By Scott Yamaguchi
Daily Bruin Senior Staff
To all those UCLA football fans who were not glued to the television set Saturday afternoon watching the Bruins’ 37-10 beating at the hands of Washington, UCLA head coach Terry Donahue would probably seem a madman.
Donahue, whose team has struggled through recent weeks with three consecutive losses, asserted after the UW loss that UCLA was back on track, and his statements at Monday’s weekly press conference echoed such a sentiment.
“I really felt good about the effort, the tempo and the enthusiasm with which our team played the game,” he said. “I thought it was the best since the opening game against Tennessee, I really felt that our players went up and competed well, and I think that is an important first step in us trying to get our season turned around and get on a winning track.”
Is Donahue correct in his midseason assessment that the Bruins have finally picked up the pieces? Indeed, UCLA’s offensive performance at Husky Stadium was a vast improvement over the 21-0 loss to Washington State Sept. 24, in which quarterback Wayne Cook completed 11 of 25 passes for 90 yards and tailback Sharmon Shah rushed 15 times for 71 yards.
Against Washington, Cook was 14 of 30 for 194 yards, and Shah ran the ball 19 times for 93 yards. But while the Bruins produced 320 yards of total offense, Washington had 434, and more than half of those were gained by senior tailback Napolean Kaufman.
Kaufman finished with 227 yards on 34 carries, including a four-yard touchdown run and a 79-yard gain that led to a 22-yard John Wales field goal.
“I really felt that the difference in the two football teams was Napolean Kaufman and their kicker, Wales,” Donahue said. “If there were two difference makers on the field, those were the two guys that made the difference for Washington. Other than that, I really felt that the two teams were extremely comparable in almost all areas, despite the fact that we were beaten by such a score.”
Wales was three-for-four on field goal attempts, splitting the uprights from 47, 22 and 39 yards and missing from 47.
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Perhaps more important than Wales’ numbers were those of UCLA place-kicker Bjorn Merten, who missed on two attempts before Wales had even tried his first. Merten, an All-American last year as a freshman, missed from 40 and 46 yards in the first quarter, was successful from 44-yards out in the second quarter, and hit the upright on a 47-yard attempt as the first half ended.
Through five games this season, Merten is 6-of-13 and has made only four out of ten from 40-yards out or further. Last season, he made 21 of 26, but only four of those attempts were from further than 40 yards out.
“I think I know what the problem is, but I don’t know what, completely, to do about it,” Donahue said. “Bjorn was a guy that had a phenomenal redshirt-freshman year, was an All-American, and he comes back and he must feel some pressure and some sense of expectation with that kind of accomplishment the previous year.
“In the games, Bjorn just is not kicking the ball like he is in practice. He’s a different practice player than he is a game player, and I have to find out how we can make the transition from practice to the games.”
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While Donahue was obviously concerned with his slumping place-kicker, the head coach was optimistic in regards to the strides made by Cook.
“I think the mark of a good competitor is someone who will come back after a poor performance and improve his next weeks performance,” Donahue said. “Wayne played better Saturday than he did the week before.”
Still, Cook was obviously not at the top of his game, and Donahue offered several explanations for his continuing struggles.
“There are times when he is not getting set and is too herky-jerky, too unsettled and too skitterish,” Donahue said. “One of the reasons is that he is trying to get used to a new offensive line – one that the week before didn’t do an adequate job of protecting him. At times, his running backs aren’t doing a good job of getting him protected, and at times, his receivers are not doing a good job of getting open, so I think there are reasons why Wayne may be lacking some confidence in certain areas, but I think he’s going to fight through it.”
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One receiver who should not be blamed for failing to get open is junior flanker Kevin Jordan. Jordan, who might be the most underrated receiver in the nation, ranks second nationally and first in the Pac-10 with 108.2 receiving yards per game, and fourth nationally and first in the Pac-10 with seven receptions per game.
In five games this season, he has made 35 catches for 541 yards. Of the 35 receptions, 24 have produced first-downs, and three were touchdowns. After five games in 1993, Stokes had made 26 receptions for 413 yards and eight scores.
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Add inside linebacker Shane Jasper to the ever-increasing list of injured UCLA players. Jasper, the Bruins’ most experienced inside linebacker, suffered a hip pointer in the Washington game and could be out for several weeks. He currently ranks third on the squad with 38 tackles.
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Having lost three straight games, UCLA must now travel north for a game at California.
The Golden Bears, who lost to San Diego State and Hawaii in their first two games, are on a two-game winning-streak with victories over Arizona State Sept. 24 and a 55-0 shellacking of San Jose State last Saturday.
“This is a big, big game,” Donahue said. “We’ve got to start winning some games and acting like we’re a good team. We’ve got to do a better job, and when I say ‘we,’ I’m talking about me, the coaches and the players. We’ve just got to do better.”
UCLA leads the series with the Bears 41-22-1, but Cal has won the last four meetings and is attempting to become the first conference team to take five consecutive games from the Bruins.