According to coach Terry Donahue, "about three or four years" after taking over from Dick Vermeil in 1976, he decided to take stock. "We were having success," says Donahue, who was 31 when he assumed control in Westwood, "but we were being criticized in the local community, and I couldn't understand why. Our records were good. But we weren't winning against our archrival [ USC]. And being conservative, run-oriented and good wasn't enough in L.A. We had to compete more effectively for the entertainment dollar."
So, in 1980 Donahue hired Homer Smith as offensive coordinator and cast his lot with a wide-open pro-style attack. Result: In 1982 the Bruins were 10-1-1 and completed 62% of their passes, and last year they connected on a remarkable 69%, beat the Trojans for the third time in four years and routed fourth-ranked Illinois 45-9 in the Rose Bowl.
This year the Bruins should be the best team in the nation. Back are three wide receivers who combined for 96 catches and 1,534 yards in 1983. The best is second-team All-America Mike Sherrard, a walk-on who caught 48 passes for 709 yards. His mother was a U.S. hurdler at the 1964 Olympics. No medal, though. "I was born in '63," Cherrie Sherrard's son says. "She didn't have much recovery time."
Though not a returning starter, quarterback Steve Bono's the next best thing. He'd clinched first string in last year's BYU game when he completed 25 of 34 throws for three TDs and a school record 399 yards, only to suffer a shoulder separation the next week. But Bono is healthy and, at 6'4" and 210 pounds, is bigger and more mobile than Rick Neuheisel, whom he replaces.
The special teams are talented. John Lee has hit 31 of 39 field-goal attempts over two seasons, and Kevin Buenafe averaged 42.1 yards per punt in '83. To return kickoffs, Donahue will dispatch two guys nicknamed Flipper and Paco—Anderson and Craig, respectively.
Donahue has only a few concerns. One is running back, though senior tailback Danny Andrews had a fine spring. The other is tight end. The defense will be led by senior linebackers Neal Dellocono and Lee Knowles and helped by two senior linemen, noseguard Chris Block and tackle David Randle. But two No. 1 draft picks, Don Rogers, by the Browns, and Lupe Sanchez, by the USFL Wranglers, are gone from the secondary.
Those are quibbles, however. Of UCLA's 22 projected starters, 19 have substantial experience, and the team has a sane schedule. Nebraska is the only repeater from last fall's brutal non-conference lineup, and the Bruins have seven games in the Rose Bowl. Donahue has given UCLA fans a reason to take the clogged freeways to Pasadena. For the third year in a row, they should make an extra trip.