Donahue wasn't a mellow man last week. "You can't play like that on Saturday!" he roared at his Aikman-led offense on Wednesday. "Get your butts in gear!"
Aikman, who was surely separated at birth from John Elway, was unavailable for comment. So many people want a piece of this soon-to-be-No. 1 NFL pick that, by order of the UCLA athletic department, he speaks to his public only on Mondays, occasionally Tuesdays and immediately after games. His words were superfluous, though. After Wednesday's workout, former UCLA coach Pepper Rodgers, who was in town for the big game, shook his head upon viewing Aikman in the flesh for the first time. "There is a quarterback," said Rodgers.
Trojan coach Larry Smith was on edge all week, too. On Thursday, Smith, who has put together an 18-4 record in his two seasons at Southern Cal since making the move west from the University of Arizona, closed practice to the media, a rare move for a man noted for his openness. Afterward, a newspaper reporter asked Smith how Peete, who had watched practice in his street clothes, was walking. Smith looked incredulous. "With two legs!" he snapped. "He's a normal human being!" Later, in his office, Smith sighed. "It's ridiculous," he said. " 'How's he walking?' "
In seven years at Arizona, where Smith compiled a 48-28-3 record, he beat archrival Arizona State five years in a row, even though the Sun Devils, who were ranked as high as sixth in 1982, and fourth in '86, were nearly always favored. But this USC- UCLA thing, he admitted, was different—particularly this year, with so much riding on the outcome. The game had a "vastness" to it that he'd never experienced before. After a time, he chuckled in resignation. "Have you ever heard of a game of this magnitude affected by a simple childhood disease?" he said. "All this buildup and here comes the simplicity of life walking in."
On Saturday the simplicity of life was captured in the precision and velocity of Aikman's arm. He completed 32 of 48 passes for 317 yards and two touchdowns—10 yards to split end Reggie Moore and 26 to quarterback-turned-receiver Brendan McCracken. The 32 completions established a school record, as did his 23 TD passes on the season. However, the 6'3�", 217-pound Aikman can't be defined by mere statistics. Whether he was firing lasers to flanker Mike Farr, who made nine catches for 75 yards, or floating a beautifully timed pass to McCracken, Aikman looked every inch a pro. He's what the NFL had in mind when it built its game.
Not long ago somebody asked Dallas Cowboy president Tex Schramm what he thought of when he pondered the Cowboys' sorry record this season. "I'm thinking of Troy Aikman," said Schramm. "I cannot tell a lie."
Some of Aikman's passes traveled so fast they seemed to hop, like live fastballs. "I've never seen a ball move that fast," said USC cornerback Chris Hale, who had seven tackles and broke up three Aikman throws. "I really didn't want to catch the things."
"When I was a sophomore in high school I had a pitch timed at 93 miles per hour," said Aikman a while back. "I can throw a football 52 miles per hour, but Elway can throw 55."
Even a few more mph wouldn't have been enough to overcome this USC defense. The Trojan defenders, who came into the game ranked first in the nation against the run (67.6 yards per game), followed a simple game plan: Shut down the Bruin rushing attack and play a deep zone to prevent Aikman from winding up and throwing long. It worked. UCLA finished with only 73 yards on the ground, and Aikman's longest completion was 26 yards.
The Bruins, who will take their 9-2 record to the Cotton Bowl for a battle with Southwest Conference champion Arkansas, controlled the football for 20 minutes of the first half. Nonetheless, the Trojans went to the locker room at halftime with a 21-16 lead, thanks to good field position; a timely sack by outside linebacker Michael Williams that left the Bruins with a fourth-and-16 on their one-yard line; two rushing touchdowns, including a one-yard Peete sneak behind the mammoth Trojan offensive line that might have risked infecting the entire Bruin pileup; and a nifty 29-yard scoring reception and run by Peete's favorite receiver, split end Erik Affholter.