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CAL STATE FULLERTON NOTEBOOK

Titans Can't Keep Fighting the Odds

September 15, 1992|MIKE DiGIOVANNA

Fact: Cal State Fullerton played a respectable game against UCLA Saturday night, losing to the 16th-ranked and heavily favored Bruins, 37-14, in the Rose Bowl.

Oddsmakers predicted UCLA would win by 42 points, but a spirited Titan defense stopped three Bruin drives, forcing UCLA to settle for field goals, and the offense came up with enough big plays to score two touchdowns and keep the margin of victory to 23 points.

The Titans hit the Bruins hard and knocked UCLA quarterback Wayne Cook out for the season. They earned praise from Bruin Coach Terry Donahue, who called them "a well-conditioned, physically tough and well-coached team."

Opinion: In no way does the Titans' performance against UCLA legitimize Fullerton as a Division I-A football program.

The Titans might be able to compete with the big boys of college football for a quarter or two, but they still don't have the depth or resources to produce a winner at the I-A level.

Fullerton has a few talented players, but the difference between the Titans and most I-A schools is the talent on the sideline and the scout teams.

The nation's top I-A teams have the NCAA limit of 92 scholarship players, and even most Big West Conference schools are in the 60-80 range, which allows them to stack the depth chart with scholarship players three- or four-deep at every position.

The scout teams, which oppose the starters in practice, consist of redshirt freshmen and underclassmen who are expected to contribute in the future.

Most Titan scout-teamers and many of the team's reserves are walk-ons--guys who weren't good enough to earn scholarships. Fullerton offers the equivalent of 33 scholarships--that's seven under the Division II limit--and Coach Gene Murphy spreads those more than 50-55 players.

The talent level from starters to reserves drops off drastically at most positions, making it difficult for Fullerton to overcome injuries and to rest starters during games.

Instability in the program has made it almost impossible for Murphy to recruit talented high school players. Fullerton has evolved into a haven for community college players who might make an immediate impact on the team but bring little continuity to the program--they remain Titans for only two or three years.

In some ways, Murphy is punished for doing well against teams such as UCLA and Georgia, because it leads to unrealistic expectations. Some boosters and administrators think the Titans can continue to compete at the I-A level--and even with a Top 20 team--on a Division II budget.

They can't, and those Titan supporters bent on playing Division I-A football are only fooling themselves if they think they can continue.

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Fact: Fullerton cornerback Darrius Watson is a good football player. The 6-foot, 185-pound junior is better equipped to play safety--a position that requires less speed and quickness than cornerback--but he's the best the Titans have, so he plays the more demanding position.

Watson ranked second in the Big West with six interceptions last season and had one in the 1992 season-opener against Cal State Northridge, after which he was named conference defensive player of the week.

Because he isn't as fast as many of the receivers he's forced to cover one-on-one, Watson has allowed his share of big plays. But he has made plenty of big plays, too.

Opinion: Watson's excessive taunting is a detriment to the team. Whether he breaks up a pass or a ball sails well over the head of a receiver he's covering, Watson's usual reaction is to strut toward the huddle with his head shaking back and forth and his arms waving like an official giving an exaggerated incomplete pass call.

You can almost see the steam rising from the helmets of opponents, who feel Watson is rubbing it in.

Watson is an equal opportunity show-boater. He taunted Northridge and, impossible as it may seem, he taunted UCLA. And he'll probably taunt Georgia Saturday if given the chance.

Sean LaChapelle, the Bruins' All-American receiver, ate Watson up in the first quarter Saturday, catching three passes for 60 yards. But when Watson knocked a pass away from LaChapelle in the end zone late in the quarter, he went into his antics.

Why incite a guy like LaChapelle and a team like UCLA? They'll be even more inspired to stick it back in your face, which is what they did. LaChapelle finished with seven catches for 154 yards.

Watson's behavior seems to be contagious. Fellow cornerback B.B. Hudson celebrates too much after making plays, and even safety Al Whitten, in only his second game as a Titan, was flagged 15 yards for taunting Bruin running back Ricky Davis, who was injured after Whitten's crunching hit.

Advice to Watson and his teammates: Let your play do the talking and your theatrics do the walking.

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Fact: Fullerton quarterback Trendell Williams has completed six of 10 passes for 180 yards and a touchdown in two games and has a rating of 244.2, which would lead the Big West and rank among the nation's leaders if he had enough attempts.

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