UCLA will open its Pacific 10 Conference schedule against Washington today in Husky Stadium, which is affectionately known among its howling denizens as the Doghouse.
It seems an especially appropriate nickname this season, at least according to Washington Coach Don James, who all but dismisses his Huskies as a pack of mutts.
Never mind that Washington is ranked among the top 20 and was 3-0 in its nonconference games, same as UCLA, or that the Doghouse has been a house of horrors for the No. 2-ranked Bruins, who are 0-2-1 at Seattle since last winning in Husky Stadium in 1978.
How would James evaluate his team’s progress this season?
“I’m not sure I want to get that negative,” the veteran coach said this week. “We’ve just played terribly.”
The Huskies built a 28-0 first-half lead last week against San Jose State, then gave up 31 straight points. They eventually rallied, pulling out a 35-31 victory in the final minutes.
Still, San Jose State piled up 462 total yards, 267 on the ground. A week before, in a 31-17 victory over Army, Washington gave up 364 yards, 273 on the ground.
The Huskies have yielded an average of 368.3 yards a game.
At that rate, they will give up more yardage than any other James-coached Husky team and more than any Washington team since the 1973 Huskies yielded 400 yards a game and wound up 2-9 overall and 0-7 in the Pac-8.
“We’re not attacking and getting off blocks,” James said. “We’re making a lot of mistakes.”
And just when the Huskies appear most vulnerable, here come the explosive Bruins, who rank first in the nation in total offense and have scored on 14 of 19 first-half possessions so far this season. UCLA is averaging 52 points and 546 yards a game.
“I would say they’re probably as overwhelming a team as I’ve seen in about 14 years,” said James, who took over as the Huskies’ coach in 1975. “They’ve manhandled the teams they were supposed to, and they took apart one of the top teams in the country.
“You can’t be anything but impressed with that. They’re not doing it with one guy. A lot of people are contributing.”
All that aside, UCLA Coach Terry Donahue was all too willing this week to address the potential pitfalls awaiting the Bruins.
UCLA, he pointed out, has yet to play on the road. It hasn’t played on artificial turf. It hasn’t played in front of a hostile crowd. And it hasn’t played in rain, which is always a possibility in Seattle, although the forecast today is for sunny and clear skies, with temperatures in the high 70s or low 80s.
Also, there is the matter of last season’s game, a 47-14 rout for UCLA. Washington has been beaten worse only one other time in James’ tenure, and that was in his first season in Seattle.
Are the Huskies lying in wait for the Bruins?
“I think, psychologically, this is a huge challenge for our football team,” Donahue said. “It’s going to be a great test for us.
“All I know is, Washington is undefeated. You can’t be any better than that. And if they’ve been unimpressive, so be it.
“I hope they’re no good. Everybody’s been trying to tell me that. I hope they’re right.”
The impression was, Donahue doubts that they were right.
For one thing, he said, the Huskies enjoy an advantage in size over the Bruins, although the Bruins probably are quicker.
Also, the Husky offense has been fine, led by quarterback Cary Conklin, a junior from Yakima, Wash., whom Donahue said he “begged” to come to UCLA.
Conklin, the least-experienced starter in the Pac-10, threw for only 57 yards and had 3 passes intercepted in Washington’s 20-6 season-opening victory over Purdue, but has since completed 31 of 50 passes for 424 yards and 3 touchdowns.
“I thought he was the best in the country the year he came out (of high school),” Donahue said. “That’s how we had him rated.”
Finally, of course, there is the environment in the Doghouse.
The Huskies have been known to bark at their opponents as the teams line up in a tunnel, awaiting their pregame introductions.
Even such a curious habit as that, though, may not be enough to rattle the Bruins.
“For some teams, that may be a little intimidating,” UCLA tailback Eric Ball said. “But I think we have enough confidence in ourselves that it won’t have any effect.”
Starting time has been moved up 30 minutes, to 12:30 p.m., to accommodate ABC, which will televise the game to about 80% of the country, including Los Angeles. . . . A sellout crowd of 72,500 is expected at Husky Stadium, which was expanded by more than 12,500 seats before last season and accommodated a record crowd of 74,038 for the Washington-Washington State game last November. . . . UCLA is listed as a 13-point favorite.
Tight end Charles Arbuckle, who strained ligaments in his left knee Sept. 17 in UCLA’s 56-3 victory over Cal State Long Beach, will not play and could be out for “a considerable amount of time,” Coach Terry Donahue said. . . . Linebacker Eric Smith, who suffered a slight concussion in the Nebraska game and did not play against Long Beach, did not make the trip.
For Washington, linebacker Greg Travis is expected to miss the game because of a knee injury, and offensive guard Jeff Pahukoa is expected to be out with an ankle injury. Middle guard Art Hunter will make his first start after injuring his ankle in a preseason workout.
Washington fullback Aaron Jenkins bruised his right knee last week but is expected to play. He is the Huskies’ leading rusher with 288 yards in 49 carries, a 5.9 average. . . . The Huskies held a players-only meeting after last week’s 35-31 victory over San Jose State. “We just decided we have to play a lot better to beat a team like UCLA,” flanker Brian Slater, the Huskies’ leading receiver with 10 receptions, told USA Today.
Donahue is 5-5-2 in conference openers. A 34-24 victory over Arizona last season ended a 5-game winless streak for UCLA in conference openers. . . . Under Coach Don James, Washington is 10-3 in conference openers. . . . UCLA is 2-2-1 at Seattle under Donahue, the only team in the Pac-10, other than Washington, with a .500-or-better record at Husky Stadium in James’ 14-year tenure. However, the Bruins are only 2-10-1 at Seattle since 1958.
After saying that UCLA had regarded Cary Conklin as the No. 1 quarterback prospect in the high school class of 1986, Donahue said he didn’t realize that Jeff George of Indianapolis, also coveted by the Bruins, was part of that class. UCLA, he said, rated them even. George is at Illinois after transferring from Purdue. . . . Washington is ranked 16th by the Associated Press and 17th by United Press International.
Washington is the only team in the Pac-10 with a quarterback who is not a returning starter. James said of Conklin: “He’s had a little success in the last 2 weeks, although I don’t think there’s any question the defenses (he faced) were not as strong as Purdue’s--and none of them we’ve played are even close to UCLA.”