By Randy Satterburg
Daily Bruin Staff
SEATTLE, Wash. — The scoreboard at Husky Stadium read blowout, but the UCLA football team came within inches of putting a scare into No. 12 Washington.
Instead, the Huskies (3-1 overall, 1-1 in the Pacific-10) ran the Bruins’ losing streak to three games, with a 37-10 win over UCLA Saturday. The final score may have been very different, however, were it not for a critical miscommunication error by UCLA five minutes into the fourth quarter.
The Bruins (2-3, 0-2) had just narrowed the margin to 20-10 on a 13-yard scoring strike from quarterback Wayne Cook to Derek Ayers and appeared on the verge of scoring again after taking over the ball on Washington’s 18-yard line when Husky punter Geoff Prince dropped to a knee to field a low snap.
Cook found Kevin Jordan for a completion on first down, moving the ball to the Washington 11-yard line. After an incomplete pass on second down, James Milliner carried a third-down draw play to within a foot of a first down.
But on fourth and inches from the 9-yard line, Sharmon Shah was wrapped up for a loss of three yards by Huskies’ Richie Chambers, on what appeared to be a broken play.
“We called what we term a freeze play, which is to try and draw the defense off sides, then we audible to another play,” UCLA head coach Terry Donahue said. “The noise was so loud, and the clock was dangerously close to running out, and we just didn’t hear the call. Not everyone on the team heard the call and consequently, the play went afoul. That was a real big play in the game.”
The Huskies then proceeded to march 88 yards in 12 plays for a touchdown that completely turned the game around and effectively killed any momentum UCLA might have gained. Suddenly, the Bruins faced a 27-10 deficit when it very easily could have been 20-17.
“That was the turning point,”Cook said. “They turned the ball over, we went in and should have scored there or gotten a field goal. That would have put us close. This is a momentum game, and when you give a team momentum, essentially, they’re going to run away with it.”
To make matters worse for UCLA, place-kicker Bjorn Merten continued to slump, missing three of four field goal attempts on the afternoon. Merten, an All-American in 1993, was successful from 44 yards out in the second quarter, but missed on attempts of 40 (left), 46 (right), and on a 46-yarder that hit the upright just before the half.
“I think all the kicks we missed in the first half were factors in the game,” Donahue said. “(Merten) is really struggling this year. We obviously are real disappointed and upset, but he has to kick his way out of it. He needs to get some success and get his confidence back.”
But what UCLA needed most was to find a way to slow down Washington’s speedy tailback Napoleon Kaufman, who rushed for a career-high 227 yards, the second-highest total ever surrendered by the Bruins.
Kaufman was at his best midway through the third quarter when he cut back away from his blockers, outran a trio of UCLA defenders to the sideline and sprinted up the field to turn a seemingly harmless play into a 79-yard gain. UCLA cornerback Teddy Lawrence prevented a touchdown with a saving tackle at the goal line, but he later remarked that Kaufman is the best running back he’s ever faced.
“(Kaufman) is real quick and whatever room he sees, he exploits. On that run it was a missed assignment, and like I said, he exploited it,” Lawrence said. “He’s for real.”
The 275 net yards Washington runners amassed against UCLA overshadowed a Bruin running game which just missed putting Shah over the century mark (93 yards on 19 carries) for the third time in five games, and which marked the return of sophomore Skip Hicks to game action, just months after he suffered a severe knee injury during the track and field season last spring.
“It felt good to get it over with finally, but I’m real disappointed right now that we lost,” Hicks said.
After starting the Pac-10 season 0-2, the Bruins will have to follow Hicks’ lead on how to deal with adversity.
“It turned out to be a lopsided score, but I didn’t feel it was like that at all” Donahue said. “I thought we played hard and our kids gave us a tremendous effort. Believe it or not, I thought we made some progress as a team. I know that’s hard for people on the outside to understand or realize, but I thought we made some progress despite the fact that we got whipped up here.”