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COLLEGE FOOTBALL SPOTLIGHT / WEEK 2 | COLLEGE FOOTBALL

A Tough Lesson for Bullied 'Bama

September 03, 2000|CHRIS DUFRESNE

Rolled Tide.

That's what UCLA did Saturday.

The out-of-towners came from Alabama, with banjos on their knees, a caravan of recreational vehicles forming a Crimson artery on the road map from Tuscaloosa to Pasadena.

Alabama brought a No. 3 national ranking and four old-timers from the squad that rolled USC in the 1946 Rose Bowl.

They even brought their own state troopers, a tradition started by the great Bear Bryant.

But Alabama didn't bring nearly enough.

Losing never figured into the equation for the 25,000 or so Alabama fans who spread out blankets and set out silverware for pregame tailgate parties in the Rose Bowl parking lot.

Pasadena was supposed to be the first stop on an 11-city trek to the Orange Bowl, site of this year's national title game.

Roll, Tide, roll.

Roll on home.

UCLA's 35-24 victory over Alabama might have been more digestible had the Bruins tricked the Tide with kitchen-sink plays noted for left-coast football schools.

But to stand there and watch UCLA dominate Alabama in the sacred trenches had to elicit a depression approaching Appomattox.

"They were physical, they came to play," stunned Alabama defensive end Jarret Johnson said of the Bruins. "That's very uncharacteristic for teams out here. They usually don't pound it. But they pounded it down our throats today. They deserve everything they got today."

The game was stunning on many fronts.

Alabama is the defending champion of the Southeastern Conference, generally regarded as the nation's best.

UCLA was just another dart-board school from the Pacific 10, a conference with a wimp factor approaching Pee Wee Herman's.

But the game was a complete flip-flop. Alabama played like a Pac-10 school, arm-tackling the way UCLA did against Miami two years ago.

Alabama threw the ball 30 times because it could not run. Alabama fumbled four times, losing two, and had a pass intercepted.

UCLA played like the SEC team. It mashed Alabama on the offensive and defensive fronts, outgaining the Crimson Tide, 396 to 265 in total yardage.

It was UCLA that controlled the clock, holding the ball 37:19 to Alabama's 22:41, UCLA that mounted scoring drives of 19 plays and 13 plays.

"That's what's so frustrating," Johnson said. "They beat us with our style. That's our style."

Saturday it wasn't.

The game started predictably enough, with the Crimson Tide's Freddie Milons zig-zagging 71 yards with a punt for a touchdown.

Oddly, the early score may have backfired.

"After the quick return, everyone thought, 'OK, this is good, we're going to take it to them,' " guard Griff Redmill said. "Thirty minutes later, we were sort of stunned."

The UCLA defense, a standing joke punch line for the last few years, held Alabama to one offensive touchdown.

Milons, one of the nation's best receivers, was held to five catches and 49 yards.

He called the Crimson Tide's performance the worst he's seen in his three years.

"It has to be," Milons said. "With the guys we have on offense, and the system we have, we should score more than that."

Part of the problem was UCLA's offense kept the ball away from Alabama with long, sustained drives.

Alabama players say they were never able to get into a rhythm.

Still, the numbers didn't add up.

The Crimson Tide threw at UCLA one of the biggest offensive lines ever assembled--Dante Ellington (6 feet 6, 354 pounds), Redmill (6-6, 304), Paul Hogan (6-4, 290), Will Cuthbert (6-5, 320) and Lannis Baxley (6-7, 314).

No UCLA defensive lineman weighs more than 300 pounds.

Yet, the Bruins did not wilt.

Overrated?

Alabama heard the taunts from UCLA fans as the players exited the field.

"Unless you were a blind man, you'd have to think that," Crimson Tide Coach Mike DuBose said. "We certainly didn't play like the third-best team in the nation."

As bad as it looked, all is not lost for Alabama, which limps home to face Vanderbilt next week.

Schools have risen again after one loss.

Florida State lost to Notre Dame in 1993 and won the national title.

Florida lost to Florida State in 1996 and won the title by beating the Seminoles in a rematch at the Sugar Bowl.

Last year, Alabama's season appeared doomed after a home loss to Louisiana Tech, yet the Crimson Tide rallied to win the SEC title and finish 10-3.

"We still have an opportunity to achieve all our goals," Redmill said. "They say if you're going to lose, lose early. You can't lose any earlier than we lost today."

No one knows how this is going to play out.

Was UCLA better than everyone thought, or was Alabama not as good?

Was Alabama's inability to stop DeShaun Foster the product of nifty running or shoddy tackling?

"It was so hard to tell what kind of team they had," Johnson said of UCLA. "Last year they had the suspensions and injuries. We didn't know what they would come out with."

Was this UCLA's best shot and Alabama's worst?

Can the Bruins possibly sustain Saturday's energy next week against Fresno State, with Michigan scheduled for a Rose Bowl visit on Sept. 16?

Is this the year the Pac-10 puts the hurt back on the rest of the country?

This much we know:

On Saturday, the 'Tide turned.

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