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COLLEGE FOOTBALL : TAKING OVER THE REINS : With Troy Aikman and Rodney Peete Out of Picture, Their Successors--Bret Johnson at UCLA and Todd Marinovich at USC--Will Certainly Have Their Hands Full. . . : Donahue Believes Bruins Can Win, Even With a Freshman Quarterback

September 03, 1989|JERRY CROWE | Times Staff Writer

At UCLA, where success is sometimes measured as much by Trojan misfortune as by Bruin accomplishment, failing to reach the Rose Bowl with Troy Aikman was made just slightly more tolerable when USC lost each year to the Big Ten champions.

Of course, that's not all that UCLA had to gloat about.

While the Trojans were losing in Pasadena, the Bruins won bowl games in each of Aikman's two seasons in Westwood, establishing a National Collegiate Athletic Assn. record last Jan. 2 with their seventh straight postseason victory, a 17-3 beating of Arkansas in the Cotton Bowl.

And for two weeks last season, UCLA was ranked No. 1, climbing to the top of the wire-service polls for the first time in 21 years.

Indeed, much was magical about the Aikman Era, even if half the losses in the Bruins' consecutive 10-2 seasons were to USC.

But as a writer for a national magazine noted this summer, "a rose by any other name may still be a rose, but a bowl by any other name just doesn't cut it."

And if the Bruins couldn't reach the Rose Bowl with Aikman, will they be able to make it with a lesser talent than the No. 1 choice in this year's National Football League draft?

That's the question in Westwood, where a redshirt freshman, Bret Johnson, was named by Coach Terry Donahue Saturday as the starter for next Saturday night's opener against Tennessee in the Rose Bowl. Waiting in the wings will be a sophomore, Jim Bonds.

Donahue, no doubt grateful that USC faces a similar situation in trying to replace Rodney Peete, believes that UCLA can win with an untested quarterback.

"It's become sort of a trademark at UCLA," he said.

The optimistic Donahue alluded to his 1983 team, which advanced to the Rose Bowl behind a previously unknown quarterback named Rick Neuheisel, and his 1985 team, which made it to the Rose Bowl behind a previously unknown quarterback named David Norrie.

Both Neuheisel and Norrie, though, were fifth-year seniors who had spent four years standing by and learning the system.

Johnson hasn't played in a game since his senior year at El Toro High two years ago, when some called him the No. 1 quarterback prospect in the country.

He will be the first player with no prior collegiate experience to start at quarterback in an opener for the Bruins since sophomore Gary Beban in 1965.

Bonds, as Aikman's understudy a year ago, threw all of seven passes, completing four for 42 yards and no touchdowns.

Still, Donahue sounded convinced when he said: "We think either one can be a successful UCLA quarterback."

Part of the reason for Donahue's optimism is that whoever is at quarterback will line up behind an experienced offensive line--"As good as any we've had over the last several years," Donahue has said--and in front of a trio of talented tailbacks.

Junior Brian Brown, sophomore Shawn Wills and freshman Kevin Williams comprise "the nation's finest stable of running backs," according to the Sporting News.

Wills averaged 6.6 yards a carry last season, when he established a freshman record by rushing for 120 yards in the Cotton Bowl, and Brown, despite missing the first five games of the season with a hamstring injury, ran for 410 yards, including a 68-yard fourth-quarter touchdown romp that ensured a 16-6 victory at Oregon.

Williams, bigger and faster than either of them, has yet to play at UCLA, but as a senior two years ago at Spring High School in Spring, Tex., many considered him the nation's No. 1 tailback prospect. Last May, he won the 100-meter dash in the Pacific 10 Conference track championships.

"We're going to try to be a more effective and efficient running team," Donahue said. "We'll try to place the offensive burden on our line and our running backs."

Also helping to ease the quarterbacks' burden will be wide receivers Mike Farr and Reggie Moore, returning starters who combined last season to catch 104 passes for 1,327 yards, and gifted tight ends Charles Arbuckle, Corwin Anthony and Randy Austin, who last season combined for 48 receptions.

Concerned about the lack of a deep threat --Farr's 66 receptions last season produced no touchdowns--the Bruins have added Scott Miller, a former high school teammate of Johnson's who last season at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo led the state with 84 receptions for 1,476 yards.

It's improbable that Miller will come close to matching those statistics this season, but Donahue promised that neither Bonds nor Johnson will be limited to handing off and pitching out. He expects the Bruins to throw about 25 passes a week. Last season, excluding 53-point routs of San Diego State and Cal State Long Beach in which he sat out most of the second half, Aikman averaged 31. He threw 24 touchdown passes.

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