A hush fell over a group of about two dozen reporters gathered at UCLA Monday for Coach Terry Donahue's weekly luncheon meeting with the media.
Donahue, a hangdog expression on his face, sat and bowed his head.
Speaking solemnly, he began: "I've done a lot of soul-searching and made a lot of evaluations since our game (Saturday). I've talked to my athletic director about this and I have a statement I want to read to you."
Were a 3-4 start and two consecutive losses too much for him? Was he going to quit?
Reading from a yellow sheet of paper, the coach continued: "I, Terry Donahue, being of sound mind and body, declare myself insane to meet (Monday) with the sportswriters following the Oregon State game."
Looking up, he grinned mischievously, a wild look in his eye.
Donahue's sense of humor is intact, at least, even if the Bruins' season is unraveling.
What's next for UCLA?
Still a week before the end of October and the start of the November stretch drive, the Bruins have been all but eliminated from the Rose Bowl race and are threatening to drop out of the bowl picture altogether.
Only a year after they were 7-0 and ranked No. 1 for the first time in 21 years, they are off to their worst start since 1979 and have lost two consecutive games for the first time since 1983. They've lost two Pacific 10 Conference games in a row for the first time since 1980.
Their starting quarterback, Bret Johnson, hasn't led a touchdown drive since the second quarter of the Arizona State game. That was 2 1/2 weeks ago. Last week, the redshirt freshman completed four of 15 passes and was pulled at halftime in favor of Jim Bonds.
UCLA's running game, expected to be among the nation's best, has generated 3.3 yards a carry and no run longer than 23 yards.
The Bruin defense, battered for an opponent-record 480 rushing yards two weeks ago in a 42-7 loss to Arizona, crumbled again Saturday at the most critical juncture in an 18-17 defeat by Oregon State, allowing the Beavers to drive 67 yards to the touchdown that made it 17-16, then failing to cover properly on the ensuing two-point conversion that won the game with 3:27 left.
"We're going to go back to a very fundamental approach and, if nothing else, implant a clearer understanding of the basic fundamentals of football: blocking, tackling, catching, lining up properly," Donahue said. "We need to put a real emphasis on those things and get back almost to what you do in spring practice or a two-a-day routine--go back to square one and start all over."
UCLA has four games left--against Washington Saturday at the Rose Bowl, Stanford Nov. 4 at Stanford, Oregon Nov. 11 at the Rose Bowl and USC Nov. 18 at the Coliseum--and needs to win at least three to attract a bowl bid and maintain a chance to extend its bowl winning streak to eight games.
Is a bowl bid a realistic goal for the Bruins?
"At this particular juncture, that would be absolutely impossible to predict," Donahue said. "Our focus has got to be on re-evaluating and emphasizing fundamentals and finding out, 'Why aren't we successful? What's wrong?'
"There (will be) a greater emphasis on that than on, 'Can we get into a bowl game?' You earn your way into a bowl game with victories, and we've only got three. I don't think anybody can predict at this stage what the next four weeks will bring."
Who's the No. 1 quarterback?
Johnson has been the starter through seven games, and Donahue said that he did not anticipate making a change.
On the other hand, he didn't rule out the possibility.
Johnson had the flu last week, was ineffective and watched from the sideline in the second half as Bonds almost pulled out a victory.
"I think at this stage, we're trying to evaluate everything and everybody, including every position on the football team," Donahue said. "But I don't think at this particular time we're in position to make a statement as to the fact that we're going to make a switch at the quarterback position."
So, Johnson will start?
"I think so," Donahue said. "But that's subject to some of the review that we're doing, some of the analysis that we're trying to accomplish, a week of practice.
"I've really not made a decision to make a change. If and when we do, everybody will know. But at this time, I don't think that (a change) necessarily is warranted.
"But I thought Jimmy did a good job in the second half."
Kirk Maggio ranks second in the nation with an average of 46.19 yards a punt after averaging 53.8 yards with four punts against Oregon State. Darren Parker of South Carolina leads the nation with an average of 46.68 yards a punt. . . . Coach Terry Donahue acknowledged publicly for the first time that the suspensions of linebacker Roman Phifer and defensive backs Willie Crawford and Damion Lyons had a great impact on the Bruins. "We lost four good defensive players," said Donahue, including defensive back Anthony Burnett, who flunked out of school. "I knew at that time that our defensive team would have some problems."
How is Donahue holding up? "I'm not doing well in terms of football," he said, "but I'm not under the Nimitz (freeway) or up in Santa Cruz. I don't say that lightheartedly, but those people are enduring a hell of a lot more than I am." . . . UCLA has not lost three consecutive games since 1979 and has not lost three consecutive conference games since 1971.
Rick Meyer has lost his spot in the starting lineup. The senior guard has been moved to tackle, where he backs up starters Keith Jacobson and Bill Paige, and sophomore Scott Spalding has replaced Meyer at guard. Sophomore Marc Wilder, who was a tackle, is Spalding's backup. . . . Don't expect Donahue, looking ahead to next season, to give more playing time to underclassmen. "That would be giving up (on this season)," he said. "I'm not ready to do that."