An 18-year-old freshman set up a miserable off-season for a 60-year-old coach Saturday afternoon at the Coliseum.
In a remarkably poised performance before 91,363, Cade McNown blended two big pass plays with a steady running game--one without Karim Abdul-Jabbar--and took UCLA to its fifth consecutive victory over USC, 24-20 . . . and a trip to the Aloha Bowl.
For USC, the pain may recede somewhat by Rose Bowl time. But no matter what happens in Pasadena, Coach John Robinson can see the phrase coming next summer, when the college football magazines hit the newsstands:
” . . . However, in the games that matter most to USC faithful. . . . “
Robinson is going to get very tired of hearing that.
But there it is. And it won’t go away.
His slow-starting team ran out of comebacks Saturday, and as a result the Trojans are 0-5-1 against Notre Dame and UCLA since his 1993 return.
After the game, the Bruins, 7-4 and 4-4 in the Pacific 10, accepted an invitation to the Aloha Bowl in Honolulu on Christmas Day, against an opponent to be determined.
UCLA’s streak is the longest in the series, which goes back to 1929. Coach Terry Donahue is now, with 98 wins, the Pac-10’s all-time leader in victories.
And he did it Saturday with a freshman quarterback and without his most potent weapon, Abdul-Jabbar, who couldn’t play because of a sprained ankle.
But there was nothing wrong with McNown, the nimble rookie from West Linn, Ore. He survived two interceptions and completed eight of 17 passes for 131 yards.
Afterward, his was the smile that might not go away until 1996.
“I’m so excited, I can’t express it to you,” he said.
“This is bigger than any bowl game could be.”
McNown liked the Bruins’ chances from the start.
“When I saw the fire in the guys’ eyes and I saw them jumping around in the tunnel, for five to 10 minutes in a row, I knew we were going to play at a level we hadn’t played at before,” he said.
UCLA did it with a big first half, and the big plays were these:
--A second-and-15, 59-yard play, a McNown pass to Jim McElroy to USC’s one, from where Cheyane Caldwell scored, making it 14-0 halfway through the first quarter.
“They [the Trojans] blew their coverage,” McNown said. “I just wanted to get it to him [McElroy], so I laid it up there. I’m sorry that he didn’t get the touchdown.”
--A second quarter, second-and-eight, 35-yarder, this time after a reverse to McElroy, who threw 35 yards to Kevin Jordan for a touchdown to make it 21-0 after the point-after.
“I was excited when they called the play because I knew I’d get to show my arm, especially on national TV,” McElroy said.
“We worked on it all week, but in practice the guy was never open. I figured he was not going to be open today.”
UCLA had also scored on its first possession, so three series, three touchdowns. A 38-yard field goal by Greg Andrasick in the fourth quarter gave the Bruins a 24-14 lead.
As usual, USC rallied in the second half, but this time the Trojans had given up too much.
The rally actually began with Daylon McCutcheon’s 56-yard interception return of a McNown pass in the second quarter that set up USC at UCLA’s 19. The ensuing score was a Brad Otton-to-Johnny McWilliams pass from the five.
Otton, who played the last three quarters after Kyle Wachholtz started, took the Trojans to 21-14 on Delon Washington’s two-yard run at the start of the fourth quarter.
Then Washington, who became USC’s first 1,000-yard rusher since 1990 with 152 yards, was the heart of a 20-play scoring drive that reduced the margin to 24-20, a two-point conversion failing.
USC’s drive was a slow one, taking 9:08 off the clock. Only 3:30 remained and USC never got another chance.
The biggest UCLA play in the home stretch, with two minutes to go, was McNown’s 21-yard scramble on third and 13 from UCLA’s 29.
USC linebacker Scott Fields said McNown was the difference.
“The critical plays were McNown on the scrambles,” he said.
UCLA outgained USC, and the running backs behind Abdul-Jabbar rose to the occasion. James Milliner had 74 yards and Derek Ayers had 69. Even McNown ran for 36.
Donahue had patched together a running game by converting cornerback Akil Davis, fullback Milliner and flanker Ayers to tailback.
Who could have foreseen UCLA, without the player who had three 200-yard games in a row and was by a margin of 500 yards the conference’s leading rusher, would outrush the Trojans, 216-175?
Blocking had something to do with it, Fields said.
“I felt we’d do a lot better with Karim out of there, because it seemed like on film he got a lot of yards on his own,” he said.
“But they came out and blocked us. We missed some tackles, and that came back to haunt us.”
The pregame suspense over whether Abdul-Jabbar would participate was played out at 11:29 a.m., when he walked out of the Coliseum tunnel, slightly limping, to a smattering of applause by the few Bruin supporters already seated.
He walked the length of the field, did stretching drills in the peristyle end zone, arm swings, tossed a football around . . . and never ran a step.
And so the aftermath to this intra-city matchup becomes familiar now: Jubilant Bruin players watching the clock run down, egging on their cheering faithful; another long, quiet march up the tunnel for the Trojans, heads down, seething.
For the Bruins, there was nothing but joy.
“Coach told us we’d make history if we won,” a jubilant McElroy said. “I’m part of that history-making team.”
Said UCLA senior offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden: “A lot of great players have gone through the program and had at least one loss to SC. I have none. I’m very proud of that.”
USC (8-2-1, 6-1-1), which went to Notre Dame at 6-0 four weeks ago, ran out of comebacks Saturday.
“It was too familiar a start for us,” Robinson said.
“We start the game poorly, get behind, try to close the gap. This time we didn’t get it done.
“We’re the Pac-10 champions. We earned that. But these poor starts. . . . We have to deal with this issue.”
Trojan comebacks against Washington and Stanford were a distant memory in the Trojan locker room. For the most part, players sat slumped on their stools, speechless.
Even Keyshawn Johnson, who became the Pac-10’s all-time single-season receptions leader (he had 12 for 116 yards, giving him 90 for the season), had little to say.
“There’s nothing I can say. We just lost,” he said. “They played a hell of a ballgame.”