Havner Return Turns It Around

Times Staff Writer

The play was brilliant in its simplicity: With the defense stacking the line of scrimmage, send two receivers wide to the left, run them both on slant patterns to the inside, use the first receiver as a decoy to take the linebacker away from the second, who makes the catch and sprints downfield.

But for San Diego State, the plan was flawed in that it was directed toward a player who is known for his uncanny ability to read quarterbacks, and one who is not easily duped.

It was put into play six minutes into the second quarter against a UCLA team that was just as listless, holding a 7-3 lead and unable to build any momentum. The Aztecs had driven to the Bruin 49 and sent receivers Marcus Edwards and Jeff Webb to the left, by way of Spencer Havner.

The junior linebacker played off Edwards, stepped in front of Webb just as the ball was arriving, made the interception, and it was his turn to sprint downfield. He charged 52 yards to the end zone, looking back to see an escort of blue and gold.

“That was the best part, seeing nothing but Bruins behind me,” he would later say.


His touchdown not only put the Bruins up by 10, it seemed to invigorate them as they methodically pulled away to a 33-10 victory Saturday night in front of 52,038 at the Rose Bowl.

Afterward, Coach Karl Dorrell smiled and said he was not surprised. “He does it in practice all the time,” he told reporters in the interview room. “He has a knack for those short passes the quarterback tries to do over the middle. He’ll play between the two wide receivers and he fools us all the time.

“We knew it was only a matter of time for him to make that play in a game for us. And it did energize the team. They knew it was coming and it was nice for it to finally come in a game situation.”

It was only the second interception of the season for the Bruins (3-1). Matt Clark added another in the fourth quarter, with the Bruins leading, 27-10.

For the 6-foot-4, 236-pound Havner, widely regarded as the Bruins’ best defensive player, it was the seventh interception of his career. Three have been returned for touchdowns.

It could just as easily have been five.

Last season, in a 59-24 loss to top-ranked Oklahoma, he ran one back 72 yards to the Sooner six to set up a Manuel White touchdown run that gave the Bruins an early lead.

In the following game against the Aztecs, with the Bruins holding a 10-3 lead late in the third quarter, he returned one 50 yards to set up a Justin Medlock field goal. Havner also had seven tackles in the 20-10 victory.

On Saturday night, the UCLA front had been giving its best effort of the season, effectively stopping the run and using blitz packages often when the Aztecs spread the line with their receivers.

Quick slant patterns are often used to counter blitzes, but Havner sensed exactly what Aztec quarterback Matt Dlugolecki’s plan was on third and six with 8:59 to play in the second.

“Sometimes they get a little overanxious and tonight it worked out pretty good,” he said afterward. “I just came out of [the Edwards slant and in front of Webb], he just threw it and I took it to the house.”

Watching him go was Marcus Cassel, the Bruin cornerback who had been behind Havner in the secondary.

“I had an excellent view of it, and if you watch the film you’ll see that I was right there behind him ready to make the tackle,” he said with a grin.

“He just jumped right in front of the receiver. We were waiting for that, waiting for it all year, to get one and take it all the way back. It gave us a lot of energy.”