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On This Day, Bruins Go McNowhere

September 29, 1996|Bill Plaschke

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — After every football game at Michigan Stadium, big-time players are replaced by neighborhood children.

The deep green field becomes a sandlot from heaven, hosting all ages and sizes in one whale of a pickup football exhibition.

Watching this madness Saturday evening, only five minutes were required to confirm what the previous four hours had implied.

Cade McNown had played in the wrong game.

The UCLA quarterback was more suited for nine-on-nine than national TV.

Kids throwing wildly downfield on the run, flipping little passes like Frisbees, tucking the ball and charging headfirst into defenders.

Kids sprinting madly around the backfield, kids ignoring the obvious while forcing the impossible, kids grabbing each other by the tops of the underwear.

During a 38-9 loss to the University of Michigan, McNown did all of that except the part about the underwear.

Then again, he was taken out before it ended.

"The momentum we had created . . . it definitely took a blow today," he said.

Theirs, and his.

--Of 27 passes, he completed eight, including only three of 13 during his second-half comeback attempt.

--After not throwing an interception in his first two games this year, he threw two in the first three quarters, and three overall.

--His longest completion? Eight yards.

--The team's third-down conversion percentage with him in control? Zilch. On 12 third downs, his offense failed 12 times.

With his loose left arm and fearless swagger, McNown looks like he can one day become a spectacular quarterback like his hero Steve Young.

But on this afternoon, that day seemed very far away.

"He didn't perform real well," Coach Bob Toledo said of his sophomore leader.

Which does not bode well for a young team hoping to sell tickets and scare rivals based on the excitement he can generate.

This kind of excitement, Bruin fans don't need.

This kind of excitement gets the Bruins whipped by three touchdowns on Nov. 23 at the Rose Bowl. And you can bet resting USC was among those watching on Saturday.

It started when he walked off the field less than three minutes into the game with a look of utter confusion. The Bruins had two weeks to prepare for this game, yet needed a timeout after only three offensive plays.

It ended when he tried to force a pass across the middle of the field and watched it intercepted by linebacker Rob Swett early in the fourth quarter.

In between, he was plagued by a ferocious pass rush, six dropped passes and a penalty for an illegal man downfield against tackle Kris Farris that nullified his longest throw of the day.

But nothing hurt him as much as himself.

"He learned some things," Toledo said of McNown. "We've got to go back to the drawing board."

On that board, ironically, should be plastered a picture of Young.

When he played for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

McNown makes all the classic mistakes of a headstrong, scrambling quarterback.

OK, so he doesn't have any true downfield threats. How would anybody know? He doesn't stay in the pocket long enough to make a connection with them.

"A lot of times he doesn't have a choice. . . . But it makes it hard when you don't know if he is staying in the pocket or throwing on the run," said junior receiver Jim McElroy. "It's hard for a receiver when, at the slightest pressure, your quarterback takes off."

McNown also has to know when to eat the ball . . . or throw it away.

Considering some of the wild side-arm tosses that came from his shirt-sleeves, he is lucky only three balls were picked off.

Receivers were blanketed on all three of his interceptions . . . and one was thrown so poorly, it appeared Wolverine Charles Woodson was the intended receiver.

"Other than the one throw [Swett interception], I don't think I forced anything," McNown said. "On another one, the ball just floated out of my hand. On the last one, the other guy [Woodson] just ran past the receiver."

McNown throws a very hard ball that has some receivers complaining, but big deal. If he didn't throw that hard, no telling how many linebackers would be able to grab them.

So the Bruin coaches have some work ahead. If nothing else, it appears Cade McNown will be a good listener.

Afterward, he and teammates were berated while running out of the stadium after a postgame prayer service at midfield.

"Surf's up, choirboys," shouted some drunken fools.

McNown never looked up.

"Didn't hear them," he said. "Thinking about other things. A lot of things to think about."

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