SI Vault
Rick Telander
September 19, 1988
After years of being manhandled by Nebraska, newly brawny UCLA triumphed 41-28
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
September 19, 1988

Powder-blue Bullies

After years of being manhandled by Nebraska, newly brawny UCLA triumphed 41-28

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue
1 2 3

In the game on Saturday, UCLA simply made it clear how much talent it has, the result of recruiting coups by the glib, friendly Donahue. Says Osborne with a shrug, "We know how good their players are because we went after a lot of them."

The tailback position offers a nice example of the Bruins' depth. Explosive Eric Ball (35 carries for 148 yards) spent three years waiting for Gaston Green to leave, only to find he now must worry about freshman Wills. "I gotta fight for my position every day," Ball said wearily after the game. And Wills (four carries for 73 yards) actually would stack up behind Brian Brown and fellow freshman Kevin Williams if both weren't out with injuries. Williams, from Spring, Texas, was generally regarded as the nation's top prep running back last season. That he is at UCLA helps explain why the Southwest Conference is in decline.

At the half UCLA was up 38-13, with an 11-yard Aikman TD pass to split end David Keating and a 42-yard field goal by Velasco added to the 28 first-quarter points. That quarter may have been the most nearly flawless UCLA ever has put together in a big game. On Henley's TD punt return, for example, the line of Bruin blockers down the left sideline resembled a light-blue picket fence. "I couldn't believe it," said the little (5'10", 165) return man with the braces on his teeth and skates on his feet.

Henley, a cornerback, was cranked up because he and the rest of the secondary allowed Nebraska quarterback Steve Taylor, a running threat, to throw five touchdown passes against UCLA last year. "We blew our run-pass keys," said Henley of that game. "All the secondary guys who were seniors last year called me before this game and said, 'Make sure the new DBs understand.' "

This time they did. UCLA played smart and held Taylor to 14 completions in 29 attempts for 125 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions. Taylor, who also led Nebraska in rushing with 95 yards and a TD on 14 carries, is a fine player, but his team never had a chance. Indeed, Nebraska's first score—with UCLA ahead 28-0 in the second quarter—was a gift of stunning proportions, handed out by referees who must have been afraid ABC-TV wasn't going to get its anticipated ratings.

Safety Blazek intercepted an Aikman pass and fell to the ground at the Nebraska 25, touching first his left knee, then his butt, then his right knee. He got up, waved the ball, and casually jogged toward the end zone. He knew, as did everyone watching the game, that he was down—but what the heck, might as well head toward pay dirt 75 yards away. Blazek casually crossed the goal line, with nobody chasing him, and the refs signaled...touchdown.

"It was an oddball-type deal," Blazek offered weakly after the game.

"It hurt us. It stunned us," said Donahue. "There were whistles. We weren't about to tackle him."

"We know we were wrong," apologized referee James Sprenger later.

Fortunately it didn't matter, and there is no doubt now that UCLA is a team to be reckoned with. Nebraska, on the other hand, is a team of uncertainty. "I had a lot of friends here," said Husker defensive tackle Willie Griffin, who hails from nearby Monrovia. He scanned the postgame stadium. "I don't see any now."

1 2 3