawkeye cornerback Nate Creer just 29 yards from the goal line.
Seven plays later, Iowa fullback David Hudson scored from the one, breaking the plane of the goal line before being pushed back.
“My teammates really backed me up and helped me get calmed down after that,” Stevens said. “David Norrie came over to tell me that everyone was behind me and that I’d be all right.
“That interception kind of brought me back down to earth. I told Homer (offensive coordinator Homer Smith) on the headset that I wouldn’t make any more mistakes.”
He didn’t, either. Stevens directed the Bruins 79 yards to a touchdown on their next drive--Ball’s 30-yard score. Stevens’ handoff on that play was so well executed that most of the fans and half the Hawkeye defense thought he still had the ball when Ball was halfway home.
UCLA took the lead on John Lee’s 42-yard field goal, a result of Taylor’s recovery of the second of four fumbles, but Iowa tied it again, early in the second quarter, on a 24-yard field goal by Rob Houghtlin.
To that point, neither team had established control of the game.
But when Mel Farr Jr. opened the Bruins’ next drive with a 25-yard run that led, two plays later, to Ball’s 40-yard touchdown sprint, and when that was followed by Ken Norton Jr.'s hit on Harmon that stripped him of the ball and put it in Norton’s hands, leading to another three-play scoring drive, the momentum was all UCLA’s.
The Bruins headed for the locker room with a 24-10 lead.
By halftime, Harmon had four fumbles. Before the game, he had fumbled only once all season.
Harmon gave credit to the Bruin defense, and Norton admitted that he was going for the ball on every hit.
“That’s the way we are taught to tackle,” Norton said. “Wrap the guy up and then reach for the ball. Technique prevailed.”
Iowa came out strong in the third period and scored on its opening drive, which covered 76 yards and ended in Long’s four-yard touchdown run.
But UCLA came right back with a 73-yard drive of its own as Stevens, time and again, found ways to turn third downs into first downs. Stevens even scored on third down with a pass that found split end Mike Sherrard beating Creer one-on-one to pull in the pass and get a foot down inbounds at the left edge of the end zone.
“I thought we had a chance to get back in it in the third quarter,” Fry said, “but they just kept moving the ball.
“I had told my team what happens when a player who’s No. 2--even though Stevens had been No. 1 for them earlier--has to come in like that. They rally behind him.
“He’s highly respected, everyone likes him. All of a sudden here’s little Matt Stevens and the team says, ‘Hey, we’ve got to take care of little No. 11.’ And, boy, they sure did.”
In the fourth quarter, Ball scored his 32-yard touchdown to give the Bruins a 21-point lead. Iowa answered with a 52-yard field goal by Houghtlin that bounced on the crossbar and skimmed over for the score. But UCLA came right back with another drive that ended in Stevens’ one-yard sneak, stretching its lead to 45-20.
Long came out passing and gave Iowa a final touchdown with an 11-yard pass to Bill Happel, then ran in the two-point conversion himself to close out the scoring.
Donahue was impressed with what his team had accomplished.
“I don’t think we’ve played anybody all season that is stronger or more physical than Iowa,” he said. “I thought our team played as well as we could have possibly wanted to play.
“We were awfully good tonight.”