Aikman Shows His Toughness : UCLA Quarterback Gets Off Deck to Deliver a Knockout

Times Staff Writer

When you’re the quarterback on a football team that has as many good, fast young players as UCLA has, you do about the same little things every week.

If, in fact, your coach is Terry Donahue, it gets kind of monotonous.

You throw short right, short left, short right, short left and then, bang, a short one down the middle. And you complete most of them.

But every now and then, you have to rise to an occasion. And because you are Troy Aikman, you can do that, too. This is what has made you the most famous quarterback in college football.


A week ago in Seattle when the Bruins needed a big fourth-quarter pass to beat Washington, they got it from Aikman.

In the Rose Bowl Saturday night when the Oregon State Beavers had him on the floor four times, Aikman got up and knocked them out.

“I don’t think (the Bruins) felt comfortable until that last touchdown,” Oregon State Coach Dave Kragthorpe said afterward, meaning Aikman’s fourth scoring pass, which followed his fourth sack.

The Beavers didn’t just sack him. Fooling the Bruin line, they sped through out-of-the-way holes, hit him squarely, and knocked him on his back in a series of fearsome plays by a defensive lineman, Pellom McDaniels; a linebacker, Ray Giacomelli, and a safety, Andre Harris.


Few quarterbacks take that kind of punishment without wilting, and it’s in the record that UCLA, the nation’s second-ranked football team, was held to a field goal in the third quarter after the Beavers had closed to 21-14 in the second.

But in the fourth, gathering himself, Aikman drove the Bruins twice, making it look easy, 38-21.

“The reason (Aikman) beat us is that we couldn’t contain him on rollouts,” Kragthorpe said. ‘You’ve got to give his receivers a cushion because he’s a total athlete. He’s always a threat to (run), and he has that quick release. There’s really no way to stop his short passes.”

That is, indeed, one reason. Another reason is that he can take it.

The Beavers came south from Corvallis with perhaps the best-coached opponent the Bruins have faced this season in their run for the national championship.

But in the end, Donahue had too much machinery for Kragthorpe. And the truth is that in what’s left of 1988, Oregon State will be lucky to escape its 18th straight losing season since 1970.

The Beavers attacked UCLA with a big league quarterback, Erik Wilhelm, and a fast, mean pass rusher, McDaniels, plus a few others with talent. But not enough of them. Not enough for UCLA and the West’s other powers.

Oregon State hasn’t been in a January Rose Bowl game for 23 years. Oregon, which lost to USC Saturday, hasn’t been here for 25?


What are the Oregon schools doing in the Pac 10?

Why do they keep hanging around?

The answer seems to be that in a country that frowns on guilt by association, they are happy with the reverse--with prestige by association.

“You are known by the people you associate with,” Oregon State Athletic Director Lynn J. Snyder said. “The (Pac-10) affiliation is vital to Oregon State.

“There are academic, athletic and monetary reasons. Our school is affiliated with (Pac-10) deans groups and research groups. And the Big Ten-Pac-10 (affiliation) is worth in excess of $1.5 million in annual revenues (to Oregon State).

“The majority of our alumni want us in the Pac-10 and think that (eventually) we can be competitive (in football) with the other universities.”

In the meantime, Oregon State is a breather on the schedules of teams like UCLA’s. “But you have to see the total picture,” said Snyder.

As coached by Donahue, the Bruins, in the beginning Saturday night, were as close to a machine as you will ever see in college football.


They drove out three touchdowns, going 80, 75 and 68 yards on their first 33 plays, to take a 21-0 lead before Oregon State had a first down.

They had their 21 points before the Beavers had 21 yards.

“We maybe had a letdown after 21-0,” Aikman said.

A brief one, anyway. Then in the fourth quarter, having survived their letdown, the Bruins wore the outmanned Beavers down.

It’s a strange team, UCLA. With Aikman, it has the potential to fill a stadium with bombs. You’ve heard of big-play teams.

But that isn’t UCLA.

UCLA is a little-play team.

In several hours of football, it didn’t come up with one big play against Oregon State.

Not once did Aikman throw the ball 40 yards, or even 30. Not once did a Bruin receiver turn one of his numerous 21-yard passes into an 80-yard touchdown, or even 50.

The Bruins under this staff are beautifully coached, but they aren’t interested in big plays. They move down the field another way, on well designed runs and well rehearsed, safe, short passes.

And that’s certainly one way to play football, although, afterward, the UCLA quarterback and the Oregon State coach differed strikingly on what the Bruins were up to.

Said Aikman, talking about UCLA’s short-passing game: “We take what the defense gives us. (Oregon State) was geared to make us go the distance.”

Said Kragthorpe: “UCLA doesn’t try to (throw long). This is a very conservative offense. We were in our normal defense and still couldn’t stop them.”

That’s Aikman.