Preservation of his football team’s No. 1 commodity weighed heavily this week on the mind of UCLA Coach Terry Donahue, whose second-ranked Bruins will play California today at Memorial Stadium.
Donahue is concerned about maintaining the well-being of quarterback Troy Aikman, whom the UCLA publicity staff has billed as “College Football’s Top Gun.”
Aikman was under the gun last week against a blitzing Oregon State defense that sacked him 3 times, not including a ferocious hit by defensive end Pellom McDaniels that was not credited as a sack, and twice caused him to fumble.
Aikman also threw 2 interceptions in a 38-21 victory that improved UCLA’s record to 5-0.
Cal (3-2) has lost 16 straight games to UCLA.
“One of the things Oregon State did to us is that it generated an awful lot of heat on our quarterback,” Donahue said. “I would expect that Cal would do the same thing. We have to learn to handle that better.”
Aikman woke last Saturday with back spasms that he said “came out of nowhere.” He was treated before the game and his back loosened, he said, as he warmed up in the 88-degree heat at the Rose Bowl.
Then, however, McDaniels got to him late in the second quarter, working his way around UCLA tackle Keith Jacobson and jumping Aikman from behind.
“He hit me right where my back was hurting me,” Aikman said.
Despite the pain and continued pressure from the Beavers, Aikman continued to play and completed 24 of 36 passes for a season-high 288 yards and equaled a school record by throwing for 4 touchdowns.
“He’s tough,” Donahue said. “He’s a warrior.”
Still, considering that 17 National Football League quarterbacks already have been forced out of the lineup by injuries this season, does Donahue worry that Aikman, projected to be the NFL’s No. 1 draft pick, might be next?
“Yeah, I do,” Donahue said, laughing nervously.
Aikman, who said this week that his back was fine, has completed 66.1% of his passes for 1,103 yards and 14 touchdowns. He has thrown 4 interceptions and ranks second in the nation in passing efficiency.
“He’s the reason the offense is producing,” Donahue said.
UCLA is averaging 495.8 yards and 43.6 points a game.
So, how will the Bruins attempt to keep Aikman out of harm’s way?
As they have in their first five games, the Bruins will continue to run a balanced offense and, when they do pass, will frequently have Aikman throw quickly, roll out or line up in a shotgun formation.
“All those measures have to be taken to try to protect him,” Donahue said.
Donahue, though, said that he would not make lineup changes, although he said that McDaniels, who lined up opposite Jacobson and starter Bobby Menifield, dominated the Bruins.
“Up until last week, I was delighted with our offensive line,” said Donahue, perhaps forgetting that he also had expressed concern about Aikman’s lack of protection in UCLA’s 24-17 victory over Washington Oct. 1 at Seattle.
Against Washington, Donahue said last week, “Aikman took more physical hits than he’s taken in a game this year.”
Aikman took at least as many against Oregon State.
“To tell you the truth, I don’t remember most of the hits,” Aikman said. “That’s part of throwing the ball. You’re going to get hit. A lot of times it looks a lot worse than it actually is.”
Maybe he should tell Donahue and ease the coach’s mind.
Cal is 0-2 in the Pacific 10 Conference, including a 44-13 loss to Washington State last week in which the Bears rolled up 505 total yards, advanced inside the WSU 25-yard line 6 times and came away with only 1 touchdown and 2 field goals. . . . A crowd of about 55,000 is expected for Cal’s first homecoming game since 1956. . . . UCLA, which hasn’t lost at Berkeley since 1968, is listed as a 21-point favorite.
While opponents have zeroed in this season on Troy Aikman, UCLA has had only limited success in putting pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Coach Terry Donahue said that the Bruins are reluctant to blitz because that would require their secondary to play man-to-man defense. “And we just haven’t played a lot of man-to-man because we’re very inexperienced,” Donahue said. UCLA’s starting secondary includes a sophomore, Eric Turner, and a redshirt freshman, Matt Darby.
Aikman’s 4 touchdown passes last week gave him 31 in 17 games at UCLA, moving him past Dennis Dummit and into second place behind Tom Ramsey on the Bruins’ all-time list. . . . Troy Taylor, Cal’s junior quarterback, has completed 62.3% of his passes for 1,186 yards and 8 touchdowns and has thrown 10 interceptions. Last year, he threw for a season-high 312 yards in Cal’s 42-18 loss to UCLA.
UCLA tailback Brian Brown, who has not played this season because of a hamstring injury, is expected to play today. . . . Will Donahue have a casual interest in today’s game between No. 1 Miami and No. 4 Notre Dame? “Nothing more than a casual interest,” he said. “The only game I care 2 cents about is the one being played in Strawberry Canyon.” . . . A victory today would equal UCLA’s best start in Donahue’s 13 seasons. The Bruins were 6-0 and ranked No. 2 in 1980 before losing at Arizona. UCLA plays next week at Arizona.