Bruins Can Say Aloha to Major Bowl : College football: Washington dominates, 38-14, after Abdul-Jabbar injures ankle on first play.
UCLA had all sorts of hopes and dreams heading into Saturday’s game against Washington at the Rose Bowl.
There was still an outside shot at the Cotton Bowl, a more realistic shot at the Sun Bowl, and a clear shot at the victory that would make Terry Donahue the winningest coach in Pacific 10 Conference history.
For tailback Karim Abdul-Jabbar, there was the chance to rush for more than 200 yards for the fourth consecutive game, keeping alive his dream of a 2,000-yard season and, perhaps, consideration for the Heisman Trophy.
But it all ended with one snap of the ball, UCLA’s first snap of the game.
Abdul-Jabbar went up the middle for no gain, went crashing to the ground and took with him all the hopes and all the dreams.
Abdul-Jabbar limped to the sidelines with a sprain high up on his right ankle that left him a spectator for the rest of the afternoon and doubtful for next week’s regular-season finale against USC.
The Bruins never seemed to recover from losing the centerpiece of the offense, fumbling and stumbling their way to a 38-14 defeat at the hands of the Huskies in front of 50,104, dropping UCLA’s overall record to 6-4, and more important, their conference mark to 3-4.
Goodby Cotton Bowl. Goodby Sun Bowl.
The Bruins’ most likely hope, if they can somehow beat the Trojans, would be the Aloha Bowl, although even that is not guaranteed. Several other bowl games, the Independence and the Liberty, might also enter the picture.
But for now, the Bruins are not trying to figure out where they are going in the postseason, but rather where their regular season has gone.
Abdul-Jabbar’s absence severely crippled UCLA’s offense Saturday, leaving its highly regarded offensive line at an extreme disadvantage against a Washington defensive line that could pass rush with confidence, knowing the ground game was nothing to fear.
But none of that explains the team’s total turnaround in the last two weeks, from a largely error-free squad and one of the best in the conference at protecting the football, to one that finds new ways to self-destruct seemingly on every drive.
“We’re just killing ourselves,” linebacker Abdul McCullough said.
It began last week in the second half against Arizona State when the Bruins blew a 17-point halftime lead, giving up the ball on a safety and three fumbles on four consecutive possessions.
Saturday against Washington was more of the same. The Bruins, a team that began the game second in the conference in turnover margin, had four passes intercepted and lost a fumble. There was also the usual complement of dropped passes and costly penalties.
“From the second half of the Arizona State game to this one,” McCullough said, “it was like it was all one game.”
He’ll get no argument from his coach.
“You cannot turn the ball over like we are,” Donahue said. “All of a sudden, we can’t handle the ball with any skill.”
Donahue knew it was going to be another long day early. And he wasn’t basing that merely on Abdul-Jabbar’s loss. Two plays later, quarterback Cade McNown hit Jim McElroy with a pass only to have the wide receiver drop it.
“You’ve got to support your freshman quarterback,” Donahue said. “We were totally out of sync from the beginning.
“The way their front controlled our front was the area in which I was the most surprised and the most disappointed. I didn’t feel that any of our quarterbacks could plant their feet and feel that they would get protected.”
McNown, under pressure all afternoon, made some mistakes that can be expected of a freshman, and also made some bad throws. He finished seven of 19 for 61 yards with three interceptions.
The most glaring deficiency on the Bruins’ stat page was in the rushing category. The team that had a back run for more than than 200 yards in each of the last three games couldn’t even get to 100 without him. UCLA finished with 68 yards rushing, led by James Milliner’s 26 yards, and a 2.6-yard average.
Of course, the guys in the purple uniforms on the other side of the ball had plenty to do with the Bruins’ difficulties. The Huskies (6-3-1, 5-1-1) were led by two of the players who have performed well for them all season. Leading rusher Rashaan Shehee scored three touchdowns, from nine yards, four yards and one yard. Quarterback Damon Huard completed 22 of 30 passes for 259 yards and a touchdown, hitting Fred Coleman on a six-yard scoring play for the Huskies’ first score. Fullback Richard Thomas added a one-yard touchdown and John Wales kicked a 27-yard field goal.
Four of the Husky scores came after UCLA turnovers.
The first was a pass from McNown to Milliner. Hit as he was going down, Milliner coughed up the ball and linebacker Ink Aleaga grabbed it in midair.
The second turnover was a crusher. Stuck on his two-yard line in the second quarter, trailing only 14-7, McNown tried a pass that Eric Scott had to grab one-handed. He never got control of the ball, allowing tackler Ikaika Malloe to take the ball out of Scott’s grasp. Given the ball at the UCLA three-yard line, the Huskies scored two plays later.
UCLA’s two touchdowns came on a three-yard run by Milliner, and a five-yard pass from Ryan Fien, in relief of McNown, to tight end Brian Richards.
Ahead lies a nervous week as the Bruins wait to see if Abdul-Jabbar can play against the Trojans.
“He is very, very doubtful,” Donahue said.
Which leaves UCLA’s postseason hopes in the same condition.
Receiver Kevin Jordan gained 33 yards on three catches, giving him 2,494 career yards, surpassing J.J. Stokes’ school record of 2,469.