Terry Donahue, UCLA's football coach, begged off from the weekly sportscasters' luncheon today. It seems he and his wife, Andrea, had a date to visit an attorney and formalize their wills.
Certainly, every football coach should have a will, and a year ago, when UCLA was stumbling to a 5-6 record, it was advisable for Donahue to never leave home without one.
This season, however, Bruin backers have put their brickbats in storage. It is awfully hard to criticize a coach whose team is 6-0, ranked second in the country and outscoring formidable opposition by an average of 33 points to nine.
Donahue has molded this club into one of UCLA's finest without the usual motivation of a Rose Bowl bid. The Bruins, like Southern Califorina, Arizona State, Oregon State and Oregon, have been banned from bowl participation by the Pacific-10 for 3-year-old "violations of conference rules and standards in the areas of unearned credits and falsified transcripts."
There is much irony in the situation; for one item, UCLA's final regular-season game against Oregon State will be played in Tokyo and was officially designated the "Mirage Bowl." For another, a headline in the UCLA press guide reads "Will there be a 12th game?" and precedes an explanation of the Pac-10 champion's role as host in the Rose Bowl.
The day after the Pac-10 announcement, Donahue revised the team's goals, starting right from the limbering-up drill at practice, when it had been traditional for players to clap their hands while chanting "Rose Bowl."
"That's going to take a little fun out of the race, but I don't think it will affect the level of play," Donahue said at the time. "These kids are all competitors. I don't think they're rabbits, that you have to dangle a carrot in front of them to make them perform."
Whether Donahue used carrots, lettuce or mirrors, the Bruins went out and scored 56 points in the first half of their first game, against Colorado. They have hardly eased up since, shocking Ohio State, 17-0, and gaining ranking among the nation's top 10 teams both offensively and defensively.
UCLA's six victims include four of the finest passers in the nation -- Mark Herrmann of Purdue, Art Schlichter of Ohio State, John Elway of Stanford and Rich Campbell of California.
Campbell was held without a touchdown pass Saturday for the first time since the UCLA game last year and he said, "Their defense was probably the best we've faced all year. I know it had the most team speed. A lot of times, I had receivers open down field, but their pass rush was so quick I had no time to throw."
While the super throwers have been shut down by his teammates, UCLA sophomore Tom Ramsey has quietly become the top passer in the Pac-10, completing 50 of 81 for 736 yards and seven touchdowns while throwing only one interception.
Saturday, UCLA passed for 221 yards and ran for only 218, an unheard-of circumstance at a run-oriented school where Jeff Dankworth, the quarterback under Pepper Rodgers, made the memorable comment, "We didn't know if the ball would fly or not, although just by standing around and looking at it, it seemed that aerodynamically it should work."
The man responsible for UCLA's diversified, seemingly unstoppable offense is Homer Smith, the Harvard divinity student last seen leaving West Point in anger in 1978. Smith returned to teaching football because he needed the money to achieve his No. 1 goal, a master's degree and a job teaching world religion.
Smith, in his first UCLA tour under Rogers, was a wishbone expert, and wrote a book on the subject. He has adapted well to new ideas, however, and he has the Bruin I working to a T.
"Coach Smith is an extremely big factor in our success," Donahue said. "We have a number of weapons this year that we didn't have a year ago.Our quarterback play is dramatically improved, our receivers have been outstanding and our fullbacks are establishing themselves as better runners.
"One of the big factors in our improved defensive play has been our offense.
It has been dominant and, with few turnovers, it has not forced the defense into sudden-change situations."
Smith in turn shifts the credit back to Donahue, a determined guy who was a starting defensive tackle for UCLA's 1966 Rose Bowl team while weighing 195 pounds. And Donahue, who was to become the Gary Green of college football when he took the UCLA reins in 1976 at age 31, made that outstanding outfit as a walk-on.
"I enjoy the credit, but none of this could have happened if Terry didn't have the energy to sit down with the offensive staff four nights a week -- Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday -- and go over all the films," Smith said.
"I had to have a job to get the money for my last two years at Harvard, but I wouldn't have gone into coaching anywhere except here with Terry. He predicates the program on seeing people as human beings first. The coaches and players are all involved.
"I love this job and I hope to do it as long as we're improving. The kids seem to be just puppies, sometimes like the Bad News Bears doing everything wrong but winning, anyway. I'd like to see what we can do when everything is at a peak. Of course, when that happens, Freeman will graduate."
Freeman is Freeman McNeil, the senior tailback who has recorded eight straight 100-plus games, including a 248-yard effort against Stanford Oct. 11, and barring injury will soon become UCLA's all-time leading rusher.
"McNeil is the best running back I've ever played against," said Stanford nose guard Craig Awbrey. "Trying to tackle him is like trying to tackle a truck. I got only one good hit on him all day and it was like hitting a brick wall."
California, burned by McNeil for 192 yards and four touchdowns a year ago, resorted to an eight-man line to stop him this time. The Bears limited McNeil to 115, but Ramsey destroyed them with his passes, six of which were grabbed by sophomore Cormac Carney.
"You put an eight-man line up against us and that only leaves three men on four receivers; no way," Ramsey said."It's nice to have those receivers who can fly through the air for balls."
Carney learned his flying at the Air Force Academy, but after setting four NCAA freshman receiving records he decided that he did not desire a military career. Eddie Hutt, a former Bruin and an Air Force assistant, called Donahue and set the transfer wheels in motion.
Carney, finally playing for a winner after suffering with a 3-8 Air Force club and high school teams that finished 0-9 and 2-7, is a rarity, a wide receiver who came to UCLA without being shanghaied. Three of the Bruins' other good pass catchers -- Jojo Townsell, Ricky Coffman and Willie Curran -- are converted tailbacks.
"Most of the good wide receivers want to go to passing schools," Donahue said. "They want to catch a lot of passes. We had been a wishbone and veer team and we hadn't thrown the ball. Somebody else could sit a kid down and say, 'Look, we throw 40 times, they throw eight times.' And they'd get the kid. We just have not been able to recruit receivers."
An indication of how things have changed offensively is the performance of senior tight end Ronnie DeBose, who has caught six passes, three for touchdowns. In his first three years at UCLA, DeBose did not catch a pass.
Some of the fullbacks have not been overjoyed blocking for Heisman Trophy tailback candidates, either. UCLA's top two fullbacks, Toa Saipale and Dan Lei, transferred after last season and the position looked like a disaster area. However, senior Jairo Penaranda and sophomore Frank Bruno have filled in capably, averaging 4.5 yards a carry when they get the chance.
A surprise on defense is the failure of all-America safety Kenny Easley to intercept a pass, after picking off 17 over the last three seasons. The reason is obvious: the opposition won't throw the ball near him. But Easley has been outstanding and, against Cal, he made 11 tackles, forced a fumble and threw Campbell for a big loss.