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UCLA won last year on assistant coach Bob Toledo's
trick play; USC's Brian Kelly has had to live with
the consequnces

Playback

UCLA: "We felt . . . we had to come up with something different," said Toledo, who designed the play.

November 19, 1996|JIM HODGES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It was 17-1 right reverse pass, a play born of necessity, and it spanned the classes:

Freshman quarterback Cade McNown handed the ball to junior tailback Derek Ayers, who handed to sophomore receiver Jim McElroy, who threw to senior Kevin Jordan.

UCLA 21, USC 0, in a game the Bruins won, 24-20.

And Bob Toledo replaced retiring Terry Donahue as UCLA's coach six weeks later.

"I guess that had a big impact, but I would hope that one game wasn't the deciding factor of me getting this job," Toledo said.

Still, he has jokingly wondered where he would be now if the Bruins had lost to the Trojans.

He had contrived the play, awaiting looser reins on the UCLA offense, and then Karim Abdul-Jabbar, the Bruins' star tailback, was declared out of the USC game because of an injury.

"I think Terry felt that that was the only way we had a chance," said Toledo, then the offensive coordinator. "We felt . . . we had to come up with something different, break tendencies, come up with something unique to try to give us a big play, give us some momentum."

It required having the right people in the right places, and when Ayers was moved from receiver to tailback, his hands were in place both to take a handoff and give one to McElroy.

McElroy had thrown four passes in high school, two for touchdowns.

Jordan was a veteran, playing against USC for the final time.

Toledo loves trick plays and he had employed them as offensive coordinator at Texas A&M.

"I remember once in the Holiday Bowl where we used seven trick plays and rolled up 700 yards of offense and 65 points against Brigham Young," Toledo said.

One of the plays was 17-1 right reverse pass.

But at UCLA, "Terry wasn't real excited about trick plays," Toledo said.

There were none in the playbook. With Abdul-Jabbar, who had led the Pacific 10 in rushing with 1,419 yards, the Bruins didn't need trick plays.

But five were used against the Trojans, including two shovel passes to Ayers that even the USC play-by-play typists didn't know what to call. "Shuttle pass" was used, as was "shuffle pass."

A reverse was called in the first quarter, McElroy taking a handoff from Ayers and running for 12 yards and a first down on the game-opening drive to a 7-0 UCLA lead.

The play was run to the left, and USC remembered it when the same play was run to the right. But the Trojans hadn't seen the pass.

*

McNown had been erratic all season: sometimes sensational, sometimes a freshman. But he had demonstrated toughness, blocking for Ayers on reverses, and that was on the minds of the USC defenders as 17-1 right reverse pass unfolded.

"My job was just to get the ball to the tailback and go to block," McNown said. "I remember that nobody came up for me to block, and when I was looking around for somebody, I saw Jim throw the ball and I remember Kevin was behind the DB."

For a touchdown and a 21-0 lead.

"But there was still a lot of football to play, and I never thought that we had put them away," McNown said.

There were enough UCLA points to win, but the Trojans weren't finished until McNown's 21-yard run on third and 13 in the game's final series.

When the trick plays were introduced, McNown wasn't surprised.

"When you don't have your star running back . . . things are going to change," he said.

*

Ayers had come to UCLA as a running back and found himself behind Abdul-Jabbar and Skip Hicks, with enough playing time to amass 247 yards in 22 carries as a freshman, but not enough to show him that he had a future at the position.

On his first play against Brigham Young, he ran 83 yards for a touchdown, but two weeks later, he was at wide receiver.

Now he was a back again.

"The Monday before the game, Coach Donahue came to me before the team meeting and said Karim wasn't going to be able to play and he wanted me for some plays at tailback," Ayers said.

He wasn't unhappy about it. Ayers had been playing behind Jordan at flanker, and, although he had played enough to catch 23 passes for 310 yards, he wanted more. And he knew Jordan was going to play most of the game.

Ayers rushed 18 times for 69 yards against USC and had found a way to get on the field with Jordan.

It was 17-1 right reverse pass.

*

In a sophomore play at L.A. Washington High, McElroy had played Iago, the treacherous ensign to Shakespeare's Othello. Iago convinces Othello that his wife, Desdemona, has been unfaithful, and Othello goes on a killing spree, finally taking his own life.

Iago was wounded, but lived to thrust a knife into USC.

At 154 pounds, he was the smallest player on the Coliseum field. Toledo had learned that McElroy could pass while watching him in practice.

During USC week, 17-1 right reverse pass worked the first two times it was tried in practice, but then the scout defense got wise to it and some of the passes started fluttering. That weighed on McElroy's mind.

"I had the option, and they said that if something didn't feel good about it, to just run with it," he said. "The field was wide open if I had run it, but I just felt like, 'I've got to run the play.'

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