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ANALYSIS : It All Adds Up to UCLA's Losing Season

November 01, 1994|JIM HODGES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It was Saturday evening, and Wayne Cook was musing over what he had done and seen earlier in the day.

"That's the way our offense was supposed to look," he said after passing for 296 yards and two touchdowns in a 31-30 victory over Stanford.

But the offense hasn't looked right, and neither has the defense, which held the Cardinal to six second-half points. That's why the Bruins needed the victory to break a six-game losing streak, one short of the school record and one longer than anything Terry Donahue has gone through in 19 seasons as the school's coach.

So much for prophecy.

In August, media and coaches gathered in a Westside hotel and predicted Arizona would be the Pacific 10 Conference representative in the Rose Bowl. That USC would push the Wildcats, but not very hard. That UCLA would be close.

And Arizona would stumble, because it always stumbles. It's why the Wildcats have never played in Pasadena on New Year's Day.

USC? The evaluation was based on a returning senior quarterback, Rob Johnson, one of the conference's best, and a recruiting class heavy with junior college players.

But what if the quarterback were injured? And what if the new players weren't ready for four-year football?

There was UCLA, the Pac-10 Rose Bowl entry last season, with a returning quarterback, a Heisman Trophy-candidate receiver, a fair start on a rebuilt offensive line and a history of opportunistic defense. A second Rose Bowl in a row? Could be.

Hasn't been.

The numbers didn't add up.

85

That's the number of scholarships available to Division I football teams, and it has dwindled by NCAA edict, leaving less room for the recruiting mistakes that have been made at UCLA.

In between this week's practices, the Bruin coaches will scatter around the country to correct those mistakes.

The Bruins need a blocking fullback, a dominating tight end and defensive backs with the size to cover big wide receivers and the willingness to take on a running game head-on. But what UCLA needs most are offensive linemen. It got none in its last recruiting class, and this season's unit is a mixture of juniors and redshirt freshmen.

It's the sort of thing best remedied by a visit to the junior college store, but that's not the way UCLA does things. Among Pac-10 schools, only at Stanford is it tougher to enroll a junior college transfer. For that matter, only at Stanford is it tougher to enroll any player.

"The standards of the school are high," said Gary Bernardi, the Bruin recruiting coordinator and tight ends coach. "And that's OK. We know that starting out."

"It's not a level playing field," said Donahue of the Pac-10, "but that's not a reason. We can get in the players to win."

If they're the right players.

7

That's how many defensive starters were expected to return but who haven't been available most of the season.

Safety Marvin Goodwin, linebacker Jamir Miller and nose guard Bruce Walker left a year early for the NFL; injuries ended the careers of linebackers Andrew McClave and Brian Tighe before the season, and safety Tommy Bennett's legal problems have left him suspended from school.

In perhaps the biggest loss, cornerback Carl Greenwood broke his ankle on a play in which he was not hit during the Southern Methodist game, UCLA's last victory before Saturday and Stanford.

The following week, the Bruins were hammered, 49-21, by Nebraska's option offense that rushed for 484 yards. "If I'd been there, I don't think that would have happened," said Greenwood, who was proficient at dealing with the sweep and taking on ball carriers.

In their places, youth has been served, with eight freshmen or sophomores among UCLA's 10 defensive backs. Changes have been made, with Rod Smalley moving from the outside to inside linebacker. And stopgap measures have been tried.

But the defense has given up an average of 416.2 yards and 28.1 points a game after giving up 335.9 yards and 19.2 points last season. It is tied for last in the conference in sacks with 2.4 a game and, after an opportunistic year that included 40 turnovers and ended in the Rose Bowl, has gotten the ball only 12 times via fumble recovery or interception.

And UCLA is last in the conference in holding the opposition on third-down plays.

18

That's the jersey number of J.J. Stokes, who was injured on UCLA's fourth offensive play of the season and played only two halves in the first seven games.

He was his old self Saturday, with five catches for 94 yards, his first touchdown after a season in which he had 17 and a two-point conversion that won the game with 3:05 to play.

When Donahue went home from the UCLA opener, a 25-23 victory over Tennessee, he told his wife, Andrea, that he thought this would be a good season. A week later, when it was discovered that Stokes' injury would keep him out of his first game since seventh grade, Donahue figured the Bruins could handle the setback.

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