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With UCLA’s Help, Arizona State Wins in Old Familiar Way

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Different teams, different coaches, different system, different venue.

Same result, arrived at in the same way.

That’s why coaches under one corner of the Rose Bowl were calling for Maalox, and coaches under another, 75 or so yards away, were ready for champagne.

Arizona State, undefeated and ranked fourth in the nation, showed why Saturday, getting two touchdown passes, a touchdown catch and a scoring run from quarterback Jake Plummer in the second half to beat UCLA, 42-34, before 66,107.

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That’s one version of the story.

The other is UCLA, struggling for respect and an identity under a new coach, Bob Toledo. The Bruins, with new offensive and defensive systems, fumbled twice and threw an interception in the fourth quarter to blow a 13-point lead.

Again.

The Bruins blew a 17-point halftime lead a season ago in Tempe, Ariz., turning the ball over three times in losing, 37-33.

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“I have a sick feeling in my stomach,” Toledo said.

Plummer will do that to you. So, apparently annually, will Toledo’s players.

He had felt a twinge early in the third quarter, when Arizona State cut the Bruin lead to 28-21 with its first drive of the second half.

“I have a feeling that if you don’t let them take the first drive of the second half for a touchdown, it’s a different game,” Toledo said. “I was never comfortable with our lead because of their quarterback.”

But UCLA’s answer, by Skip Hicks from two yards out, seemed to restore order.

Ah, but it was a tease. The Bruins missed the extra point when long-snapper Chris Rubio was called for a personal foul for hitting a rushing lineman a bit low, and Bjorn Merten’s following kick, from 35 yards, sailed wide to the right. It was 34-21, haunting arithmetic.

Plummer came back with a 23-yard touchdown pass to Kenny Mitchell, over UCLA’s Andy Colbert, to make it 34-28 with 7:24 to play in the game.

A play later, Arizona State had the ball on UCLA’s 16 when Skip Hicks fumbled a handoff from quarterback Cade McNown.

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Two plays after that, the Sun Devils had a 35-34 lead and the game.

The fumble came when Hicks started to his left, with McNown reaching to give him the ball, and Arizona State’s Damian Richardson winding up with it.

“I don’t know what happened,” Hicks said. “I might have been wide on the play, I don’t know. I don’t remember. After the play I was kicked in the head while I was trying to get the ball.”

Hicks, who was later diagnosed with dehydration, shouldn’t have been in the game. “He wasn’t supposed to be out there,” Toledo said. “We called for [Durell Price], but Skip went in.”

Hicks was helped off the field when the Bruins went on defense.

Price had his own problems a bit later.

After the Hicks fumble, Plummer sent J.R. Redmond, the third-string tailback, into the line for no gain, then pitched out to Redmond, heading right, on second down. Redmond stopped, then threw across the field to Plummer, who came back for the ball, caught it at about his 10, swerved away from Brian Wilmer’s tackle and scored.

It’s a gimmick play everybody has. UCLA used it a week ago at Oregon, throwing an incomplete pass.

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It was used against the Bruins on Saturday with vastly different results.

Plummer was open because “nobody covers the quarterback in pass defense,” Rocky Long, UCLA’s defensive coordinator, said.

“In man-to-man coverage, who covers the quarterback?” Toledo said.

And the answer is nobody, and the Bruins are 2-3, 1-1 in the Pacific 10 Conference, because of it.

“It’s a play we worked on all week,” Plummer said. “We just wanted to be a position to use it. . . . It’s probably good I had to come back for the ball. I might have dropped it if I was alone in the end zone or something.”

He didn’t, but Price dropped the ball two plays later. McNown had thrown 50 yards to Jim McElroy to put the ball on Arizona State’s 30, perhaps a field goal away from victory. But on the next play, Price’s fumble, UCLA’s second of the game and quarter, put the Sun Devils in business, and they took their time about scoring. Plummer’s one-yard run gave them their final points and Toledo his tummy-ache.

He and his counterpart, Arizona State’s Bruce Snyder, had played history teacher all week, and particularly at halftime, after which the Sun Devils passed their exam and UCLA failed.

“I told them relax,” Snyder said. “We were ratcheting it up to the point where nobody was having fun. Be at ease with your ability to make plays.

“I told the team if you’re highly skilled and can play well when all hell’s breaking loose, then that’s the sign of a fabulous team.”

Or perhaps a fabulous second-half team. McNown was making all the hell break loose in the first half, throwing for 244 yards and three touchdowns. Hicks was taking the pressure off him, rushing for 93 first-half yards, and the Bruins held a 28-14 lead.

So what?

“That’s what makes this so hard,” said safety Abdul McCullough, who intercepted a pass by wide receiver Ricky Boyer to snuff out one first-half drive.

“Exactly what happened is exactly what we told ourselves at halftime couldn’t happen in the second half. Exactly the same damn things! We turned the ball over and shot ourselves in the foot.”

McNown finished with 395 passing yards, best of his career, but with a hollow and battered feeling. He completed his first seven passes, for 142 yards, against a balanced Arizona State defense that was trying to cover up for shortcomings in its secondary.

The Sun Devils switched to eight- and nine-man defensive lines to stop the run and put pressure on McNown, who was sacked four times for losses totaling 32 yards--he had been sacked only five times in the previous four games--and force him into running. He carried eight times for 17 yards, and none of the eight were planned.

"[It could have taken UCLA] a long way,” said Toledo. “That’s what’s so sad about it. It hurts so bad, but it’s gone. Hey, we’ve got a young football team and hopefully they’ll learn from that experience that you can’t let games slip away.”

Apparently, the first lesson didn’t take.


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