Donnie Edwards was so nervous before UCLA’s first game of the season that his body and emotions were in a race over the edge. The mixture of adrenaline and anxiety left him winded and tired with three quarters to play.
He has worked to gain control since, but his mind betrays him with pregame dreams that rob his body of needed sleep.
And now, Edwards is going to San Diego.
“I’m really excited,” he said. “I’ve got a lot of people coming to the game. I’m going back home, and I’m finally starting. And it’s national television.”
Edwards, an outside linebacker, said his pulse will be “about 300" tonight when the Bruins play San Diego State. From nearby Chula Vista, he will have his own fan club in San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium and will know several of the Aztecs from his high school days and from occasional visits to the San Diego clubs athletes frequent.
Among those he knows is Darnay Scott, a San Diego State wide receiver who is the focal point of the Aztecs’ passing game.
“I ran into him at a club there on our bye week, the day they played Cal,” Edwards said. “I was asking how they had done, because I didn’t know.”
The answer was that San Diego State had lost to California, 45-25, and Edwards’ interest was piqued because UCLA lost to the Bears by only two, 27-25.
Scott and quarterback Tim Gutierrez have been mentioned most in UCLA’s preparations for the game, perhaps surprising because running back Marshall Faulk has been the focus of the Aztec offense for more than two seasons.
“Last year, we talked about containing him and we did,” Edwards said. “I don’t think he got many yards against us, but we weren’t keying on him. We were just containing him.
“This year, I don’t think his name came up.”
It comes up plenty anytime someone asks San Diego State Coach Al Luginbill about his team. Usually, the name Faulk is prefaced by “What’s wrong with . . . ?”
The answer, Luginbill says, is nothing . . . and everything.
“I think it’s more a matter of people making sure he is not the person who beats them,” Luginbill said. “They’ve gone to basically saying, ‘The running game at San Diego State is not going to beat you, so Marshall Faulk is not going to beat you, so let’s see if they can throw the ball.’ ”
The Aztecs can pass. Although Faulk has rushed for 421 yards in four games, but 170 of those came against Cal State Northridge in the season opener. He was limited to 64 yards in 22 carries by Cal, but defenses set to stop him have opened enough passing lanes for San Diego State to be 3-1.
Minnesota held Faulk to 81 yards in 22 carries, but Scott caught nine passes for 139 yards and two touchdowns. In his first start for the Aztecs after replacing injured David Lowery, Gutierrez completed 32 of 48 passes for 375 yards and four touchdowns in a 45-17 victory.
Stopping Faulk is “what happened Saturday,” UCLA Coach Terry Donahue said, “but they’ve changed quarterbacks and all of a sudden the world opened up. San Diego State, I think theoretically, would like to be a balanced team.”
The Aztecs would.
“But in the offensive scheme we run, you need to face balanced defenses,” Luginbill said.
They will tonight. UCLA has been successful in containing Faulk for two seasons, limiting him to 79 yards in 1991 and 118 last season, 46 of those in a fourth-quarter touchdown run long after the game was decided. The Bruins (1-2) will play a similar defense this season but will try not to let what happened to Minnesota happen to them.
“It will be a real challenge to keep a hold of (Faulk) and keep a hold of the passing game,” Donahue said. “San Diego State is a real explosive team.”
And it may be that Scott is the fuse.
“Darnay Scott is a big-, big-time player,” Donahue said. “He’ll be a No. 1 pick. He’s a tremendous talent.”
The challenge is to Edwards and the rest of the defense. In UCLA’s normal scheme, he drops back in pass coverage, with Jamir Miller, the Bruins’ other outside linebacker, rushing the passer. When UCLA is in its pass defense, with six defensive backs, Edwards sometimes blitzes, sometimes covers a receiver.
But his first responsibility is stopping the run.
“With any star player, you want to conquer,” he said. “If the other team has a star wide receiver or quarterback or running back, you want to shut him down. If you can personally shut him down, it’s a plus.”
Edwards has to take it personally because he knows what he will face if the Bruins lose to San Diego State.
“If they win this game, it’s the last year we play them (the contract for the series runs out tonight) and they’re going to be talking about it forever,” he said.
So, his goal will be to conquer--first his own emotions, then San Diego State.