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Butterfingers, yes, but wine and roses, too
Joe Jares
December 08, 1975
UCLA won a Rose Bowl trip and Coach Dick Vermeil a taste of vintage red via a game with USC that nearly slipped from the Bruins' shaky paws
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December 08, 1975

Butterfingers, Yes, But Wine And Roses, Too

UCLA won a Rose Bowl trip and Coach Dick Vermeil a taste of vintage red via a game with USC that nearly slipped from the Bruins' shaky paws

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Leading 18-14 in the second quarter, UCLA kept possession when Sciarra's fumble was knocked out of bounds. On the next play USC pounced on Tyler's second fumble of the half at the UCLA 28. Continuing the pattern, USC failed to convert its good fortune into a touchdown, mainly because Bruin Linebacker Dale Curry threw Evans for a 12-yard loss on second down.

In the third quarter the show really got rollicking. Tyler suffered his third fumble, but USC Fullback Mosi Tatupu fumbled it right back on the next play, and UCLA went ahead 25-14 on a Sciarra-to-Don Pederson pass.

In another series of slippery downs a few moments later, Sciarra recovered his own fumble and only lost a yard, Halfback Jim Brown's bobble was recovered by a teammate and, finally, on the USC three, Halfback Eddie Ayers' fumble was grabbed by USC.

USC drove to the Bruin 10 after intercepting a Sciarra pass but lost the ball on downs, whereupon Ayers handed the ball right back to the Trojans. Given another chance, USC scored (Tailback Ricky Bell's second touchdown of the chilly night) and made a two-point conversion (Bell again, and easily, on a plunge) to trail by only 25-22.

After five fumbles in one quarter, one would have thought UCLA might have sewn handles on the ball, but no. Tyler fumbled away a pitchout on his 23, but the UCLA defense, criticized and rightly so for much of the season, held off USC again, helped by Evans' inaccurate passing.

On their next possession the Bruins were forced to try a punt, from their 42, but Kicker Brett White fumbled the ball and USC got it at the UCLA 18. Three incomplete passes and a 15-yard penalty stopped USC.

On its next possession, having given up on Tyler, UCLA had Kenny Lee in his spot. Lee carried twice before he fumbled the ball away. Number 11. With a bit more than a minute left on the clock, Evans could not even get USC close enough for a field-goal try.

"Thank the Lord for the defense," said Tyler afterward. "I don't know why I fumbled so much tonight except that I was trying so hard. I was running before I had control of the ball."

"I've been waiting for this moment," crowed Guard Cliff Frazier. "Now I can say it. Our defense is great! We showed the nation, we showed John McKay and all those people who ridiculed us that we can play defense."

Praise of the defensive unit floated all over the UCLA locker room, from Sciarra, who huddled with rival Coach McKay for a few minutes, to the 39-year-old Vermeil, the handsome head man who started out 16 years ago as an assistant high school coach in Northern California, not far from his native Napa Valley wine country.

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