SAN DIEGO — This is where the UCLA Bruins have come, right on down the freeway, in search of their first victory of the season. They traveled here to play San Diego State tonight at 7, and presumably, just to prepare themselves for the evening, the Bruins stayed in the passing lane.
Which leads to two questions:
--Not if , but by how many points do the Bruins expect to win?
--Who is Todd Santos?
The answer to the first one may depend on how quickly the Bruins are able to answer the second.
For UCLA to win, the Bruins probably will have to shut down Santos, who may be the best unrecognized quarterback in the country. In tonight's game at Jack Murphy Stadium, Santos will pass a lot, as he does in all the games he plays.
This is what's known as the Santos clause--San Diego State cannot play a game without passing the ball at least 35 times.
In two games, Santos, a 6-foot 2-inch, 200-pound junior, has thrown 75 times, displaying accuracy that ought to be alarming to UCLA. The Aztecs are 2-0, and Santos leads an offense that has scored 54 points in two games. He has thrown for 636 yards and 5 touchdowns and has completed 72% of his passes.
"He's as good as or better than any quarterback we play against in the Pac-10," nose guard Terry Tumey said.
So why is it that Todd Santos isn't just about the hottest thing under the center? Even though Santos is a Mormon, the quarterback factory at BYU didn't think enough of him to offer him a scholarship.
Only Fresno State and Northern Arizona had him on their lists, but Santos turned them down. He decided instead to work at his brother-in-law's cotton plant in Fresno, near his hometown of Selma, before finally winding up at San Diego State.
Todd who? Santos has heard that before.
"Yeah, but that's really somebody else's problem," he said. "The (NFL) scouts are going to find you, no matter what. They don't care who you are, only if you can find the receivers. We're barely a .500 team in the past, so I can understand it. If we won more games, then people would look at me and at our team."
That's the reverse of what happened to the Bruins. They lost a game, and everybody looked at them real hard, especially at the quarterback who threw five interceptions as the Bruins came up 35 points and several tons short of matching Oklahoma two weeks ago.
If Matt Stevens can cure himself of firing footballs at the wrong team, then it seems likely that the Bruins will keep San Diego State's defense occupied long enough that the Bruin defenders won't be worn out when it's their turn to play.
The Bruins have had two weeks to put themselves back together since getting blown out in Norman. If there is one factor that Coach Terry Donahue has emphasized most during practice, it is the need for UCLA to play more aggressively, more physically.
Tailback Eric Ball said: "The physical aspect of our game has been questioned. In reality, it seems kind of silly, doesn't it? I mean, how else do you play a football game and not be physical?"
Donahue is concerned about this game, as usual, but this time it's caused by talk of a mismatch. San Diego State has never beaten UCLA in a rivalry that began in 1922. Donahue's outlook was not improved by what Aztec Coach Denny Stolz said about his team's chances.
"We're not in their class," Stolz said.
"I think that's a ridiculous statement," Donahue said. "If that were the case, I would accept the victory right now and we wouldn't even go. He's got some superior players at some positions. This just goes to show that the mentality of this game is very, very difficult for UCLA. People expect us to beat San Diego State. Now you've got a coach baiting players. All I know is that San Diego State will be wired for the game."
The Aztecs do promise not to be awed by UCLA after losing, 18-15, and 34-16, the last two years. It took that 18-point defeat last season in the Rose Bowl to convince All-WAC guard Doug Aronson that the Bruins were pretty good and the Aztecs should have probably gotten up for them a bit more.
"We took them a little lightly because we handled them the year before," Aronson said.
Took the Bruins lightly?
Since their humbling experience at Oklahoma, the Bruins have been hearing reports of their mediocrity, and Stevens said it is time to show that such reports are greatly exaggerated.
"We want to redeem ourselves," he said. "We're not going to underestimate or overestimate ourselves anymore. OU taught us a good lesson. We're just going to put our game back together. I don't think you have to beat somebody badly to do that."