On the first play of the fourth quarter Saturday at the Rose Bowl, UCLA freshman Skip Hicks slipped and slithered 23 yards to the Nebraska 14-yard line.
The way the 18-year-old Texan was running, the Bruins, trailing Nebraska, 14-10, seemed on their way to an upset over the eighth-ranked team in college football.
However, at the end of the play, one of the Cornhuskers landed on Hicks’ left ankle. Hicks hobbled off with a twisted ankle and never returned.
At that point, Hicks, starting his first college game, had 148 yards in 19 carries, the second-best effort by a Bruin true freshman. Until the injury, Kevin Nelson’s record of 186 against Arizona State in 1980 was within reach.
With Hicks out of action, the Bruin drive fizzled. They settled for a field goal and lost, 14-13.
As he limped out of the locker room to the interview room, Hicks didn’t look the part of a young man who had just turned in a sensational performance. He had the forlorn look of most of the Bruins after their second hard-luck loss.
“I know I was running well, but it’s hard to smile when you lose again,” the 6-foot-1, 205-pounder said. “But with the way the offensive line was opening holes, it was not that difficult. There were holes everyplace.
“I wanted to get back in there, but I couldn’t even jog on it. I don’t know about next week, but I’m walking on it now.”
Hicks, who gained 48 yards in two plays in the Bruins’ opening loss to California, scored the Bruin touchdown on a six-yard sweep around left end in the second quarter to give them a 10-0 lead. But his best run didn’t count. On the fourth play of the game, Hicks squirmed out of a couple of tackles and sprinted 53 yards to a touchdown. However, a holding call nullified the run.
“I had crossed the goal line when I looked around and saw the flag,” Hicks said. “All I could think of was that I just had to do it over.”
Hicks drew praise from Coach Terry Donahue, who said things might have been different if Hicks had been around near the end.
“I thought Skip played very well,” Donahue said, “and I was expecting him to play well. I thought he would have an outstanding freshman year and he will. It just seems bad luck keeps dogging us. It’s just a shame he wasn’t able to play in the fourth quarter when he was really needed.”
Hicks said he thought he could beat any single tackler in the open field. “You have to feel that way,” he added. “Otherwise you won’t be able to do it.”
The injury to Hicks was the latest in a series to UCLA tailbacks. Hicks moved into the starting lineup because Daron Washington has a sprained ankle.
“I was nervous at the start,” Hicks said. “But I soon discovered it’s a lot like high school, only faster. It really made it nice to have the line open all those holes.”
Hicks, from Wichita Falls, Tex., said that about 20 schools, including Nebraska, showed interest in him.
“Nebraska didn’t recruit me real heavily,” he said. “I chose UCLA over the others because I really liked my visit here and it seemed to me the program was right for me.
“I knew if I was going to grow up, I would have to get out of Texas. My goal was to get a chance to play as a freshman. I achieved that one. Now, I just want to play on a winning team. And I’ll achieve that one, too.”