SAN DIEGO — For one team, it will be an opportunity to make a national name for itself. For the other, it will be a chance to restore its reputation.
San Diego State (2-0) will be looking for national glory when it plays host to UCLA tonight. The Bruins will seek to make amends for a season-opening 38-3 loss at Oklahoma two weeks ago.
"UCLA will have an obvious reaction from losing to Oklahoma," Aztec Coach Denny Stolz said. "They'll want to prove they are one of the best teams in the country, which they are. Oklahoma is the kind of team that can make you look bad, just like the Chargers made Miami look bad. UCLA will want to re-establish itself as a great ball team."
The Aztecs have established themselves as creditable thus far. They scored a touchdown with 10 minutes remaining to beat Cal State Long Beach, 27-24, in the season opener. Last week, SDSU drove 71 yards in the final 2:14 to upset Utah, 37-30.
There's a big difference between playing Long Beach and Utah and playing Oklahoma. Neither Long Beach nor Utah is the top team within a 50-mile radius of its campus. Oklahoma is the nation's No. 1 team.
"They (the Aztecs) have beaten two good football teams," UCLA Coach Terry Donahue said. "They are certainly way ahead of us in getting off to a fast start."
SDSU is off to its best start since winning its first four games in 1981. The fourth victory that year was against nationally ranked Iowa State, 52-31.
Since then, the Aztecs have not beaten a nationally ranked team. UCLA is 19th in the Associated Press poll.
"This is a big game," Aztec quarterback Todd Santos said. "They're in the top 20, and they're UCLA. It's a great opportunity for us to shine and show what we can do."
Santos will try to become SDSU's all-time passing leader tonight. He has thrown for 5,576 career yards and needs 132 yards to overtake leader Brian Sipe. Santos, with 30 completions last week, moved into the all-time Aztec lead with 440.
"I'm really flattered to have the opportunity to pass people like Brian Sipe, Dennis Shaw and Matt Kofler," Santos said. "I'm not worried about it. I have two years to do it."
Santos has completed 72% of his passes this season, completing 54 of 75 for 636 yards and 5 touchdowns. However, he also has had two of his four interceptions returned for touchdowns.
There is more to the Aztec offense than Santos. Chris Hardy rushed for 131 yards and 3 touchdowns last week.
"Based on their first two games, they are a much more balanced offensive team," Donahue said. "When you look at San Diego State now, you can't just gear your defense to stop the passing game. That has helped Todd Santos considerably. He no longer has to carry all of the burden."
Matt Stevens, UCLA's quarterback, carried much of the burden of the loss to Oklahoma. Stevens threw five interceptions, four in the first half.
"I don't think we can win without Matt Stevens performing well," Donahue said. "That doesn't mean he has to be the star. It means he has to do his part and not get us into the situations he did at Oklahoma with the turnovers."
Said Stevens: "It's not going to be a duel between Todd Santos and myself because we have a better team."
UCLA has won the last two meetings. In 1984, John Lee kicked six field goals as UCLA won at San Diego, 18-15. Last season, UCLA surged to a 34-3 lead and won in the Rose Bowl, 34-16.
"I don't think anyone is intimidated by UCLA," said Doug Aronson, SDSU's starting left guard. "Our first year, we were super fired up against them. Last year, I think we took them a little lightly because we handled them the year before. They were ready for revenge, and they took it out on us."
Levi Esene, SDSU's top defensive lineman, dislocated an elbow in the first series against UCLA last year. He was sidelined for the remainder of the season.
Before Esene was injured, he made 4 of the first 11 tackles against UCLA.
"That was one game I was looking forward to," Esene said. "I want revenge now. They ruined my life. If we beat UCLA, we'll get a lot of recognition. The way I look at it, the only reason they get recognition is because they are UCLA."
In practice, Stolz has attempted to emphasize that this is only one game--and a nonconference game at that.
"I don't think we can underestimate it," Stolz said. "I don't like to overestimate playing a quality team. If we win the UCLA game, obviously we'll get great national attention. If we don't win, it won't be the end of the world. We still have a long season to go."