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Stokes Expected to Play Today : College football: Bruins' Donahue says wide receiver probably will get limited action against Arizona.

October 22, 1994|JIM HODGES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

TUCSON — A year ago, Arizona said, it "held" J.J. Stokes to six catches for 91 yards and a touchdown.

It's the kind of holding UCLA can use today.

Stokes, whose season has been a nonseason because of a bruise on his left thigh suffered in the Bruins' opener against Tennessee, is being called probable for today's game against the Wildcats.

The final determination will be made during pregame warm-ups.

His participation will be limited, probably to 20-25 plays, but UCLA will take whatever it can get. A victory, for instance. The Bruins (2-5, 0-4 in the Pacific 10) haven't had one since Sept. 10, five games ago.

This week has been one long Stokes watch. UCLA Coach Terry Donahue has been doing much of the watching, maintaining daily that he did not expect Stokes to play.

The decision to try was made Friday after a walk-through on campus and before the plane trip to Arizona.

"He worked on Tuesday, then worked harder on Wednesday," Donahue said. "He didn't have any bad effects from it. There has been no swelling."

There also is little stamina. Hence, the 20-25 play limit.

Wildcat Coach Dick Tomey hasn't worried about it. He has said all week that he expected Stokes to play.

Stokes tried to play four weeks ago, against Washington State, but was able to line up for only 23 plays. One of those was a 13-yard pass reception. He stiffened at halftime and has been sidelined since.

Donahue and Stokes had said he would not play again until he is 100% recovered, fearing reinjury, as happened in the Washington State game.

Stokes' return is one more piece back in the puzzle that is UCLA's season. The Bruins also will have right guard Matt Soenksen, their strongest lineman, who has been sidelined three weeks because of an arch injury.

That brings the team back to four-fifths strength in the offensive line--only right tackle Paul Kennedy is missing from the unit that started the first two games of the season--with all of the receivers and all of the backs, except for reserve fullback Greg Ford.

It's a cast that might make it easier for quarterback Wayne Cook to deal with his own problems.

Stokes' presence could help most of all.

"We have a team that threw 21 touchdown passes last year, and the guy who caught 17 of them has been missing," Donahue said.

Cook threw 18 of the touchdowns, 15 of them to Stokes.

Cook will start today, for the eighth week in a row, but he will be on a short leash and Donahue said he will not hesitate to pull it. Cook passed for 270 yards and a touchdown last week and ranks second in the Pac-10 in passing yardage with 1,362. But the offense has become mistake-prone and has shown a tendency to break down near the opponent's goal line.

If the breakdowns recur, or if Cook is struggling, Ryan Fien will get the call. He has passed for 176 yards but has a tendency to throw interceptions.

Cook is playing largely because he engineered a 37-17 victory last season, throwing two touchdown passes--the other was to Kevin Jordan, who has caught four of Cook's five touchdown throws this season--and because Arizona's defense is considered too tough to give Fien his first start in two seasons.

The offensive breakdowns have revealed another problem, field-goal kicking, and Bjorn Merten, an All-American last season as a freshman, is facing the possible loss of his job, perhaps as early as today.

He has made only four of his last 11 attempts and missed from 32 yards last week. Whether he or walk-on kicker Greg Andrasick, who has never played in a college game, will play today will be determined in warm-ups.

It's that kind of season for UCLA.

Donahue gets empathy from Tomey, one of his best friends and the defensive coordinator of Donahue's first team as head coach.

"We've been through that here, and I think we all have empathy for each other when we go through those kinds of times because they happen to everybody," said Tomey, who had a 4-7 record in 1991. "Terry will have his team back playing well again soon, and I wouldn't be surprised if it was this week."

Tomey's best defensive player, end Tedy Bruschi, is not as sympathetic.

"I remember last year," he said. "I remember being 7-0 and then losing to UCLA and then everything fell apart. I will not forget that this Saturday."

It's a different UCLA team, but Arizona (5-1, 3-0) is about the same one that went 10-2, including a Fiesta Bowl shutout of Miami. The 14th-ranked Wildcats are in control of the Rose Bowl race and are facing a team that would appear to be a bump in the road to Pasadena.

You could cast the Bruins in the role of spoilers, but it's difficult to cast them in any role except that of a team trying to avoid its first six-game losing streak since 1945.

"Our problem right now is that we need to worry about ourselves," Donahue said. "We need to worry about how we're functioning, how we're executing, what we're doing, as much as what the other team is doing. . . . What we're doing as coaches is analyzing how to keep our players from making so many mistakes. Are things too complicated? Are the kids not concentrating? Are there too many young guys? Why can't we execute?

"That's more of a concern than, say, Arizona or anybody else we're playing right now."

UCLA BRUINS

TODAY'S GAME

* Opponent: Arizona Wildcats.

* Site: Arizona Stadium, Tucson.

* Time: 12:30 p.m.

* Records: UCLA 2-5, 0-4 in Pac-10; Arizona 5-1, 3-0.

* Radio: XTRA (690).

* TV: Channel 7.

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