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Rushing to Judgment

UCLA: Hicks scores four touchdowns and is there to capitalize on big plays by defense in 40-27 victory over Arizona.

September 28, 1997|JIM HODGES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It wasn't much of a defensive adjustment. It was a tweak, really, and Arizona got used to it quickly.

It worked for only one play, but that was enough to right UCLA's ship Saturday in a 40-27 victory at the Rose Bowl.

The 24th-ranked Bruins had taken an early 20-0 lead, then watched as it evaporated in the second quarter. They led, 23-17, at halftime, where locker room chatter mostly involved coaches exhorting players to start the third quarter quickly.

Is a touchdown in 17 seconds quick enough? Is another, 61 seconds later?

The first came one play after the second-half kickoff, when Brendon Ayanbadejo sacked Arizona's Keith Smith, who fumbled on the Wildcats' 12. Larry Atkins scooped up the ball and moved it to the four, and Skip Hicks took care of those yards for his third touchdown of the game and 41st of his career, a school record.

UCLA led, 30-17, and Smith, whose day was over after Ayanbadejo's hit deadened his shoulder, never saw it coming.

"We had called a short pass, and [the hit] was from my back side," he said. "I didn't even expect a hit on a quick pass."

That might have been because UCLA coaches determined the best way to blitz Smith was with Ayanbadejo from the line of scrimmage, rather than giving him a running start from off the ball.

"We put in a new blitz at halftime that worked the very first play," said Rocky Long, the Bruin defensive coordinator. "But then they fixed it on the sidelines. We called it two more times and didn't get to him."

By then, the Bruins were gunning for Ortege Jenkins, a redshirt freshman from Long Beach who earlier had played wide receiver.

He came on the field with 14:43 to play in the third quarter and gave the ball to Trung Canidate for a yard. Jenkins did it again, and Canidate was met by Damon Smith and Weldon Forde, with Forde forcing a fumble that Shaun Williams recovered at the Wildcat 16.

A pass-interference call on Arizona's Kelly Malveaux, who was on the back of Danny Farmer, moved it to the three and Hicks took care of that, making the score 37-17.

"One of the things we talked about coming out at halftime was that we were going to kick off and we had to stop them on the first possession and we had to score," Coach Bob Toledo said. "I didn't think it was going to be that quick."

He had less of an idea that another touchdown would come on the heels of the first.

"There's no question the two turnovers put the nail in the coffin for them," Toledo said.

Arizona was done in by Bruin defenders starved for acclaim.

"Everybody is hungry for turnovers," Williams said. "We talk about it before the game: 'Cause turnovers, everybody cause turnovers.' "

Said defensive end Forde: "We talk about it. We say, 'Cause turnovers. The first guy in, hit him and the second and third guys beat on him and try to knock the ball loose.' "

The Bruins (2-2 overall, 1-1 in the Pacific 10 Conference) scored 17 points after Arizona's three turnovers, all fumbles, and they have 11 turnovers--seven fumbles--in their last two games.

Both have been wins, not surprisingly.

"You can't turn the ball over like that and expect to win," said Arizona Coach Dick Tomey, challenging his players for answers to a 1-3 season, 0-2 in the Pac-10. "They were just a better team than we were today. Everybody has to examine his own end and find a way to solve the problem."

UCLA solved the Wildcat defense in a way only Newt Gingrich could love.

The Bruins decided to run the ball on first down, run the ball on second down, throw--if necessary--short passes on third down and punt when all of that didn't work.

Seldom have they been more conservative since Toledo took over a year ago.

"We were not going to get ourselves in long-yardage situations," Toledo said. "We weren't going to let them sack us. We were going to throw quick-type passes. . . . If we didn't catch it and run for a first down, we were going to punt the football."

They ran the ball the first nine times they lined up in first-down situations, and eight of those runs were by Hicks, who finished with 118 yards in 28 carries and for the first time all season did not catch a pass.

Two of those early first-down plays resulted in eight and 19-yard touchdown runs by Hicks, who gave the Bruins a 14-0 lead en route to the fourth four-touchdown game of his career.

Field goals of 36 and 42 yards by Chris Sailer made it 20-0 and only 13 minutes 46 seconds had elapsed. The first came after Micah Webb had forced a fumble by Canidate that was recovered by Atkins.

All the while, UCLA's Cade McNown was passing only sparingly, and most often to Jim McElroy and Danny Farmer. McElroy had six receptions for 138 yards, Farmer five for 86, and McNown completed 18 of 24 passes for 266 yards.

Buoyed by the two quick touchdowns in the third quarter, he threw only six times in the second half, completing five for 97 yards.

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