As UCLA cruised through the 1980s, winning seven consecutive bowl games, three of them Rose Bowl games, Coach Terry Donahue didn’t foresee the multicar pileup that has been 1989.
“It’s like driving without a seat belt,” Donahue said Monday. “You always think the other guy’s going to have the accident.”
This season, of course, Donahue and the Bruins find themselves bloodied and on the pavement.
After their third one-point loss, last Saturday’s 28-27 decision against Washington, the Bruins are 3-5, their worst start in 10 years, and out of the bowl picture with three games still to play.
“Deep down inside, I never thought we’d be in the situation we find ourselves in,” said Donahue, whose teams had winning records in 12 of his previous 13 seasons at UCLA, faltering only in 1979, when they were 5-6.
“You’re always walking a tightrope in athletics, but I never anticipated that we’d be in quite the situation that our football team is in right now,” he said. “You always think that you’re going to be able to overcome and you think it’s not going to happen to you.”
UCLA’s worst record in nine seasons since the downfall of 1979 was 7-4-1 in 1983, when the Bruins started 0-3-1 but wound up beating Illinois in the Rose Bowl, 45-9, and 7-4-1 in 1981, when they lost to Michigan in the Bluebonnet Bowl, 33-14.
UCLA hasn’t lost a bowl game since, and was 63-17-4 in the seven seasons that followed.
Its current predicament won’t last long, Donahue said.
“I think it’s a one-year experience,” he said. “I think we’ll come back healthy and good (next season), but it’s kind of rough going through it. It’s not very much fun.”
Donahue, however, said that he is holding up quite well. Several of his peers, he said, have provided counseling and guidance.
“Nobody likes going through this type of year,” Donahue said. “I’m certainly not having a good time. I’m not enjoying myself. The only thing I like in football is winning and I’m not having a real good time losing.
“But a lot of coaches go through it. You have to keep that in mind.
“I went through it one year and I was hoping that I’d never have to go through it again, but here I am. I’ve just got to make the best of it. The nice thing about it is, it’s not fatal. It’s not terminal.
“It’s very, very disappointing, but it will pass.”
As soon as next season?
Most of the Bruins’ key offensive starters will return and four potential defensive starters will join the team after sitting out this season.
Linebacker Arnold Ale, a transfer from Notre Dame, is expected to make a major impact. And defensive lineman Mike Chalenski, a transfer from Pittsburgh, is also expected to make a strong contribution, as are linebacker Roman Phifer and free safety Willie Crawford, who were suspended this season after having been convicted last summer of misdemeanor offenses.
As for the remainder of this season, including Saturday’s game against Stanford at Palo Alto, Donahue plans to look ahead.
“I don’t anticipate cashing everything in and saying, ‘Hey, let’s forget the seniors and build for next year,’ ” he said. “But I certainly anticipate looking at whoever is available that we think might be a factor next year and maybe (try) a few new things.”
In the back of his mind, however, Donahue will wonder why the Bruins haven’t been able to get it right this season.
“What I really wish is that we could execute the things we have (now),” he said.
Lost amid the Bruin blunders, Donahue said, has been the play of outside linebacker Marvcus Patton, a former walk-on from Leuzinger High in Lawndale who has nine of the Bruins’ 17 sacks, leads the team with 17 tackles for a loss and has caused four fumbles.
Last Saturday, Patton had three sacks and forced two fumbles.
“He’s played with great heart and competitiveness,” Donahue said of the 6-foot-1 1/2, 216-pound senior. “He’s really had a good year despite the fact that the team has not.
“I certainly think on a different team and (under) a different set of circumstances, he’d really receive a tremendous amount of recognition and notoriety for his play.”
After winning only three of its first eight games in 1979, UCLA beat Arizona State and Oregon before ending the season with a 49-14 loss to USC. . . . The Bruins, who have lost three in a row for the first time since 1979, have not lost four straight since 1971, when they opened the season with consecutive defeats against Pittsburgh, Texas, Michigan and Oregon State. UCLA, coached by newcomer Pepper Rodgers, was 2-7-1 that season, its worst record in the last 26 years.
After Kirk Maggio’s “absolutely horrendous spring practice,” Coach Terry Donahue’s staff spent the summer looking for a walk-on punter, Donahue said. It didn’t find one and Maggio will go into the Bruins’ final three games as the nation’s No. 2 punter. With an average of 46.3 yards a punt, he ranks behind only Tom Rowen of Colorado, who averages 46.5.
Quarterback Bret Johnson was up all Friday night with food poisoning and, after taking medication, got sick again a short time before last Saturday’s game against Washington. He still completed 18 of 27 passes for 217 yards. “It wasn’t a situation where I thought his illness would hamper his performance,” Donahue said. Johnson said Monday that he felt fine.
Said Donahue of freshman tailback Kevin Williams, who made his first start and carried nine times for 52 yards and a touchdown before spraining the arch in his right foot in the second quarter: “I thought he looked very impressive and was starting to dominate the game a little bit.” The injury, Donahue said, gives Williams “very little chance” to play this week against Stanford. . . . Linebacker James Malone dislocated his right kneecap in a pregame blocking drill and is out for the season.
Linebacker Craig Davis strained a tendon in his right foot two weeks ago against Oregon State, but nevertheless has made 24 tackles in UCLA’s last two games. “Most players with that amount of pain and discomfort would not have played,” Donahue said. . . . Wide receiver Reggie Moore was expected to undergo tests Monday night to reveal the extent of an injury to his left knee. . . . Defensive tackle Brad Bryson sprained his right knee against Washington and may be out for the rest of the season.