PASADENA — Even without leading rusher Gaston Green, the UCLA offense had a Ball against San Diego State on Saturday night in the Rose Bowl.
Freshman Eric Ball stepped in for the injured Green and tied a school record by scoring four touchdowns as the Bruins beat the Aztecs, 34-16.
Ball, who carried six times in UCLA's first two games, didn't know he would play extensively Saturday until Green strained knee ligaments in Tuesday's practice. Going into the game, Ball was unaware that four touchdowns was a UCLA record.
"I never thought about anything like that," he said. "I was out there to gain confidence in myself, which I already had. This was a reinforcement."
The game was anything but a reinforcement for SDSU, which opened its season the week before by beating Cal State Long Beach, 34-14.
The Aztecs were simply no match for 12th-ranked UCLA, which beat them physically up front, according to Aztec Coach Doug Scovil. SDSU had an early setback when nose guard Levi Esene suffered a dislocated left elbow that will sideline him for an estimated two weeks.
Except for two late touchdowns by Webster Slaughter, the final score would have looked much worse for the Aztecs. Slaughter finished with 13 catches for 116 yards.
Todd Santos completed 16 of 25 passes for 164 yards. His backup, Jim Plum, was 9 of 14 for 96 yards in the fourth quarter, including a 16-yard touchdown to Slaughter with 56 seconds to play.
UCLA Coach Terry Donahue celebrated his school-record 73rd win, and Bruin receiver Mike Sherrard set a school record with his 109th career reception.
The Bruins were most effective on the ground, rushing 64 times for 285 yards.
"When we can keep the ball on the ground, we like to do it," said David Norrie, Bruin quarterback. "It's less of a risk and we can control the clock."
UCLA spent 18:37 of the first 30 minutes putting together four touchdown drives. The Aztecs went to the locker room at halftime trailing, 28-3.
From the outset, it was obvious that UCLA was going to run despite Green's absence. The Bruins drove 80 yards in 15 plays on their first possession, gaining all but 13 yards on the ground.
UCLA was especially effective in third-down situations, netting 56 yards in four plays. Ball scored his first touchdown 6:49 into the game on a four-yard run.
The Aztecs made no secret of the fact that they would try to pass against UCLA. On their first possession, their first four plays were designed to be passes, with the first attempt deflected, the second complete for 25 yards to Robert Awalt, the third falling incomplete and Santos sacked on the fourth.
When UCLA regained possession, it went 74 yards in nine plays to take a 14-0 lead. The Bruins proved they could also pass, gaining 25 yards on two consecutive completions in the middle of the drive.
Ball scored his second touchdown on a six-yard run. Not surprisingly, it came on a third-down play.
SDSU displayed its most effective offensive weapon early in the second quarter--punter Wayne Ross, who had back-to-back punts of 56 and 57 yards.
After the first punt drove UCLA back to its 28, the Aztec defense actually held the Bruins without a first down. Donahue decided to punt when his team faced a fourth-and-inches at the 37.
The next time UCLA had the ball, the Aztecs recovered two Bruin fumbles, but neither recovery counted. One came after Sherrard stepped out of bounds and the other after Marcus Greenwood had been ruled down on a rushing play.
UCLA drove 61 yards in 12 plays with Ball scoring his third touchdown from one yard out. Ball had a critical four-yard run on third-and-four at the 6, the Bruins' seventh successful third-down play in eight attempts.
On its next possession, UCLA drove 53 yards with Ball scoring on a two-yard run 1:15 before halftime.
Sherrard made his 109th career reception on the drive to break the school record. Ball tied the school record with his fourth touchdown and John Lee tied a Pacific 10 record when he made his 75th straight extra point to give UCLA a 28-0 lead.
When the Aztecs got the ball back with 1:15 left in the half, they seemed content to run out the clock. Casey Brown rushed for six yards the first play and Chris Hardy five yards the next.
Then, the unexpected happened. Hardy rushed 26 yards to the UCLA 43, giving the Aztecs a little hope. Santos then passed 13 yards to Corey Gilmore to place SDSU at the UCLA 30 with seven seconds remaining.
On came placekicker Chris O'Brien for a 47-yard field goal attempt. O'Brien kicked a line drive that barely cleared the crossbar, pulling the Aztecs to within 25 points. It was O'Brien's 11th straight field goal, tying a Western Athletic Conference record.