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Bruins' Depth Wears Thin at Quarterback : Loss of McCracken Leaves No Experienced Backup

November 10, 1987|TRACY DODDS | Times Staff Writer

Brendan McCracken had his left arm in a sling and he was admitting that, yes, having a clavicle broken in a couple of places is a pretty painful project. But he was as upbeat on his way to meetings and practice Monday as he had been on his way to the bus after the Oregon State game that did him in last Saturday.

Why would he even be heading for practice, now that he's out for the season? For the same reason that he attended all those meetings and practices up to this point. Not because he expects to be a star. Because he has a role to play.

Coach Terry Donahue figures the team's leadership and competitive spirit have had as much to do with the Bruins' consistency this season as anything else, and McCracken, he says, is one of those leaders.

The Bruins, known to trip up on some seemingly innocuous team almost every year, have made it through a whole series of spoilers without a hitch, without so much as a falter.

With just Washington and USC left on their schedule, the Bruins need not worry about losing a game because of taking it too lightly.

UCLA is 8-1 overall, having lost at Nebraska early on, and 5-0 in the conference, going into games against the Huskies, a team that the Bruins haven't beaten in their last four times out, and USC, a team that needs no introduction.

No more talk about the chemistry being right for an upset.

How did Donahue manage to avoid a stumble this season?

"It wasn't me, it was the players themselves," Donahue said. "The competitive nature of the team solved that problem. I don't think I did anything different.

"This team has a very competitive spirit, and, as a result, they were able to avoid any major pitfalls. The team decided to play hard every week.

"It does show that we have very strong leadership on this team. I'm real proud of that. Part of it was our captains. . . . And a large part of it was our quarterbacks.

"Troy Aikman has been very consistent. But I say quarterbacks because both of them are real popular players. Brendan McCracken has shown as much leadership as any quarterback I've been around. He's on the sideline during the game, helping at every opportunity, giving advice, making suggestions.

"I like to keep a quarterback with Brendan's experience real active in the game. I constantly ask him questions, solicit information and advice. Some of it I pass along to (offensive coordinator) Steve Axman, in the press box.

"He'll still be able to do that. . . . But we really have a concern now for depth at quarterback."

McCracken, who was injured on a 28-yard touchdown run, when he was hit by "a cornerback who had a pretty good head of steam," was one of several casualties of the Oregon State game.

Although McCracken, a junior from L.A. Loyola High, did not play much this season, it was comforting to the coaching staff to know that he was available. Now if anything happens to Aikman, the Bruins could be in real trouble.

The Bruin backup now is red-shirt sophomore Ron Caragher, who has been getting, maybe, five snaps in practice up to this point. And behind him is red-shirt freshman Bobby San Jose. Both have talent, but neither is ready at this point.

The Bruins' linebacking corps, the hardest hit by injuries starting last spring, lost another starter when Melvin Jackson injured a knee Saturday. He underwent surgery to reconstruct his knee after damage to major ligaments. Ben Hummel, a transfer from Southern Methodist, will replace him in the lineup.

Starting offensive tackle Russ Warnick suffered a sprained knee on one side and a sprained ankle on the other.

And tailback Brian Brown hurt his knee and shin and left the game on crutches, but he may be able to make it back by Saturday.

Tailback Gaston Green, injured early in the game at Arizona State, is not expected to play against Washington, but Donahue said that there was a chance that he might.

In Green's absence, tailback Eric Ball, coming back from a shoulder injury, had a good game in Corvallis, gaining 128 yards and scoring 3 touchdowns.

Donahue showed some irritation with Seattle reporters when they seemed to interpret his assessment of who would or would not be ready as an effort to keep iffy players out of the Washington game and save them for USC.

"I never indicated for a second that we were saving our players," Donahue said, "Anyone who is able to play, and play successfully, will play. Anybody who would be 80% or 85% and who might be further injured would not play, regardless of who the opponent was.

"The Washington game is a crucial encounter for us. It has a lot of ramifications in our conference race, many of which I don't know what they are."

Donahue thought about that last statement and added: "I think I got that from Yogi Berra."

Bruin Notes Once again, the Bruins are preparing to play maybe one quarterback, maybe another. Washington Coach Don James said Monday that he does not know whether senior Chris Chandler, who started the season as a Heisman Trophy candidate but who has faded a bit lately, will be able to play after suffering a hip pointer last Saturday against Arizona. Sophomore Cary Conklin came off the bench to complete 18 of 32 passes for 237 yards and 2 touchdowns, scoring once himself on a two-yard run. . . . Despite playing just one series in the second half last Saturday at Oregon State, UCLA quarterback Troy Aikman continues to lead the nation in passing efficiency.

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