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UCLA Takes Tougher Stance for Nebraska

September 10, 1988|JERRY CROWE | Times Staff Writer

UCLA's intrepid Bruins, who have known no thrashings in recent years like the thrashings laid on them by Big Eight powers Nebraska and Oklahoma, stick their necks out again today.

The fifth-ranked Bruins (1-0) will play second-ranked Nebraska (2-0) at 5 p.m. in the Rose Bowl in a game that will be nationally televised by ABC.

If this is anything like UCLA's most recent forays into "smashball," which is Bruin Coach Terry Donahue's description of Nebraska's preferred style of play, the East Coast television audience may be lost early to a rerun of "The Golden Girls."

And Donahue will have to wait at least until next week to pick up victory No. 100.

Nebraska routed UCLA in 1983, 42-10; won even more easily in 1984, 42-3; and beat the Bruins again last season, 42-33, building a 42-17 lead before allowing two touchdowns in the final minutes.

Oklahoma rolled over UCLA, 38-3, two seasons ago.

UCLA is a notoriously slow-starting team. Although its record in September since the beginning of the 1983 season is a respectable 11-6-2, it is 8-0 against San Diego State, Fresno State and Cal State Long Beach, none of which is in its class.

"Nebraska, on the other hand, is a team that comes out of the chute at full stride," Donahue said. "They're at midseason form early in the season."

So, why are the Bruins smiling?

For one thing, they proved to themselves in last season's game at Lincoln, Neb., that they could physically compete with Nebraska. Much to their surprise, apparently, they weren't bloodied and battered by the Cornhuskers.

"We had a lot of doubts about whether we could be physical with Nebraska," UCLA linebacker Carnell Lake said.

Those doubts were erased as the Bruins limited the Cornhuskers to a season-low 117 yards rushing in 47 attempts.

Donahue broadly hinted this week that Nebraska players were on steroids when they played UCLA in 1983 and 1984 and said that the disparity between the two teams at that time "was so great that we could have played Nebraska 50 times and the outcome wouldn't have been any different."

However, he called last year's game "a legitimate contest" and said, "Physically, we were in their league."

Much of the blame for UCLA's poor starts in recent seasons can be attributed to opening the season without an established quarterback, Donahue said.

That, of course, isn't the case this season. In Troy Aikman, who is regarded by many pro scouts as a cinch to be the No. 1 pick next spring in the National Football League draft, the Bruins have a veteran at the position.

Last week, in a 59-6 rout of San Diego State, Aikman completed 13 of 17 passes, throwing for 155 yards and 3 touchdowns before leaving the game less than 5 minutes into the second half.

"He looked very relaxed," Donahue said. "That's a factor."

The Cornhuskers have a veteran quarterback of their own in Steve Taylor, who outperformed Aikman in their duel last season, completing 10 of 15 passes for a career-high 217 yards and equaling a 49-year-old Big Eight record by throwing for 5 touchdowns as the UCLA secondary, in particular, overcompensated to stop the Nebraska running game.

"We didn't give Nebraska's passing game the credit it deserved," Lake said, wistfully.

Donahue said that Taylor, who ran for 74 yards and 2 touchdowns and passed for 143 yards and 1 touchdown last week in the Cornhuskers' 63-13 rout of Utah State, is even better this season. And Taylor, a third-year starter who has run and passed for 42 touchdowns, said his offensive line is much improved over last season.

"That's a luxury," Taylor said.

Another luxury for Taylor is not having to face the Cornhusker defense, which is led by All-American outside linebacker Broderick Thomas and another potential All-American at inside linebacker, Leroy Etienne.

Donahue said Nebraska is better than it was last season at linebacker and in the secondary.

And no less physical.

"They have an aura about them that they're going to play smashball and grind you up and spit you out," Donahue said.

So, is that what can be expected today? Will the Bruins once again end the day as Cornhusker spittle on the Rose Bowl grass?

Maybe not.

Nebraska Coach Tom Osborne calls UCLA "as talented a team as we will see" and says that nobody, with the possible exception of Notre Dame, has recruited as well in recent years as the Bruins.

"They didn't look like slow starters last Saturday night," Osborne said. "They looked awfully good. They're a very smooth and powerful team."

Powerful enough to end Nebraska's domination of them?

"I honestly think that we have a good chance to win if we do certain things properly," Donahue said. "And I also know that if we don't do those things, the outcome won't be to our liking."

No sense going out on a limb.

Bruin Notes

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