Now that they've been sufficiently mauled by Oklahoma in what was thought at one time to be a fair fight, maybe the UCLA Bruins should forget about winning the national championship and concentrate instead on winning a game.
Such a goal is certainly within reach, perhaps as early as Sept. 20, which is when the Bruins get to pick on San Diego State, a team that may be a little closer to their size than the Sooners were. The Bruins went back to work on the practice field Monday, trying to remember what it felt like to be pretty hot stuff, which is what they were until the Sooners iced them, 38-3, Saturday in Norman.
This Saturday, the Bruins do not play a game, and that sounds like pretty good news around Westwood these days.
"I'm obviously happy about the bye," UCLA Coach Terry Donahue said. "We've got a long way to go before we're a decent football team."
Decent? Aren't these the same Bruins who had visions of greatness stored in their helmets, the Bruins who were ranked No. 4 in the country before Saturday's game? Yes, but these are also the same Bruins who were so thoroughly outplayed that Donahue is wondering now if there is enough time left to salvage the season.
"We had some real weaknesses unveiled in our program," Donahue said. "We've got so much work to do to correct them and only a little time to try to shape up or we're going to be out of the conference race before it begins."
Now that Oklahoma is through pushing the Bruins right back through the AstroTurf, it seems clear that either UCLA wasn't as good as it thought or that the Sooners were much better than they thought. Probably both are true. Donahue went into the game believing that it would be a good yardstick to measure his team's progress, all the while thinking there really wouldn't be too much difference between the teams.
Donahue was very, very wrong.
"If every Saturday is going to be like last Saturday, I might not show up anymore," he said. "Quite honestly, I'm shocked we were so dominated. I don't think any of us expected to be that far off the mark. I knew we had a lot of improving to go, but I didn't know we had that far to go. This kind of sets the record straight."
Donahue also hopes that more of Matt Stevens' passes go straight in the games to come. Stevens was intercepted five times by five different Sooner defenders in what turned out to be the poorest performance by a UCLA quarterback in 12 years, since Steve Bukich threw five interceptions in a game in 1974.
While admitting that Stevens did not play up to expectations, Donahue also said that the passing game might have worked better if only the Bruins had been able to run the football, even a little bit. Oklahoma, however, limited UCLA ballcarriers to only 34 net yards and two first downs.
So in checking off the areas in which his team needs to improve, Donahue began with the quarterback.
"We obviously have to get to where the quarterback doesn't throw five interceptions," Donahue said. "He's got to hit some passes. That would be a good place to start. I didn't want to take him out of the game and shake his confidence. But if, after the third interception, I had known he would throw five interceptions, I would have taken him out.
"He has to be given every opportunity to be a good player," Donahue said of Stevens, who is backed up by sophomore Brendan McCracken. "If at some point in time it's clear he's not becoming what we expected, I would make a change. Every coach would. But I really don't expect that to happen. What Matt had was a rough day and he was obviously not on his game. But if you don't support a quarterback with some rushing yardage, then it makes his job very hard."
Another quarterback showed up on campus Monday. But this one won't be available for a quarterback controversy this season. Troy Aikman, a transfer from Oklahoma, of all places, began practicing under the guidance of volunteer coach Rick Neuheisel. Aikman is ineligible to play this season but will have three years of eligibility remaining next fall. Donahue said Aikman had not headed back to Oklahoma and changed his mind about transferring after what happened to the Bruins Saturday in Norman.
"I would have if I was him," Donahue said. "But he's decided to stick it out."
Donahue said the Bruins must also decide to be more physical and aggressive on defense from here on out, which are qualities he said UCLA lacked against Oklahoma.
"Their line just knocked us backward," Donahue said. "They had at least equal and possibly better team speed than we had in addition to their size advantage. I'm not bad-mouthing our players. It's just that right now, I'm very concerned. I didn't think the program had gone to the point where we would be so dominated."
Donahue said the last time the Bruins were handled so easily was when Nebraska scored a 42-10 victory in 1983 and a 42-3 victory in 1984.