UCLA will play Oregon’s football team today at Autzen Stadium as it attempts to right itself in the wake of last week’s surprising loss to Washington State.
The 34-30 defeat at the hands of a 21-point underdog probably cost the Bruins the national championship, knocking them from the top of the college football world all the way down to sixth in this week’s wire-service polls.
It also took some of the luster off the Bruins’ season.
“It certainly dampers it,” quarterback Troy Aikman said. “We didn’t anticipate losing to Washington State coming into the season. But what’s done is done.”
Coach Terry Donahue assumed much the same attitude as the Bruins (7-1) prepared to meet an Oregon team that is 6-2 and has problems of its own.
The Ducks today will be without their offensive and defensive signal-callers, quarterback Bill Musgrave and inside linebacker Mark Kearns, both of whom are injured.
Was last week’s loss the most disappointing of Donahue’s career?
“It certainly was a disappointing loss,” he said. “But you wait until (all) 11 games are played and then you weigh the costliness of the defeat. If it costs us the national championship, I would say it would rank at the very top of the disappointment level.
“But if we don’t respond and we lose another game or two, it won’t even be as disappointing as the most recent loss.”
In other words, the season isn’t over, and even if the national championship may no longer be attainable, several other goals are still within the Bruins’ reach.
They are 4-1 in the Pacific 10 Conference, a game behind USC in the race for the Rose Bowl.
Victories today and in their last 2 games--against Stanford and USC Nov. 12 and 19 in Pasadena--would put them into the Rose Bowl game, where they would be in position to end their season with a victory in a bowl game for the seventh straight year.
Another false move, though, probably would eliminate UCLA from the conference race. USC is heavily favored to defeat California today at the Coliseum and also figures to beat Arizona State next week at Tempe, Ariz.
“We’ve got to get into position to play (USC) for the conference championship, and that is not easy in the situation that we’re presently in,” Donahue said. “We’ve got to play two teams that are every bit as capable as our team.”
That may be stretching it, but after last week . . .
Oregon, off to its best start since 1964, moved into the top 20 before losing to Arizona State, 21-20, on a day when the highly regarded Musgrave went out for the season in the second quarter with a broken collarbone.
Musgrave’s absence would figure to hinder the Ducks severely, but Donahue, never one to disparage a foe, actually said this week that it might work in Oregon’s favor.
“From a physical standpoint, Oregon not having Musgrave is a setback,” he said. “From a psychological standpoint, it’s an advantage. All of us have seen, time and again, where teams have rallied around a second-team quarterback. It’s the American way.”
That comment drew a laugh from Oregon Coach Rich Brooks, a former UCLA assistant.
“Terry will always find a way his opponent has a psychological advantage,” Brooks said. “He’ll always come up with something.”
Donahue referred to former teammate Norm Dow, who led UCLA to a 14-7 victory over USC in 1966, a week after starting quarterback Gary Beban had broken his leg in a game against Stanford.
No such heroics have been forthcoming from Musgrave’s backup, Pete Nelson, who started against USC last month because Musgrave was out with an ankle injury. Alternating with freshman Bob Brothers, Nelson completed 10 of 18 passes for 70 yards and threw an interception as Oregon produced only 112 yards in a 42-14 loss.
Nelson has completed 42.6% of his passes and has thrown 6 interceptions in 61 attempts, including 3 against Arizona State last Saturday at Eugene.
Rain has fallen most of the week, and a 40% chance of showers is forecast for today. . . . Quarterback Pete Nelson threw incomplete on a 2-point conversion attempt with 3 minutes 56 seconds remaining that would have given Oregon a 22-21 lead over Arizona State last week. Had the Ducks won that game, they would be 4-1 in the Pac-10 and still in the race for the Rose Bowl. . . . Oregon will play on national television today for the first time since 1980.
UCLA has not lost to the Ducks in Oregon since 1957, when it was beaten, 21-0, in Portland. The Ducks were 7-4 that season, including a 10-7 loss to Ohio State in the Rose Bowl. They haven’t been back to the New Year’s Day game since. . . . UCLA, which is 7-0 at Autzen Stadium since the facility opened in 1967, is listed as a 14 1/2-point favorite.
In its 42-14 loss to USC last month, Oregon scored its touchdowns on a 99-yard kickoff return by Chris Oldham and a 1-yard run by Derek Loville at the end of a 19-yard, 9-play drive. . . . Freshman quarterback Bob Brothers had a more frustrating day than Nelson, completing 3 of 11 passes for 19 yards and throwing 2 interceptions. . . . Of UCLA, Oregon Coach Rich Brooks said: “Other than USC, we haven’t seen a better defense.”
Oregon’s quarterback Bill Musgrave and linebacker Mark Kearns are out for the season, although Kearns might be able to play if the Ducks are invited to a bowl game. . . . Loville, the Ducks’ junior tailback, ranks second in the Pac-10 in rushing with an average of 112.4 yards a game. . . . Brooks said of his starting cornerbacks, Oldham and Brett Young, a former running back at Banning High School in Wilmington: “As a tandem, I wouldn’t trade them for any two corners in the league.”
Shawn Wills, who carried 53 times for 394 yards and 5 touchdowns in UCLA’s first 5 games, has carried only 9 times for 53 yards and no touchdowns in the Bruins’ last 3 games. The freshman tailback is still averaging 7.2 yards a carry. . . . The Economizer: UCLA’s fourth-string tailback, Danny Thompson, has 3 receptions for 4 yards and 3 touchdowns. . . . In a 41-10 victory over Oregon last season, Troy Aikman passed for 130 yards, his least-productive game at UCLA.