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Stanford's Stenstrom Still Among the Elite : College football: Senior quarterback will lead Cardinal against UCLA today at Rose Bowl.

October 29, 1994|JIM HODGES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Return with us to days of yore--well, two months seems like yore when you have lost as many games as UCLA and Stanford.

The Pacific 10 Conference was full of quality quarterbacks, three of whom passed for more than 3,000 yards last season. Another had led his team to the Rose Bowl and still another made his team a contender every time he walked on the field.

Where did they go?

Well, USC's Rob Johnson was injured. So were Oregon's Danny O'Neil and California's Dave Barr. UCLA's Wayne Cook was sound, but his best receiver, J.J. Stokes, was sidelined in the first game of the season.

That left Steve Stenstrom, still among the elite, still standing and still throwing, often and well enough to lead the conference in passing with 2,225 yards and 14 touchdowns in seven games.

With 66 yards against UCLA today at the Rose Bowl, he will become only the 10th NCAA quarterback to pass for 10,000 yards, and Stanford continues to hype him for the Heisman Trophy.

The Cardinal's 2-4-1 record, which included a four-game losing streak that was broken last week with a 39-25 victory over Oregon State, renders most of that hype ineffective. Stanford is 1-3 in the Pac-10.

In four seasons at Stanford, Stenstrom is probably the most battered quarterback in the conference, which is something his coach, Bill Walsh, would like to see stopped by some rule changes, if not now, in Stenstrom's senior season, in the future.

"I think we're just making it OK," Walsh said of the protection Stenstrom is getting from a maturing offensive line. "I don't know how many passes we've thrown, about 280 or something along those lines. So our sack percentage (28 sacks, 270 passes) is tolerable, but in the meantime, Steve takes five or six big hits every game. By and large they're legitimate as the rules stand, but he takes those. . . .

"I'd say he's taking a lot less punishment than he's taken in his previous two years, but he's still taking a lot."

If UCLA has its way today, he will take more. The Bruins are tied with Oregon for last in the league in sacks, with 18, but they will need some kind of pass rush to keep their secondary from being riddled by Stenstrom and 6-foot-6 wide receiver Justin Armour.

Armour will work on 5-9 cornerbacks Teddy Lawrence and Javelin Guidry. If Stenstrom has time to work, it could get ugly.

"It's going to be tough," Coach Terry Donahue said. "A 6-6 wideout obviously poses a lot of challenges. And the fact that last week we couldn't stop (Arizona) in conversion-type situations was a major concern."

Arizona converted 12 of 20 third-down plays, five with passes to 6-3 Richard Dice.

UCLA has its own skyscraper back at wide receiver. Stokes is starting for only the third time this season. He played last week, catching one pass for 18 yards, but has practiced this week after recovering from a thigh bruise.

Stokes caught only three passes last season against Stanford, but one was for a six-yard touchdown in a game the Bruins won, 28-25. The victory came after two losses and it launched a seven-game winning streak that took UCLA to the Rose Bowl.

It might be even more important this season. UCLA (2-6, 0-5) has lost six games in a row, the most since the school record for consecutive losses in a season, seven, was tied in 1943.

That Stanford is having trouble under Walsh might be regarded as salve for Donahue. Misery loves company.

"I think that the fact that Bill's struggling points out that good coaches can struggle," Donahue said. "Bill has a very well-deserved reputation and has obviously been a very successful coach, and the fact that he's struggling helps me realize that it's not just me. Other guys struggle too.

"Don Nehlen at West Virginia was 12-1 (actually 11-1) last year, and I don't know what he's doing this year (3-5), but he obviously doesn't have a great team. I don't take pleasure in the fact that they're struggling, but I do take solace in it. It helps alleviate some of the problems that come with losing, because you're not so much on an island. You're not so isolated."

That doesn't change one thing.

"This is a miserable situation," Donahue said.

UCLA BRUINS

TODAY'S GAME

* Opponent: Stanford Cardinal.

* Site: Rose Bowl.

* Time: 3:30 p.m.

* Records: UCLA 2-6, 0-5 in Pacific 10; Stanford 2-4-1, 1-3.

* Radio: XTRA (690).

* TV: None.

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