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COLLEGE FOOTBALL / WEEK 4

McCann Heats Up After Halftime

UCLA: Quarterback passes for 160 yards in second half of victory over Michigan.

September 17, 2000|JIM HODGES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

At 11:30 a.m. Saturday, while he sat in a locker room trying to keep cool before walking onto a Rose Bowl field where warming up merely required breathing, Ryan McCann's concentration was broken by his coach.

"I told him this game was his to win," Bob Toledo said. "I told him, 'Don't look back and expect me to pull you. This game is yours until it's decided.' "

That meant it was McCann's until 6:30 remained, when he faked an inside handoff and flipped a pass to Ed Ieremia-Stansbury, the fullback who had slid out into the left flat.

Ieremia-Stansbury, who had fumbled earlier and welcomed a chance at redemption, took the ball and wrestled his way through Michigan defenders into the end zone for a two-yard touchdown and a 23-20 UCLA victory.

There was redemption all around.

McCann, who was yanked at halftime a week ago when the Bruins were struggling against Fresno State, completed 21 of 40 passes for 236 yards and two touchdowns, but was only six of 19 for 76 yards in the first half. He left the field at intermission with the smart money among the 88,044 customers betting he would return under a baseball cap, ready to signal plays to Scott McEwan.

He left the field at the end of the game with most of those same 88,044 having forgotten their impetuosity.

"Ryan was not off," insisted Al Borges, the Bruin offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. " . . He's got so much ability. When he gets his arm, his head and his feet together, he can be a great quarterback. But if he's going to be a great quarterback, he's got to show he can bring a team back, can hit a crucial pass when we need it.

"We feel that we have to support him, so this time it was sink or swim."

The first half produced a sinking feeling for just about everybody outside the UCLA locker room.

Inside, with the Bruins trailing at halftime, 13-3, there was a sensation that it was time to swim.

"In the first half, we were so close," McCann said. " . . . We had some balls [three] dropped and I missed some passes. But we had confidence when we came out."

Confidence is often really braggadocio, but when McCann completed two passes right away, got a break on a roughing-the-passer call and then watched DeShaun Foster run the final five yards to cut the deficit to 13-10, all before Michigan had the ball in the third quarter, deeds matched words.

Freddie Mitchell was McCann's favorite target, catching 10 passes for 137 yards.

"I was throwing one ball away, and he caught it before going out of bounds," McCann marveled.

Loquacious as always, Mitchell shrugged and said, "I'm supposed to catch those balls."

And any others anybody doesn't want.

"I told those receivers at halftime to start catching the ball or he's going to throw them all to me," said Mitchell, outrageous as ever.

There are worse ideas.

Mitchell caught three of McCann's passes for 42 yards on UCLA's next scoring drive, which pulled the Bruins to within 20-17, and one for 23 yards on the game-winning march.

Few of those passes belong on highlight films.

"Some of those balls looked like helicopters," Toledo cracked.

Some had more hang time than Nate Fiske's punts, and one was caught illegally after Mitchell had stepped out of bounds then come back in. The penalty wasn't called, and UCLA had a first down at the Michigan 24.

A star-crossed half was followed by a starring half, and McCann, who had lost the starting quarterbacking job in competition with Corey Paus in preseason camp, then took over when Paus suffered an injury in the Bruins' first series against Alabama, had a solid grasp on the future.

For as long as it lasts.

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