There is a belief in the Pacific Northwest that football players from Los Angeles like water only in their hot tubs or under their surfboards. They'll take a smog alert or a mild earthquake over rain any day. They prefer a fast track.
So it was that UCLA Coach Terry Donahue, dismayed at having to open the season in Seattle against defending Rose Bowl champion Washington, could console himself with the fact that early September weather in Washington is usually balmy. Ha! Donahue had forgotten that a UCLA arrival in the Queen City has the same result as cloud seeding. It poured last Saturday, thoroughly soaking the new AstroTurf carpet at Husky Stadium and making every fall a splashdown.
Nevertheless, the Bruins, led by sophomore Defensive Back Kenny Easley and Peter Boermeester, a fine punter, slipped and sloshed to a 10-7 victory over Washington. It was their third straight defeat of the Huskies and their second in the last three years in the Seattle rain.
Actually, Washington Coach Don James had been hoping for a dry field himself, although he had allowed as how he wouldn't complain if a thunderstorm happened along after the Huskies built a nice lead. "I don't know how anybody could play in that weather," he said afterward, "slipping and throwing that water-soaked ball."
The weather was just one of James' concerns. The other was UCLA's mysterious new offense—which replaced last year's veer. This was rumored to be a mishmash blended with a potpourri. Donahue was purposely vague when questioned about it: "We will run some I-formation sets, we will run some split-back sets, we will run some single-back sets and we will run a few things I'd rather not discuss right now." Mark Purdy, a sportswriter on the Bruin beat for the Los Angeles Times called the offense "an amorphous piece of business which is being variously described as the 'multiple veer,' the 'smorgasbord,' the 'multiple I,' the 'multiple set' or the just plain 'multiple.' "
Well, apparently the only thing multiplied was baloney, because in the downpour at Washington, UCLA almost exclusively used the I. That is a formation that seems ideally suited to the Bruins' personnel, and in particular to junior Quarterback Rick Bashore. Unlike his immediate predecessors, John Sciarra and Jeff Dankworth, he does not run well enough to be a topflight veer quarterback, but he does have a strong arm, one made stronger by intensive weight training in the off-season.
From left halfback in the veer to tailback in the I went James Owens, a world-class high hurdler (he was sixth in the Montreal Games and was the 1977 NCAA and AAU champion) who gained 938 yards last season, best on the team. But Owens spent the past spring in spikes instead of cleats while Donahue and his staff began installing the I. Owens had to be kept up to date by his roommate and best friend, Theotis Brown, a senior halfback turned fullback. A 220-pounder who ran a 9.6 100 in high school and gained more than 1,000 yards for the Bruins in 1976, Brown was hurt much of last season.
"I won't be doing much blocking this year," said Owens before the game. "I'll be doing more running and going out on pass patterns. But Theotis, he's definitely doing more blocking. It'll be an adjustment for him. He's used to carrying the ball."
The UCLA coaching staff did a good selling job on Brown, convincing him that the pro scouts already knew he could run, now he could show them he could block. Also, that there is no NCAA rule forbidding I-formation fullbacks from handling the football once in a while, or even scoring a touchdown.
"I wouldn't trade our running backs for any in the country," said Donahue.