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Freshman Comes Through Like a Veteran

October 11, 1998|J.A. ADANDE

TUCSON — The balance of the season shouldn't hang in the hands of a true freshman playing his fourth collegiate game.

Games like No. 3 UCLA's visit to No. 10 Arizona on Saturday are supposed to be the time when the Heisman Trophy candidates earn their billboards.

When UCLA Coach Bob Toledo suspended tailback Jermaine Lewis for his involvement in an altercation at a party, quarterback Cade McNown needed to do more than pad his stats for the voters. McNown needed to fill the gap in the lineup.

For much of the game he didn't.

Fortunately for the Bruins, they had DeShaun Foster. He turned a daunting predicament into his personal statement.

From the moment he took his first handoff, Foster was making plays when UCLA absolutely had to have them, keeping the Bruins in a game they had to win if they wanted to consider themselves national championship contenders.

The road to Tempe was all clear after No. 2 Nebraska lost to Texas A&M earlier in the day. Win on Saturday and the Bruins wouldn't have to worry about who else did what. All they had to do was keep their winning streak alive and they could settle the national championship on their own in the Fiesta Bowl.

Because of Foster, the Bruins trailed by only one touchdown after a first quarter in which they went three-and-out on four out of their five possessions.

Because of Foster, they were tied at halftime even though Arizona had the ball for almost six more minutes and gained 82 more yards. Foster rushed for 94 of UCLA's 191 yards of offense in the first half. He finished with 118 in 20 carries.

Because of Foster, the Bruins actually had the lead going into the fourth quarter, when everything else finally fell into place for UCLA.

We knew Foster would be called upon in Lewis' absence. We just didn't know he would be this good.

(A quick thought on Lewis: Toledo might have been too quick to enforce his punishment before the final verdict had been reached on the Lewis incident, but at least he showed some character in adhering to his rules. It's one thing to talk about principles the week a nonconference patsy is on tap; it's quite another to stick to them for the most important game of the year.)

Junior Keith Brown took over the starting spot, and the freshman Foster moved up the depth chart.

It will be hard to keep him off the field much longer. That was evident from his first run, which took him through three would-be tacklers and across 37 yards of grass for a touchdown.

There's a remarkable simplicity in Foster's running style. He doesn't overwhelm anybody and he doesn't juke guys out of their shoes. He simply goes to the right place and gets there in good time, then doesn't allow people to tackle him unassisted.

The scary thing is Foster still isn't comfortable out there. He says he doesn't even try any shake-and-bake moves because he's too busy trying to deal with the speed and complexity of the college game.

About the only bad thing to say about Foster is he doesn't show much potential as a two-way player. When Foster went back to receive a first-quarter punt, the Wildcats passed instead and all Foster could manage in his free safety debut was a weak wave at punter Ryan Springston's pass to A.J. Brown.

There's plenty of time to work on the defense. For now, returning punts and kickoffs and providing half of UCLA's offense for the first two quarters is more than enough.

Did we mention kick returns? After Jeremy McDaniel stretched out to grab a 28-yard touchdown pass from Ortege Jenkins and put Arizona ahead, 28-24, in the third quarter, Foster took the ensuing kickoff 45 yards to get the Bruins started on a quick-response touchdown drive capped by a three-yard McNown run.

The Bruin coaches--who had been out-gimmicked by the Arizona coaching staff most of the night--and McNown finally came up with some redemption on a play when McNown feinted a run, then threw to a wide-open Danny Farmer for a 64-yard touchdown that gave UCLA a 38-28 lead in the fourth quarter.

But the winning game plan had already been established long before: Hand the ball to DeShaun Foster.

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