Sunday, November 6, 2005
Game was lost cause from the start
By MARK WHICKER
The Orange County Register
TUCSON – Someone told Antoine Cason that the UCLA players complained they hadn't been "flying around."
Cason, the sophomore corner from Los Alamitos, smiled tolerantly, as if he'd just been asked to explain subject-verb-predicate.
"They weren't flying around," Cason said, "because we were."
Fly to the moon, Arizona.
The Wildcats, 2-6 coming into Saturday, threw a Don Larsen at UCLA on Saturday. They played their game. Why didn't UCLA, 8-0 before this, play its game? Go back to the blackboard. The predicate follows the subject and verb. The Wildcats played theirgame, and played it so unusually well that the fans rushed the field and attacked a goalpost. The goalpost, unlike the Bruins, remained standing.
"It was pedal to the metal all night," said UCLA safety Jarrod Page, having had enough time to digest this visceral, 52-14 night at the whipping post - "a humble butt-kicking," as Coach Karl Dorrell called it.
"They just came out and played fast, faster than us," Page said. "They ran some bootlegs and got some of our guys lost in the shuffle with their misdirections. They were sure of everything they were doing."
That's football. Very rarely do two opposing teams reach their happy zone at once and stay there. When that happens, you have something that lives forever, like Dolphins-Chargers in 1981 or Miami-Nebraska in 1983. Otherwise, it's a zero-sum game.
How could Drew Olson get anything established when UCLA had to punt on its first four possessions, all of which began on the 20? How can UCLA win when its longest play of the game is 23 yards?
And every time Olson got the ball back he found himself one floor deeper. Arizona scored touchdowns on its first four trips. It averaged more than 10 yards per playin the first half.
Freshman discovery Willie Tuitama, who was playing at St. Mary's High in Stockton a year ago, completed his first seven passes. The Wildcats outgained UCLA, 193-43, in the first quarter, which ended, 21-0.
That brings up another truism, popularized by Lou Holtz: Football teams either get better or worse. They don't stay on the blackboard, in static chalk.
This Arizona team was within seven of USC after three quarters, and that was before Tuitama. Two weeks ago Tuitama got his first start and Arizona nearly beat Oregon, which has only lost once. Last week, he got his second start and Arizona beat Oregon State.
Arizona dropped a calling card on its first play. Tuitama rolled out left, turned and found Mike Bell down the right side, lonelier than a macarena dancer. Bell ran for 51 yards and might have scored had he not tackled himself. Four plays later, receiver Mike Thomas ran the final 17 yards.
"They had the perfect play called for our defense," said UCLA defensive coordinator Larry Kerr, who faced the music stoically.
"We were in an 8-man front, playing man-to-man to stop the run. They burned us, and one of our linebackers got caught up in the wash, and he lost his man, and that was it. That kind of thing kept happening.
"Our guys seemed to let a lot of little things bother them. We thought we got things settled down at halftime, and then they came out and drove 80 yards to start the third quarter. We hit Tuitama and he throws a flutterball that their guy (Thomas) comes back to catch. Things like that."
Kerr stared and shook his head.
"But if you can't stop the run, it really doesn't matter. They got us blocked, and they did things like run a draw play on third-and-16, and we got four guys with a shot and none of them could make the play. We just could never make a play on defense all night."
Bell (156 yards) and Harris (113) became the first Arizona tandem to break 100 in the same game since Clarence Farmer and Ortege Jenkins did it in 2000, also against UCLA.
There are no turning points in games like this, but there are illustrations.
Arizona led, 31-7, when Gilbert Harris toured right end - and receiver Syndric Steptoe, who later became the first Wildcat in five years to return a punt for a touchdown, held up UCLA safety Dennis Keyes for what seemed like five seconds as Harris rumbled for 12 yards. This is the same Keyes who personally terrorized Oklahoma back in September.
On the next play, Keyes set himself to stop Bell up the middle, and Bell simply somersaulted him and landed in the end zone. One guy was one step, one thought, one twitch ahead of the other guy. All day, all night.
Once Dorrell descended the steps to UCLA's tiny locker room, he told the Bruins, "Remember, we're 8-1, not 1-8." No one cried over the loss of a "national championship"; no one should believe the sheen is gone from the Dec. 3 date with USC.
The Bruins had been living right all season. They could have lost to Washington, Washington State, Cal and Stanford. They didn't have to play Oregon. The time would come when they would fall off their skis. They just didn't expect to run into sharks like this.
Dorrell came back out and said the normal stuff, as if there was any alternative.
"We didn't play well," he said over and over. Asked what he told the team at halftime, he said, "That we didn't play well," and now he broke down - laughing.
That's how you dispense with days like this. Watch the tape, then tape over it. Just don't forget the subject, verb and predicate. One football play, if left unchecked, can infect the next 90.
Or, as one old coach said, "We got a great offense. They just wouldn't let us run it."