For Stevens, It's Not Quite a Victory or a Vindication

Times Assistant Sports Editor

Matt Stevens, UCLA's one-man quarterback controversy, went back to work Saturday. Nothing remarkable about that.

Stevens, who felt unloved and unappreciated last week and said so for public consumption, completed 8 of 21 passes for 96 yards and threw an interception. Nothing remarkable about that.

He drew a penalty early in the game, when he couldn't get a play off on time, and he threw an option pitch behind tailback Gaston Green that led to a fumble in the second quarter. Not recommended procedure in either case, but really, nothing remarkable about those plays.

In fact, in Saturday's unremarkable 17-17 tie with Washington, probably 80% of the plays in which Stevens was involved were unremarkable. Hardly the way, it seems, to show the world, at least the part of it that cares deeply about Bruin football, just what a first-class quarterback is all about.

But quarterback is a a funny position. One critically timed mistake, as Stevens pointed out with some frustration last week, can negate a game's worth--sometimes a season's worth--of solid play. And one big play can wipe out a bunch of rocks. Most of Stevens' plays may be unremarkable, but a quarterback's life turns on the big ones, and the bad ones. Stevens' life might have taken a slight turn for the better here Saturday. He didn't win the game for the Bruins but he didn't lose it either, and he did have a number of remarkable plays.

He ran for a touchdown. He threw for a touchdown. And he came back from a fearsome hit in the fourth quarter to lead the Bruins on what he thought was a game-winning field goal drive.

The touchdown run, perhaps because it was so out of character, was the most fun for him. On second and three from the Washington 25, he faked an option pitch to Green, cut up the middle and signaled his own score after getting into the end zone.

"I didn't know where I was going," he said, laughing. "I didn't know where I was supposed to stop in the end zone."

But it wasn't quite that simple. It wasn't simply Matt Stevens cruising through the Washington defense.

"They came up in a defense that was going to stop the play that was called," he said. So he had to call another. Good call, as it turned out. "The free safety stops Gaston, and the end man bit on the pitch fake. I had no idea that the free safety was going to fill that hard and I guess the end man just didn't follow through with his responsibility."

The touchdown pass in the third quarter? It went to tight end Derek Tennell for 30 yards, but Stevens, who had to take a timeout just before throwing it, deferred credit to offensive coordinator Homer Smith.

Once again, the defense guessed right and Stevens wasn't able to use the play called. "It was called on down , so I couldn't check at the line," he said. "We were going on the first sound. I had to call time. Coach (Smith) guessed they'd come out in that same coverage, and they did, and he had the appropriate play called for a touchdown."

Still, somebody had to throw it.

The hit in the fourth quarter? Stevens was blind-sided as he scrambled, looking for a receiver.

"It was the same play as the touchdown pass, but they had it covered better," he said. "I never saw him. I thought I got hit by an 18-wheeler. That's what it felt like. It was just a terrific hit."

It left him dazed, his elbow tingling and windless, stretched out on the artificial turf for five minutes or more., "It was a zinger," he said. "I saw Pluto and Mars and all those planets. My fingers were numb for a while, but it didn't last. I was able to throw when I came back in."

Good thing for UCLA, because he got the Bruins' final drive off with a 17-yard pass to Tennell, then directed a clock-eating drive to David Franey's kick with 1 minute 29 seconds left.

"That last drive was just sheer guts and determination by the offense," he said. "That's all that was. We were trying to set up the game with the field goal. I thought with only a minute left, we had it won. But they came back with their own great drive."

So Stevens didn't win the game for the Bruins, despite his biggest plays. That's the way it goes often enough in the quarterback business. Nothing remarkable about that.

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