UCLA senior cornerback Ricky Manning will never stand accused of false modesty. Of his most memorable play in the Bruins' season-opening 30-19 win over 19th-ranked Colorado State, he said, "It was a great hit. It was the turning point of the game."
He was right. With 8:56 remaining, Manning drilled Rams running back Cecil Sapp, who coughed up the ball. UCLA recovered and scored the winning touchdown on the next play.
The victory took some of the heat off coach Bob Toledo, whose program has been having problems on and off the field. Since the Bruins' disastrous late-season meltdown against Miami in 1998, Toledo, now in his seventh year with UCLA, has presided over two stunning collapses; the Bruins lost five of their last seven to finish 6-6 in 2000 and four of their last five to end up 7-4 last year. Worse, his players have brought embarrassment upon the university. Eleven days before the Colorado State game, Manning was charged with felony assault in connection with a bar fight last spring. (He will be arraigned on Sept. 17.) Manning was the third UCLA player to be arrested in the past year.
Toledo says he's taking a tougher stance with his players, and he didn't coach against Colorado State like a man worried about what anyone thought of him. With the game on the line in the fourth quarter, he replaced erratic senior quarterback Cory Paus with Drew Olson, a true freshman, on two critical series. The gamble paid off: On his second series Olson drove the team 52 yards for a touchdown.
Moments later, the Rams called that ill-fated screen to Sapp. After derailing Sapp, Manning was asked if the hit had provided a measure of redemption. "I don't really believe in that distraction stuff," he said. "Stuff happens. Players get in trouble. There's no perfect team out there."
While they are far from perfect, the Bruins are 1-0.