LINCOLN, Neb. — Strange but true: UCLA shut down Nebraska's vaunted running game, outgained Nebraska in first downs and total yardage, recovered four fumbles and still lost, 42-33.
Strange but true: Nebraska quarterback Steve Taylor injured his left shoulder in the first quarter and had to abandon his specialty, the option play, which forced him into the dropback passing game that did in the Bruins.
Strange but true: Taylor completed only 10 passes, and five were for touchdowns, which broke the school record of four touchdown passes shared by David Humm, Vince Ferragamo and Turner Gill, and tied the Big Eight record for touchdowns held by none other than Oregon State basketball Coach Ralph Miller. (Miller threw his five touchdown passes for Kansas in 1938).
Strange, too, that UCLA tailback Gaston Green, who ended up with three touchdowns and a couple of two-point conversions for 22 points, was held to 46 yards, ending his streak of eight straight games of more than 100 yards.
Strange that UCLA Coach Terry Donahue was taking no solace in the fact that his defense played so well against the run or that his Bruins gave the Cornhuskers a good run early or that the score was so much closer than it has been in the last couple of humiliations.
No, Donahue came in here hoping that his No. 3-ranked team would upset the No. 2 team, and he had nothing to do with talk of a moral victory.
"It was a flat-out defeat," he said.
Donahue was bitterly disappointed to know that his team let the game get out of hand with dropped passes, inopportune fumbles, a blocked punt, a wild snap on a field goal attempt that ended up in the wrong hands, and, most important, all those uncharacteristic breakdowns in the secondary that allowed the Cornhuskers those game-breaking passes.
In the past, the Bruins have been overmatched and manhandled. This time they were in the game, and they blew it.
Nebraska Coach Tom Osborne couldn't figure it, either. He called his team's running game "abysmal." He said, "That's not even football. . . . If you had told me that we would fumble the ball away four times and rush for 117 yards, I'd have said we'd get whipped by 21 points.
"I don't want to be a spoilsport, because we won the game, but we could have won by more."
So after the standing-room-only crowd of 76,313 had left Memorial Stadium thinking it had seen quite an entertaining show, the Nebraska coach was standing at one end complaining that his team could have played better, and the UCLA coach was standing at the other end complaining that his team could have played better.
And both were right.
But it was UCLA that really came apart when the game was still on the line.
As Donahue said, "At halftime, we thought we had a chance, but that doggone third quarter got away from us."
UCLA was down, 14-10, at the half. And the Bruins set themselves up for a strong second-half start even before the game started by electing to receive the second-half kickoff when they won the coin toss.
But on the second play from scrimmage, UCLA quarterback Troy Aikman was sacked and the ball got away.
Nebraska linebacker Doug Welniak recovered on the UCLA 12 and four plays later I-back Ken Clark scored from the one.
On the next series, Aikman threw a picture-perfect long pass to split end David Keating on third-and-18, and Keating dropped it.
Less than two minutes had ticked off the clock since his last scoring pass when Taylor threw a first-down pass to split end Rod Smith that Smith turned into a 48-yard touchdown play.
All of a sudden it was 28-10.
Aikman came back to find split end Flipper Anderson on a 59-yard pass play as the Bruins made their way to the Nebraska 11. But Alfredo Velasco's field goal attempt went awry when the snap sailed over the holder's head and Cartier Walker recovered it for Nebraska.
Yes, there were some ugly moments.
Toward the end of the third quarter Donahue turned to backup quarterback Brendan McCracken and several other second-line players, including tailback Eric Ball. That unit drove 60 yards and scored on Ball's six-yard run so that the score at the end of the third quarter was 28-17.
After Taylor threw a 35-yard touchdown pass to tight end Todd Millikan to start the fourth quarter, Aikman came back. But his next two series came up short and before he could score Taylor had thrown his fifth touchdown pass, a 33-yarder to Millikan that made it 42-17 with 2:19 to play.
McCracken came back to lead the Bruins' last two scoring drives and Green picked up his last two touchdowns, getting the ball back for the final score when linebacker Marcus Patton forced a fumble and cornerback Scott Stevenson recovered it.
UCLA ended up with 361 total yards to 334 for Nebraska. Aikman completed 14 of 22 passes for 211 yards.
Nebraska's defensive coordinator, Charlie McBride, said that the Cornhuskers hoped to hold the Bruins to 10 points--but the Bruins got that in the first half on Green's four-yard touchdown run and a 23-yard field goal by Velasco.