HONOLULU — After a couple of days of strolling on the beaches wearing flowered shirts and straw hats by day, and making the scene in the discos of Waikiki by night, it's time for the Bruins to get down to the business of playing football.
UCLA will be going for its sixth straight bowl victory in today's nationally televised game against Florida (12:30, Channel 7). And the Bruins are all very much aware of that streak.
The Bruins are favored to beat Florida today, but then, they were favored to beat USC and go to the Rose Bowl. So much for that.
UCLA is ranked No. 10 and is going into the game as the Pacific 10 Conference co-champion with a 9-2 record. Florida struggled through its Southeastern Conference schedule and is 6-5.
But that 6-5 record is misleading. The five teams that Florida lost to were Miami, now ranked No. 2; Florida State, No. 3; Auburn, No. 6; LSU, No. 7, and Georgia, No. 15.
The Gators were competitive in almost all of those games.
Florida is not a team to be taken lightly. In fact, Florida and UCLA are very similar.
When the selections were made, Aloha Bowl officials announced: "The perfect match."
UCLA and Florida are both well-balanced offensive teams that are led by outstanding quarterbacks. And both rely heavily on outstanding running backs. UCLA quarterback Troy Aikman is ranked second in the nation in passing efficiency, and is considered to be among the best quarterbacks in college football. Florida quarterback Kerwin Bell is a four-year starter who has been considered among the best from the start of his career.
Even with tailback Gaston Green sidelined with a thigh injury, the Bruins' Eric Ball, star of the '86 Rose Bowl game, will make an interesting counterpoint to Florida freshman Emmitt Smith, who set the school single-season record by rushing for 1,341 yards.
UCLA's defense led the Pac-10, and Florida's defense led the SEC.
"There are a lot of stars in this game," UCLA Coach Terry Donahue said. "There are some very, very fine athletes on both sides of the line of scrimmage."
Florida Coach Galen Hall is just as impressed with UCLA. "They should be favored. They have a very good football team," Hall said.
"For us to go out and pick a team to play in a bowl game, this would be the last one we'd pick. We think they're the best team out there . . . UCLA can play with anybody we've played all year; they have that much talent.
"They had an off day against USC. But they can score from anywhere. They have such speed on defense. They're the kind of team you would like to be on defense. They play control football, gang tackle . . .
"And you can't give Aikman all day to sit and throw on you."
Aikman completed 159 of 243 passes this season, a completion percentage of 65.4%, for 2,354 yards. But UCLA averaged just slightly more yardage passing than rushing (229.1 yards a game passing, 215.1 yards a game rushing) because Green was busy rolling up 1,098 yards. This was the first time that UCLA has had a 2,000-yard passer and a 1,000-yard rusher in the same year.
Today, without Green and with starting fullback Mel Farr Jr. out with a hamstring problem, the Bruins might lean more heavily on the passing game.
Florida might be more likely to lean on its running game. Bell completed 140 of 239 passes (58.6%) for 1,769 yards, but the Florida receivers are not the strength of the offense. Smith is.
"We've always been the type of football team that likes to run," Hall said. "We like our tailback to carry maybe 30 times a game. We'd like to have two guys carry it 15 times each. We believe in the running game. We believe in a very balanced attack."
Bell said that he hoped to get a passing game established early if the Gators were going to be able to run against the Bruins. "The strength of the UCLA defense is their linebackers," Bell said. "They're probably the best linebackers we've faced all season. Their linebackers really figure into their passing attack, so it's not going to be easy."
Bell said that if he had to compare the UCLA defense to another team, he'd compare it to his own team's defense.
Donahue agreed that there was a similarity between the Florida defense and the UCLA defense. But he said that he'd compare Florida's defense to Arizona State's. Donahue said: "They're a gifted team physically. They have team speed. Their strength is defense--they led the SEC in defense and that's a very good defensive conference . . . They are very well-coached and, to me, a quick, aggressive, active-type team, one which will give us everything we want."
Aloha Bowl Notes