Oregon State may no longer be the next best thing to an open date on the schedule, but the Beavers are still more pretenders than contenders.
That much was shown Saturday at the Rose Bowl, where UCLA powered its way to a 3-touchdown lead over the Beavers in its first 3 possessions, lost interest and settled for a 38-21 victory before a crowd of 46,550.
“UCLA likes to get a jump on you and hopes that you’ll lay down and die,” Oregon State quarterback Erik Wilhelm said.
Wilhelm and the Beavers didn’t die, cutting the deficit to 7 points by halftime, but was that a feeling of concern on the UCLA sideline?
“Concern? No,” said the Bruins’ unflappable freshman tailback, Shawn Wills. “We just knew that we had to get pumped up.”
That, apparently, was not an easy task for the No. 2-ranked Bruins after they had smoked the slow-starting and slow-moving Beavers on drives of 80, 75 and 68 yards in the first 17 minutes 5 seconds.
Oregon State’s offensive plays in that span:
--Run for minus-1 yard.
--Pass for 7 yards.
--Run for no gain.
--Run for 6 yards.
--Sack for minus-2 yards.
It was 21-0 and threatening to get worse.
UCLA, though, got bored.
“I know we were playing hard, but maybe the emotion just wasn’t there,” quarterback Troy Aikman said.
Coach Terry Donahue said UCLA (5-0) lost its concentration, which he indicated was sort of understandable, considering the circumstances.
“You know, these are young kids and they read about how they’re supposed to win easily, and then they get off to a 21-0 start,” Donahue said. “Psychologically, they can’t help but say, ‘Well, it is easy.’ ”
It was about to get much more difficult.
Wilhelm, a senior who is on pace to pass former Stanford quarterback John Elway and become the all-time Pacific 10 Conference passing leader, threw to fullback Pat Chaffey, all alone beyond the UCLA secondary along the right sideline, for a 69-yard touchdown pass.
Then, later in the second quarter, defensive end Pellom McDaniels jumped Aikman from the side, knocking the ball loose.
Linebacker Tom Vettrus recovered for the Beavers.
After being sacked on first down and throwing incomplete on second, the left-handed Wilhelm again looked deep.
And again he found a teammate beyond the UCLA secondary. Cornerback Marcus Turner was in frantic pursuit of flanker Robb Thomas, apparently having been fooled by Wilhelm, who had double-pumped his arm.
The touchdown pass covered 52 yards, and suddenly Oregon State, which last beat UCLA in 1978 and has lost 12 of its last 13 games against the Bruins, trailed only 21-14 with 2:19 left in the first half.
“We found out that we’re not as good as maybe we thought we were,” UCLA’s other starting cornerback, Darryl Henley, said of his teammates in the secondary.
Other than those two breakdowns by the secondary, though, the Bruins played well defensively.
Oregon State, off to its best start in 18 years with a 3-3 record, was unable to move the ball on the ground, gaining 31 yards in 43 carries.
Wilhelm was effective, completing 28 of 48 passes for 309 yards and 3 touchdowns, but the Beavers made only one sustained drive.
And that was in the fourth quarter, after UCLA had reasserted its dominance, increasing its advantage to 31-14 on a 37-yard third-quarter field goal by Alfredo Velasco and a 6-yard fourth-quarter touchdown pass from Aikman to Reggie Moore.
Aikman, had a big day, completing 24 of 36 passes for a season-high 288 yards and equaling a school record by throwing for 4 touchdowns.
However, he also lost 2 fumbles and had 2 passes intercepted.
“I didn’t think that he got the kind of protection he needs to get to have a great game,” Donahue said.
But Aikman, who was sacked 3 times and pressured several other times, refused to lay blame on his offensive line.
“There were times when the line broke down, and there were times when I broke down,” Aikman said. “We expected (the Beavers) to bring a lot of heat, and they did. I don’t think we did a good job of handling it.”
At the start, UCLA didn’t have much to handle.
On UCLA’s first possession, Aikman completed 5 of 6 passes for 45 yards.
Aikman got his first touchdown, a 7-yard pass to tight end Corwin Anthony, while falling on his back.
“An offensive lineman stepped on my foot,” Aikman said. “It wasn’t as much pressure as it appeared.”
On UCLA’s second possession, Aikman completed 5 of 8 for 54 yards, including a 21-yard touchdown pass to David Keating.
The Bruins were rolling.
On UCLA’s third possession, Aikman was 2 of 3 for 43 yards before tailback Eric Ball found a huge hole in the middle of the line and scored on a 12-yard run.
Aikman didn’t really get hot again until UCLA’s final drive.
He lost a fumble and threw an interception before the half ended, then fumbled again and had another interception in the third quarter.
The fumbles were caused not by carelessness, but by monster hits by the Beaver blitz. Aikman, though, blamed himself for the interceptions.
Aikman lost his second fumble when Beaver free safety Andre Harris sprinted through a hole in the line and knocked the ball out of his hands with UCLA leading, 24-14 in the third quarter.
Ray Giacomelli recovered at UCLA’s 25-yard line.
Wilhelm, though, had a pass intercepted for only the second time this season when Turner ran down a throw that was tipped by tight end Phil Ross.
Aikman then threw his other interception, linebacker Mike Matthews making a diving grab in front of Mike Farr.
“I never saw him,” Aikman said of Matthews.
Aikman almost had a third interception after UCLA got the ball back at the Oregon State 41--linebacker Chance Johnson having knocked the ball loose from Beaver tailback Brian Taylor for a fumble that linebacker Carnell Lake recovered.
Aikman’s pass was tipped by linebacker Todd Sahlfeld and then by Anthony before Moore picked the ball out of the air and turned the play into a 31-yard gain, putting UCLA at the Oregon State 6.
Moore, who had 6 receptions for 96 yards, scored on the next play, taking a 6-yard pass from Aikman.
Oregon State then made its most impressive drive of the game, moving 76 yards in 15 plays. A 12-yard pass from Wilhelm to Thomas, who had 9 receptions for 161 yards, cut the UCLA lead to 31-21 with 7 minutes left.
A 78-yard drive by UCLA followed, consuming all but the last 20 seconds.
How did the Beavers feel?
“There are no moral victories here, if you’re going to ask that,” Wilhelm said. “We did some nice things, but a loss is still unacceptable.”