Terry Donahue, of all people, came up with a surprise fake-punt touchdown play to win an October game at the Rose Bowl Saturday and take over as the odds-on favorite to be here in January, too.
"UCLA is in the driver's seat now," Oregon Coach Rich Brooks agreed after Donahue's team broke it open and went on to win easily, 41-10, over the only other team that was undefeated in the Pac-10 when they kicked off.
What, 41-10? A rout? Not quite.
"Oregon just didn't play its game," New York Jets personnel director Mike Hickey said after the Ducks made it simple for UCLA by losing 4 of 6 fumbles and throwing 3 interceptions.
Hickey and a dozen other National Football League scouts, expecting the game of the year in the Pac-10, were in the press box for this one.
As Hickey said: "Oregon has been playing like one of the best teams in the country this year. Any year you beat Washington and SC back to back, you're for real.
"Their trouble was, this wasn't the real Oregon team. You can't beat a club as sound as UCLA with seven turnovers."
The difference at the half was 17-7 only because the Bruins scored 10 points in the last 2 1/2 minutes, when they got the ball first on a fumble at the Oregon 23 and then after a 12-yard punt at the Oregon 37.
The Ducks had played the better football up to that point, whenever they hung onto it, and it was time for Donahue to cool them down, which he did at just the right time and place for a fake punt--on UCLA's first series of the third quarter at the Oregon 38.
He was lucky to be able to call it there, where, had it failed, the Ducks would still have had a long way to go.
In fact, this was another day of all-around good fortune for Donahue--above whom the stars were surely in magical alignment on the night when he was born 43 years ago.
To begin with, he got the UCLA job at age 31 when his predecessor left the Bruins unexpectedly just before the season. They didn't have time to find anyone else.
Second, there he was at the big state school on the attractive West Side of one of the world's most desirable cities--where recruiting is somewhat easier than it is in Ames, Iowa, say, or Eugene, Ore.
And third, the other school in town, formerly a power, went on a slide early in his incumbency, and liked it well enough to keep sliding. He has beaten USC five of the last seven times.
To be sure, he is pretty good. He has won three Rose Bowl games in three tries. He is also a nice guy--but nice guys don't, as a rule, win.
So, the thing you marvel at is Donahue's luck. For example, he caught Oregon on exactly the right day--after it had upset Washington and USC and was rather proud of itself. At this very same time, the Bruins were scared--scared of losing to this suddenly potent northern power--and that's the right mental state for a team as good as the Bruins.
Want more? Oregon, starting 2-0, in the conference, not only got here on the right day for the Bruins, it got off the bus fumbling.
"Oregon doesn't fumble much," Hickey said. "They may not fumble again this month."
Most of the Ducks' misplays came on punts, ironically for Brooks, who is a special-teams expert.
"The kicking game has been Oregon's strength," New York Giants scout Tim Rooney said. "I don't know why they unraveled here."
Donahue does. It's all written in the stars above.
To be sure, Donahue gave himself every chance to win. He came in with the right game plan--a variety of short passes to a number of good runners. He knew he couldn't run.
When the game was on the line, Gaston Green, as good as he is, was almost nowhere to be found. Green gained only 39 yards in 12 carries in the first half, 16 on one play--or 23 on the other 11.
Said Giant scout Rooney, who was here looking not at UCLA but at the Ducks' defense, "They have an underrated defense. Their team speed to get to Green is what bothered him."
It did, that is, until the fourth quarter, when Green finally made it a 100-yard day against the finally demoralized, tiring northerners.
This was an afternoon when, fearing that his team couldn't run, Donahue came out firing. On the Bruins' important first touchdown drive, he had Troy Aikman passing on first down three times in four chances on a move from midfield.
The only way UCLA could score in the tough, tight first half was with Aikman's arm.
"If he continues to make progress, Aikman can be a No. 1," Hickey said. "The key word is progress."
Anyhow, Donahue was ready to pass on a day when he couldn't run. And he had a fake punt ready. He doesn't leave everything up to the stars.