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In Southern California, where sex appeal counts double, UCLA's offense in recent seasons has had all the allure of Phyllis Diller in a housedress. And to make matters worse, crosstown-rival Southern Cal has continued to come on like Morgan Fairchild in a bikini. While USC's attack has set hearts throbbing and Heismans and Hertz commercials pouring in, UCLA's offense could only be described as plain Jane, and that has served to make the Bruins No. 2 in L.A., not to mention an also-ran in the War of the Roses. Only once since 1966 has UCLA been the Pac-10's representative in Pasadena on New Year's Day, while the Trojans have been there 10 times in that span.
But this season the Bruin offense, behind the right arm of senior Quarterback Tom Ramsey, has become a real turn-on—so much so that UCLA could permanently alter its image as a dowdy stay-at-home. "Naturally I'd take an Earl Campbell-type back who could pound into the line 30 times a game, if he came along," says Bruin Coach Terry Donahue, "but barring that, I'd like to continue along the same lines we're moving. I'd like to think our offense has made a permanent move in this direction."
That direction is upward, literally and figuratively. In Donahue's first six years as coach (1976-81), UCLA averaged 16.8 passes and 119.7 yards a game through the air. After last Saturday's 34-6 win over Colorado at Boulder, which ran the Bruins' record to 4-0, those per-game stats for '82 stood at 33 attempts and 308.8 yards, third best in the nation. By completing 16 of 24 passes for 280 yards against the Buffaloes, Ramsey became tops in the country in pass efficiency. All of which has helped mightily in getting the Bruins a No. 12 ranking in this week's SI Top 20.
Donahue disputes the idea that UCLA sprouted wings overnight. He argues that his teams have always been "pass efficient"—and, true, the Bruins ranked third in the Pac-10 in that department last year. But that was a result of Ramsey's throwing only 19 passes per game for 149.4 yards. If "efficient" was the right word for the UCLA passing attack in 1981, "sensational" is the correct one this season.
Whether the new direction will produce Donahue's first Pac-10 title is still a matter of conjecture; the Bruins face such formidable roadblocks on the way to Pasadena as Washington and Southern Cal, ranked No. 2 and No. 15, respectively by SI this week. But there's never been a more appropriate season for UCLA to make it to the Rose Bowl game, because now the bowl is the Bruins' home field, after 52 years at the Los Angeles Coliseum, a site shared with USC.
A new home, a new offense and now an unblemished record—which includes a 41-10 rout of Long Beach State in the Rose Bowl opener on Sept. 11 and three straight victories on the road, over Wisconsin (51-26), Michigan (31-27) and Colorado—bespeak a new breed of Bruins, but Donahue can be excused for tempering his optimism. Sizzling starts are nothing new for him at UCLA. Ominously, neither are floundering finishes. In Donahue's first year the Bruins racked up nine wins and a tie before USC beat them 24-14 in the regular-season finale. Result: The Trojans went to the Rose Bowl and defeated Michigan 14-6, and UCLA went to the Liberty Bowl where it was humiliated 36-6 by Alabama. In 1980 the Bruins won their first six games before losing on consecutive weekends to Arizona and Oregon. Though UCLA rebounded to beat USC 20-17 that season, it was the Trojans who went to the Rose Bowl.
Unnoticed while the aerial offense has gotten publicity is the fact that the Bruin defense has been more solid, if less spectacular, than it was last year. Then UCLA played a slashing, go-to-the-gap defense that too often made the Bruins vulnerable to the run. Against Michigan in the Bluebonnet Bowl, UCLA gave up 320 yards rushing in a 33-14 defeat. But when Defensive Coordinator Jed Hughes left to join Bud Grant's Viking staff, the new co-coordinators, Tom Hayes and Bob Field, installed a read-and-react mode for the line. "I like it," says Irv Eatman, an honorable mention All-America tackle last season. "I think it's given us more flexibility, a better way of adjusting to different schemes."
"I don't like it as much," says Noseguard Karl Morgan. "Now I have to stay in there and take guys on. I felt my speed gave me the edge the old way." But no one is complaining about the way Morgan has been playing. Though Eatman has gotten more ink—because of his name, his outgoing personality and his performance on national television two years ago when he sacked Ohio State Quarterback Art Schlichter four times—Donahue considers Morgan the heart of his defense.
Still, the offense is at the heart of the Bruins' rejuvenation, which was particularly evident in the Michigan win. In that game UCLA overcame an early 21-0 deficit as Ramsey passed for 311 yards.
"He was sensational," Bo Schembechler said of Ramsey. "It was the best game by a quarterback against us in a longtime."