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As Toppled Bruins Know All Too Well . . . : When No. 1 Falls, the Dominoes Drop Into Place : UCLA’s Stunning Loss Takes Gloss Off Promotion

Times Staff Writer

In anticipation of its football team maintaining its No. 1 ranking through a weekend in which it was matched against a 21-point underdog, the UCLA athletic department printed a glossy brochure last week in which it listed its nominees for the Heisman Trophy and for coach, linebacker and defensive back of the year.

In order, they are: Troy Aikman, Terry Donahue, Carnell Lake and Darryl Henley.

And the envelopes are . . . not in the mail.

UCLA scrapped the brochures.

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The nominees lost some of their appeal Saturday in a 34-30 loss to Washington State:

--Aikman ran for a career-high 43 yards and threw for a season-high 325, completing 27 of 44 passes, but when UCLA reached the Cougars’ 6-yard line with 44 seconds left, he was unable to get the Bruins into the end zone for a game-winning touchdown, throwing 4 straight incomplete passes.

Meanwhile, Oklahoma State’s Barry Sanders ran for a school-record 320 yards and 3 touchdowns in a 45-27 victory over Kansas State, improving his rushing average to 210.9 yards a game, and USC’s Rodney Peete kept the Trojans unbeaten, passing for 243 yards and 3 touchdowns in a 41-20 victory over Oregon State.

--Donahue turned his back on his leading rusher--tailback Eric Ball, who ran for 49 yards in 4 carries in the second half--not long after Ball had fumbled in the third quarter, and watched as the Bruins ran for only 23 yards and produced only 3 points in the last 1 1/2 quarters against the worst defense in the Pacific 10 Conference. He later complained that the Bruins had become too 1-dimensional.

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--Lake was called for a late hit in the fourth quarter when he put his shoulder none-too-gently into Washington State quarterback Timm Rosenbach after Rosenbach had stepped out of bounds, drawing a 15-yard penalty that put the Cougars at UCLA’s 22-yard line as they drove to the game-winning touchdown.

After reviewing films of the game, Donahue said Monday that Lake’s hit was flagrant.

--Henley made a 31-yard punt return that put the Bruins into position to win the game at the end, but he also was part of a defense that was scorched for 28 points in the last 23 1/2 minutes, including 3 touchdowns in an 8 1/2-minute span of the third quarter.

And, of course, UCLA lost its place at the top of the polls.

The Bruins fell to sixth, with Notre Dame taking over No. 1.

“In all likelihood, any opportunity to play for the national championship is lost,” Donahue said.

So, is the season ruined?

Far from it.

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In fact, the Bruins, at 7-1, are still in position to reach the goals they give the highest priority. Victories in their last 3 games--against Oregon Saturday at Eugene, Ore., and against Stanford and USC Nov. 12 and 19 at the Rose Bowl--would put them into the Rose Bowl game, where they would probably be favored to win their seventh straight bowl appearance.

“Losses like these always hurt for a long time, but the season’s not over,” Aikman said. “I think that’s the main thing everybody’s got to realize.

“The goal of winning the national championship is going to have to be put on hold. Realistically, we’re out of that race. But the most important thing is for us to get to the Rose Bowl. If we do that, then we can consider the season a success.”

Still, a loss to a team such as Washington State, which was 1-3 in the Pac-10 and hadn’t defeated the Bruins in Los Angeles since 1958, leads to a lot of second-guessing.

“When you don’t win, you have to be careful that you don’t always think it was just you (that squandered an opportunity) and not give the other guy fair credit,” Donahue said. “Washington State played a very good game.

“They stretched us defensively. They punched our ticket. They’re a very physical offensive team with good team speed and a wonderful quarterback.”

Still, reflecting on UCLA’s inability to score at the end to pull out the victory, even Donahue questioned some of his decisions.

“I’d say there are several things we would probably do differently now that we have the advantage of hindsight,” he said.

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Such as?

Donahue declined to say.

“I really don’t want to get into that,” he said.

The fourth-down play, Donahue said, was the same play that Oregon used successfully on a 2-point conversion attempt against Washington State this season.

“Why didn’t it work (for us)?” Donahue said. “Maybe Washington State’s practiced against it a bunch. Or maybe we didn’t execute it as well as Oregon.”

As he had after the game, Donahue said that he replaced Ball not because he fumbled, but because he considers Brian Brown more of a breakaway threat.

“I wasn’t thrilled with Eric’s fumble, but I was no less enthralled with that than with all the missed blocks and all the missed tackles,” he said. “Brian Brown is our biggest home run threat. That doesn’t have anything to do with dissatisfaction with Eric Ball.”

Where do the Bruins go from here? How long will their disappointment linger?

“I think if you recruit the right kind of guys and if they have the right competitive spirit, I honestly think they’ll respond and compete,” Donahue said. “We said we were going to play 11 games before we evaluated our season and we’ve only played 8.”

Bruin Notes

In the United Press International poll of coaches, Nebraska is ranked ahead of UCLA, although the Cornhuskers lost to the Bruins, 41-28. . . . Only one team in the last 16 seasons, Alabama in 1979, has retained its No. 1 ranking in the final 5 weeks of the regular season and through the bowl season, which was the task that faced UCLA.

Troy Aikman fell to third in the nation in passing efficiency behind Timm Rosenbach of Washington State and Mike Gundy of Oklahoma State. . . . In response Monday to a question from a Milwaukee reporter during a conference call, Aikman reiterated a comment he made last week that he would prefer to play next season for a National Football League team based in a warm climate. But, he also said: “I’m going to play professional football wherever I get an opportunity to play. If anybody’s given a choice, they’re going to name some teams they’d really like to play for, but I’m not going to pull a situation where I won’t play for (certain) teams.”

Oklahoma State’s Barry Sanders, along with Aikman one of the leading contenders for the Heisman Trophy, has rushed for 1,476 yards and scored 22 touchdowns. He is on pace to challenge the National Collegiate Athletic Assn. records of 2,342 yards, established by USC’s Marcus Allen in 1981, and 29 touchdowns, established by Nebraska’s Mike Rozier in 1983.


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