Troy Aikman's debut as UCLA quarterback went off without a hitch as he led the Bruins to a routine 47-14 victory over San Diego State at the Rose Bowl Saturday night.
Aikman, who had to sit out all of last season after transferring from Oklahoma, didn't appear a bit rusty as he completed 8 of 10 passes for 166 yards. UCLA Coach Terry Donahue was satisfied that Aikman showed the star quality he knew was there.
"Troy did a real nice job, considering his layoff from football, but I was not surprised," Donahue said. "The potential for Troy Aikman to be an outstanding quarterback is certainly present. But Brendan McCracken played well, too."
McCracken, a junior who played a strong backup role last season, came in to rush for 47 yards and lead the team to two touchdowns and a field goal. And he said he was just happy to contribute.
San Diego State's Todd Santos rolled up more yards and passed for both the Aztecs' touchdowns, but he wasn't nearly as efficient, playing as he was in a catch-up game all the way. Just how good can the losing quarterback look in a rout?
Santos completed 22 of 42 passes for 186 yards and 2 touchdowns after 2 early and costly interceptions.
And, of course, all eyes were on Gaston Green, UCLA's preseason cover boy, who launched his senior season with a very routine 135-yard game. His highlight was a 61-yard sweep to the right and up the right sideline after the way was cleared, he said, by tackle David Richards, also making his UCLA debut following his transfer from Southern Methodist.
Green and Richards probably could have done that all night, but Green isn't a one-man show on this team.
Donahue has said all along that he won't let the glorification of one tailback influence his game plan or substitution pattern, and he sure didn't in the opener.
Green carried the ball 19 times and scored a touchdown.
Tailback Eric Ball was getting his turn and scoring his touchdown in the first half. And before it was over, third-string tailback Brian Brown, a sophomore from Gardena High School, was rolling up yards in a drive that third-string fullback Mark Estwick ended with an 18-yard run for the final touchdown.
San Diego State, the defending Western Athletic Conference champion, was simply outmanned in this game. Last year, San Diego State lost to UCLA, 41-14, at San Diego, and too many of the star players from that Aztec team are gone.
San Diego State Coach Denny Stolz said: "Gaston Green is a given. What really hurt us was the play of the quarterback (Aikman). The two of them together really caused us some problems. Gaston Green is an outstanding college back and will probably be an outstanding pro player as well. . . .
"Things got going bad early; it took us out of our game plan. If we hadn't fallen behind so quickly, I really thought we could have run the ball much better."
Bruin linebacker Carnell Lake played a big role in the nightmarish start for Santos and the Aztecs. And by halftime it was obvious there was no upset in the making.
UCLA was leading at halftime, 31-7. Green had already run for over 100 yards, and the Bruins' second team had already scored.
And Santos had been picked off and picked on by Lake.
Santos, who had averaged less than one interception a game the year before, had a pass intercepted by Lake on the first play of the game and then had another pass picked off by linebacker Ken Norton to end his second series and set up the Bruins' first score.
Fullback Mel Farr scored on a two-yard run to end that short drive, which Aikman kept alive with a 14-yard third-down pass to tight end Charles Arbuckle.
Darryl Henley then demonstrated the Bruins' quick-strike potential by returning a punt 74 yards for a touchdown, taking the punt on a high first bounce, heading up the left side of the field for about 15 yards and cutting across at midfield to outrun defenders all the way down the right sideline.
Senior strong safety James Washington was able to get a hand on punter Wayne Ross to throw him off balance just enough so that by the time Ross made his dive at Henley, the two of them were falling into the corner of the end zone.
Donahue said: "The biggest play of the game was probably Henley's punt return. It certainly generated a lot of excitement and enthusiasm on our sideline."
As the first quarter ended, Green was showing his stuff on an all-running series, carrying the ball 6 times for 85 yards, including his breakaway run.
That drive had seemed to be held to a field goal when linebacker Chuck Nixon and defensive end Brett Faryniarz ganged up to sack Aikman on third down. But a roughing-the-kicker call gave the Bruins a first down at the 8, and Ball carried for the touchdown to make it 21-0 just after the start of the second quarter.
San Diego State finally scored on a seven-yard pass from Santos to flanker Robert Claiborne after a solid 74-yard drive that featured Santos passes to tight end Kerry Reed-Martin and runs by tailback Paul Hewitt.