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What you would expect to read at this point is how Vince Evans' heroics the next day led to what Ricky Bell called "our payback" of UCLA, an account of Evans' showering the Bruins with canyon-filling passes. Well, not entirely. Evans threw only 13 passes, completing seven for a modest 79 yards. He did not throw a touchdown pass; he did throw an interception. He also fumbled the ball away once, though the officials missed the call and gave the ball back to USC. He did run 36 yards to the last USC touchdown.
But Evans' impact on UCLA was greater than these statistics show, because he made it in advance. Terry Donahue, the UCLA coach who, like Robinson, has had an alumni-spoiling first year as a head coach—the Bruins were 9-0-1 and ranked second beforehand—as good as said it two nights earlier. Nursing a Coors at the Beverly Hilton after taping his weekly television show, Donahue was mulling over the game's probables. He said when two teams like this are matched, "it is usually a conservative game, and I can be as conservative as Woody Hayes if I have to be." Then when he was done with the obvious—USC girth against UCLA guile, the blade of the UCLA Veer against the ax handle of the USC Power-I—he made one last tell-tale remark. " Evans scares me," he said.
Evans clearly had. To the general surprise—if not necessarily the dismay—of the USC coaches, UCLA virtually played the Trojans to pass. Which is to say, instead of the thinly disguised eight-and nine-man fronts Bell has come to expect as his reward for being the hardest-running college back in the country, UCLA played it straight—basically a five-man front, but switching to four—and sent its corners deep on passing downs and its linebackers flying to support. In effect, the Bruins dared USC to do what it does best: wear you down with its running game.
It is possible that Donahue thought Bell's left ankle was still tender. Certainly, Bell had been ineffective against Washington the week before, gaining only 21 yards in 12 carries. On Monday he complained of soreness. Trying to run, he was unable to drive forward or make cuts off his left foot. But by Wednesday the pain was gone. Robinson said it was now a matter of regaining the strength in his leg. One way to do that, he said, was to use it.
At the last team meeting on Friday, Robinson outlined for his players how this relentless, sinus-clogging pressure would cause UCLA to lose faith and then just plain lose. "Boom, boom, boom," he said, thrusting his fist forward in a facsimile of a piston rod, presumably Ricky Bell. Imaginary heads popped back at each thrust. ( Robinson once said of Bell that he not only hurts your body, he hurts your thinking. "How'd you like to be a 180-pound defensive back catching that first blow? It'd be like the first punch in a fight. Woof. You say to yourself, 'Boy, I've got 14 more rounds of this?' ") "You go after 'em, and you keep it up," he told the players, "and keep it up, boom, boom, boom! And even though they may stop you for a while, they see through the ups and downs that you're still coming at 'em, boom, boom, boom! Still doing it. In the end, they'll crack. They'll crack."
However, Bell seemed a rather tentative runner in the scoreless first quarter, and UCLA was not outplayed. But on USC's first possession in the second, Bell ran a power sweep right and gained 13 yards, ripping through tacklers and taking a clawing knot of them into a massive heap upfield. From that moment on, he was a gathering cloud rapidly filling UCLA's horizon. "I could see it in his eyes," Robinson said.
There was, however, a new problem. USC's two fine fullbacks, Dave Farmer and Mosi Tatupu, had leg cramps, and, though they continued to spell one another, Robinson feared they would both go down. He discussed the possibility of moving Bell to fullback and playing his sensational freshman tailback, Charles White. He held back, however, and through the first half kept Bell more or less under wraps, Ricky carrying only 11 times for 47 yards.
There was little to separate the two teams in the first 30 minutes; neither mounted a serious threat, and it would have been fitting if neither had scored by halftime. This was not to be, however, because of an exquisite fluke. Slicing through a hole on the left side early in the second quarter, UCLA Halfback Theotis Brown suddenly came detached from the ball—he might have hit it with his knee coming up, a grotesque piece of body English, or perhaps it was knocked loose by Linebacker Rod Martin—and while still in the air the ball was met by the oncoming Dennis Thurman, USC's safety. Hello, goodby. A cut to the outside and Thurman had run 47 yards to the UCLA end zone.
It was Thurman, an excellent defensive back who entered the game tied for second in the nation in intercepting passes, who was principally responsible for blunting the explosive—well, previously explosive—UCLA Veer. Thurman was one of those Donahue had mulled over two nights before while wrapped around his second beer, which he left untouched, one of "the 15 USC has who they say are good enough to get drafted by the pros. I say to myself, boy, if they're that good, what am I doing here?"
On UCLA's first possession of the second half—an immensely promising one because it came after a pass interception at the USC 44—Donahue laid his cards face up. In potential four-down territory, Quarterback Jeff Dankworth was ordered to throw three straight passes—all incomplete. UCLA had to punt. It was, Robinson said later, an apparent admission that the Bruins had lost faith in their running game. From then until the game was out of reach, UCLA did not make another first down and did not get out of its own territory.