UCLA Can Give Donahue a Record
Twenty years ago, 31-year-old Terry Donahue went to Tempe for his first game as coach at UCLA, wondering if he even belonged on the same field as his coaching opponent that day, Arizona State’s Frank Kush.
His Bruins won that game, and have won 149 more in the ensuing years, proving that he belonged on the same field as any of his contemporaries.
Today, Donahue returns to Tempe with a chance to reach another milestone. If UCLA beats Arizona State this afternoon, the victory will be Donahue’s 98th in the Pacific 10 Conference, making him the winningest coach in conference history. The man who wondered if he belonged with Kush has won more conference games than Howard Jones, Red Sanders, John McKay, John Robinson and Tommy Prothro.
“It would be nice to set the record [in Tempe] from a sentimental standpoint,” Donahue said.
But Donahue doesn’t think he has quite convinced his critics that he truly belongs among the great coaches.
“I think a lot of people are in shock,” he said of the impending record. “People are thinking, ‘What the hell’s going on?’ I think I’m one of those guys who will get more recognition after the fact. But that’s OK.”
Uppermost in Donahue’s mind today is the importance of a victory for his team. UCLA arrives in Tempe riding the crest of a four-game winning streak that has boosted the 6-2 Bruins’ hopes of a bowl berth. At 3-2 in the conference with three teams ahead of it, UCLA’s chance of making it to the Rose Bowl are slim. But the Cotton Bowl or one of several others is possible if the Bruins keep winning.
It doesn’t take the winningest coach in Pac-10 history to figure out the key to today’s game for UCLA. A copy of this week’s conference statistics is sufficient.
At one end of the spectrum are the Sun Devils, last in the conference in run defense, surrendering an average of 190.6 yards a game.
At the other end is Karim Abdul-Jabbar, the UCLA tailback who leads the conference in rushing and is fourth in the nation, averaging 151.5 yards a game.
He has been particularly effective the last two games, averaging 239 yards and scoring five touchdowns. With a season total of 1,212 yards, he needs only 15 today to equal his career high for a season, and 193 more to equal the school-record, 1,405 by Gaston Green in 1986.
“Boy, he has racked up some numbers,” said Arizona State Coach Bruce Snyder. “It’s scary, what kind of a tear this guy is on.”
Desperate to at least slow down Abdul-Jabbar, opposing coaches are putting up eight- and nine-man fronts, hoping the Bruins will turn to the passing arm of Cade McNown, their freshman quarterback.
But that hasn’t been such a good idea either. The 18-year-old seems to grow in confidence and effectiveness each week. At his weekly news conferences, nobody now asks Donahue about Ryan Fien, the junior who was the starter when the season began. Fien is not on this trip because of a hip injury. Senior Rob Walker will be the backup.
For the second consecutive week, McNown will be without his leading receiver. Kevin Jordan, who has caught 37 passes, will sit out another game because of a sore knee.
Abdul-Jabbar, however, is not merely an awesome runner. He is UCLA’s second-leading receiver with 15 catches. Junior Derek Ayers, with 14, and sophomores Eric Scott and Jim McElroy, with 13 and 11, respectively, have also contributed.
Although the offense will be missing a key man, the defense should get a lift from the return of Donnie Edwards. He has been out for seven weeks because of a compression fracture of three vertebrae. Edwards won’t be returning to his middle linebacker position, however. Donahue will use him only as a defensive end in pass-rushing situations and see how it goes.
But even in such a limited role, Edwards is expected to make a difference. He played in the Bruins’ first two games before getting hurt and UCLA gave up a total of only 17 points.
Arizona State will try to surpass that total today with quarterback Jake Plummer, who has completed 58.1% of his passes for 1,599 yards and 13 touchdowns, with seven interceptions. His leading receivers are Keith Poole with 37 catches and Steve Bush with 20.
The Sun Devils are 4-4, 2-3 in the conference, but they have won two in a row, upsetting Oregon last week, 35-24.
Now come the Bruins.
Snyder, a longtime friend of Donahue’s, will be rooting for the UCLA coach to reach his milestone. Next week. The week after. Any time, anyplace except today in Tempe, where it all began.