At the most critical point in Saturday’s game against Washington, UCLA quarterback Troy Aikman lost his right shoe, forcing the Bruins to call their last timeout with 1 minute 36 seconds remaining.
Moments later, the other shoe dropped on Washington, which was burned during an ill-timed blitz on a 48-yard touchdown pass play from Aikman to Reggie Moore that gave UCLA a 24-17 victory.
The play capped a 14-point fourth-quarter rally from a 17-10 deficit for the Bruins, who won in Husky Stadium for the first time since 1978.
“I thought it was a very significant win in that we won it in the fourth quarter and we won it coming from behind, particularly in this atmosphere,” said UCLA Coach Terry Donahue, whose players doused him in cola after improving their record to 4-0 before a vocal crowd of 71,224.
When Aikman had his shoe pulled off from behind by Washington’s 305-pound defensive tackle, Dennis Brown, as he scrambled for 9 yards on 3rd down and 8 from UCLA’s 43-yard line, did the Bruins spot a hole in the Husky defense?
“I was suggesting it all day--that particular play,” Moore said. “I know (the coaches) had it in the backs of their minds.”
As Moore stepped to the line of scrimmage, “The safety (Eugene Burkhalter) was sucked in a little toward the line of scrimmage, and I saw that,” he said. “And I’m sure Troy saw that, too.”
Moore ran a simple post pattern, sprinting straight out from his position at the far right side and cutting diagonally across the middle of the field in front of cornerback Art Malone, who covered Moore man to man.
The sophomore from Houston caught Aikman’s pass at about the 32-yard line, was a little surprised that a safety wasn’t there to greet him and put his head down, outracing the pursuing Malone to the end zone.
“It’s a route that Troy throws particularly well,” Donahue said. “Generally speaking, it’s not a touchdown route. Generally speaking, it’s a 20-yard route and you hit it and you get tackled.”
Frankly speaking, Burkhalter said the play went for big yardage because of a mixup in the Husky secondary.
“I personally heard one thing, and he heard another,” Burkhalter said of Malone. “We just didn’t communicate.”
According to Burkhalter, Malone lined up to the outside of Moore, conceding the middle to the Bruin receiver.
“Art Malone thought I would be there to help him,” Burkhalter said.
Malone declined to comment.
The dramatic play enabled the No. 2-ranked Bruins to beat Washington (3-1) on a day when UCLA appeared to be stymied by its own conservatism.
Against a defense that has given up an average of almost 370 yards a game, more than any other in the 14-year tenure of Coach Don James, the nation’s No. 1 offense stuck mostly to basic running plays and short passes.
“We wanted to be careful with what we were doing because we knew Washington was going to be tough,” Aikman said. “We were forced to throw underneath because we didn’t have time to throw downfield. They did a great job of putting pressure on me.”
Aikman, who was sacked only once, completed 16 of 26 passes for 175 yards and 1 touchdown. He threw 1 interception and had several passes dropped.
For the fourth straight game, tailback Eric Ball rushed for more than 100 yards, carrying 22 times for 107 yards and a touchdown.
Ball, however, also made a costly error, getting stripped of the ball by linebacker Chico Fraley late in the third quarter.
“After I got hit, I tried to get some extra yards and I got turned around,” Ball said.
Malone recovered for Washington at UCLA’s 16-yard line.
Three plays later, fullback James Compton scored on a 2-yard run to give the Huskies a 17-10 lead with 1:56 left in the third quarter.
It was the first time UCLA had trailed this season.
Were the Bruins worried?
“I don’t think anybody on this team felt we were going to lose,” Aikman said. “I always felt that we were going to come back and score.”
The Bruins’ initial second-half possession ended with Alfredo Velasco missing wide to the left on a 40-yard field-goal attempt, the first miss of his career--after 23 straight successful kicks--from inside 44 yards.
Their second possession ended with Ball’s costly fumble.
UCLA appeared to be stopped again when Aikman, pressured by linebacker Mark Poole, threw incomplete on 3rd down and 10 from the UCLA 36.
The crowd noise was deafening.
Brown, though, was penalized for hitting Aikman after the quarterback released the pass. The roughingpenalty gave the Bruins a first down and moved the ball to the Washington 49.
As the quarter ended, Aikman hit Moore for 15 yards and a first down.
From that point, freshman tailback Shawn Wills took over, covering all but 3 of the remaining 34 yards in 4 carries. Wills, who carried 8 times for 51 yards, all in the second half, scored on an 11-yard run.
Velasco’s extra point made it 17-17 with 12:44 left.
Washington, which gained 342 total yards on a day when quarterback Cary Conklin completed 19 of 37 passes for 163 yards, moved right back down the field to 3rd and 7 at the UCLA 19.
For the second time in the game, though, center Bern Brostek dribbled a snap to Conklin in the shotgun formation.
All Conklin could do was fall on the ball.
On 4th and 18 at the Bruin 30, Washington lined up in field-goal formation.
But, instead of putting the ball down for a 46-yard attempt by kicker John McCallum, Conklin shoveled a pass to Tony Covington, who was dragged down in the backfield almost immediately by UCLA cornerback Randy Beverly.
The play lost 4 yards.
“We tried one from that distance last week and he didn’t look real good,” James said of McCallum. “We just felt that the odds against him making it were very high.
“We thought we might have a better chance with a fake. And the fake looked like it was there. We just couldn’t get out from under the pressure.”
Donahue said the Bruins didn’t anticipate a fake, nor did they make an all-out effort to block the kick with 6:18 remaining.
Beverly, Donahue said, simply made a great play.
Beverly, who lined up on the right end, said it was his responsibility to make an all-out sprint toward the kick.
Instead, he derailed Covington.
“Before the snap, I was kind of wary because of the field position,” Beverly said. “And then when the ball was snapped, it wasn’t natural because (Conklin) never placed the ball down on the tee.
“That’s what I look for, so I knew something was fishy.”
The teams then traded punts before UCLA got the ball back with 2:41 left. The Bruins had only one timeout left, having used their second near the end of the third quarter when Aikman lost a contact lens.
Aikman passed 10 yards to Mike Farr for a first down at the UCLA 41, but a 2-yard run by Wills and an incomplete pass then left the Bruins with 3rd and 8 at the UCLA 43.
Unable to spot an open receiver, Aikman dashed for the sideline in front of the UCLA bench, stepping out of bounds after a 9-yard gain.
The game-winning pass followed.
“They were worried about our wide receivers on the other side,” Aikman said of the touchdown pass to Moore, who caught 5 passes for 105 yards. “They overcompensated and left Reggie open on the quick post.
“It’s one of those routes that, if it’s open, we take it. And if it’s not, we don’t mess with it.”
It was wide open.
UCLA didn’t have it so easy early on, although the Bruins looked to be in position to take control of the game midway through the first half.
After Burkhalter intercepted an Aikman pass on the last play of the first quarter, wrestling the ball away from Farr to give Washington the ball at the UCLA 36, the Huskies were bottled up by the UCLA defense.
Three plays lost a yard, forcing a punt by Eric Canton, whose kick was run down by Covington, who knocked the ball down as his momentum carried him into the end zone.
Donald Jones downed it at the UCLA 1-yard line.
Unfazed, Aikman led the Bruins on a relentless 99-yard, 16-play scoring drive that consumed 6 minutes 28 seconds. UCLA faced third down only twice. A quarterback sneak by Aikman on 3rd and 1 gained 2 yards and put the Bruins at the Washington 5.
Ball then needed 3 carries to score, going over from a yard out after bobbling a pitchout from Aikman.
That gave UCLA a 10-3 lead.
Again, the Bruin defense shut down the struggling Huskies, limiting them to 4 yards in 3 plays and forcing another punt.
Then, however, Donahue made a curious move, calling for a reverse after runs of 6 and 8 yards by Wills had put UCLA on the move again.
The reverse lost 8 yards, UCLA lost momentum, and when Washington got the ball back, it drove 75 yards to score, pulling even at 10-10 on a 16-yard touchdown pass from Conklin to Brian Slater with :25 left in the first half.
Somebody later asked Aikman if perhaps it would eventually prove beneficial that the Bruins had been forced to overcome a deficit.
Said Donahue, who overheard the question: “Hell, no.”
And Aikman said: “It will serve probably as something to build on. If we’re in that situation again, we’ll know that we can come back. But I don’t think it’s ever a good situation. You want to be ahead.”
When it mattered most, they were.