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Donahue: Bruins Will Go With the Arm of Troy at Quarterback in Opener

September 01, 1987|TRACY DODDS | Times Staff Writer

Troy Aikman, coming off a redshirt season after transferring from the University of Oklahoma, will start at quarterback for UCLA in the opener against San Diego State Saturday night at the Rose Bowl.

That leaves last year's backup quarterback, Brendan McCracken, as the backup once again.

But that is subject to change, according to UCLA Coach Terry Donahue.

"This is not like choosing a Pope," Donahue said. "It's not an appointment for life. . . . We've got to have someone take the first snap, and Troy Aikman is the player designated to do that."

Aikman, who started five games at Oklahoma in 1985 before breaking his ankle and giving way to a quarterback who brought on a change in the offense, was chosen, Donahue said, for his strong arm and his potential to be "a truly outstanding player."

McCracken, a junior from Loyola High School, was brought in often last year on third and short, and finished the season as the team's sixth-leading rusher with 113 yards. He also has had three years in the system.

Donahue said: "Brendan McCracken is also an outstanding quarterback and will play this season. We'll have him ready for every game. I certainly feel comfortable with both quarterbacks.

"I'm more comfortable with our second-string quarterback than with 95% of our second-string players."

Aikman, a junior from Henryetta, Okla., is 6 feet 3 1/2 inches and 217 pounds. He worked with former UCLA quarterback Rick Neuheisel, recently a volunteer assistant coach, last spring to learn the UCLA system.

Aikman, emerging from the film room with the playbook under his arm before practice Monday afternoon, said that he knows the Bruin system well enough to lead the team in the opener.

"I'm still learning it," he said. "Others have taken four years to learn the system here. It was hard to learn one system at OU and then come here and learn another one, but I feel I know it well enough to play.

"I'm happy that I was named the starter, but I know that I'm going to have to move the team to keep it."

Aikman, who was born in West Covina, came to the Bruins with the blessing of Oklahoma Coach Barry Switzer, who knew that with Jamelle Hollieway starting at quarterback, he would never go back to the passing game that best suits Aikman.

Oklahoma got off to a 3-0 start with Aikman in 1985. He completed 27 of 47 passes for 422 yards and a touchdown. In the fourth game, against Miami, he completed 6 of 7 passes for 131 yards and a touchdown before he was injured.

Donahue said that sets of plays will be called that "feature and highlight" what Aikman does best when he's playing and that other sets that "feature and highlight" what McCracken does best will be called when he's in the game, but that there will not be different offenses. Donahue said that it is possible that McCracken will be brought in again to help out on third and short, even when Aikman is going good.

"When I say that both quarterbacks will play and both will help the team, that doesn't mean we will alternate by series," Donahue said. "We'll start with Aikman and we'll stay with him as long as he's moving the team. . . . We'll use our second quarterback like a sixth man or a relief pitcher. He might not be called upon at all. Or he might be."

As for how the team will react to which quarterback starts, Donahue said, "I don't think there will be a problem with the team. They've heard this speech every year. I really don't make a big deal about it.

"The team likes whichever quarterback is hot and is moving the team."

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