Anthony Davis is alive and making I another run at immortality. The USC tailback has been comparatively subdued this season, just trucking gently through the Pacific Eight while waiting for his talented young teammates to grow up and join him on Mount Olympus. "People act as though I've been sitting out the year," said the 1972 sophomore sensation after helping the Trojans sack favored UCLA 23-13 last Saturday to earn their sixth trip to the Rose Bowl in eight years. "People keep asking, 'Where's Anthony Davis? Is he still injured?" Well, I've been here and I'm healthy, and bigger and faster than last year. But we're a young team and I'm not walking around with an S on my chest. In order for me to do my thing, 10 other guys have got to do their thing."
Last year, while the low-slung All-America was doing his thing (1,253 yards, 17 touchdowns), he was following blockers who could punch holes through the Hoover Dam—and back the water up for half a mile. "Charles Young, Pete Adams, Allan Graf, Mike Ryan, Dave Brown and Sam Cunningham," said Davis, ticking off the names. "By the time I got here they had all been playing three years. And now most of them are in the pros. Man, how do you replace people like those? It takes time."
Apparently, it took USC precisely 10 games. Either that, or Davis had better check his chest again. After sputtering but surviving against the likes of Oregon State and Oregon and Washington, the Trojans tore great holes in UCLA's defenses, and Davis twisted through the wreckage for 145 yards and USC's first touchdown. "The defense has been carrying us all year," he said. "It was time we got off their backs."
Their load lightened, the USC defenders gleefully challenged their hated cross-town rivals, and by the time they were done with what had been the nation's No. 1 scoring machine the Bruins' Wishbone was snipped. UCLA had lost its opener to Nebraska, but then had scored at a seemingly impressive rate of just under a point a minute against nine humpty-dumpties, and the easy living proved expensive. While wallowing in all that luxury, the Bruins had averaged 415.4 yards rushing, also No. 1 in the nation, and they needed only 111 yards against USC to break the Pac-8 season total offense record. Understandably, they were impressed by their own credentials. Only they said so in public.
December 3, 1973
"I just don't see how USC is going to defense us," said Kermit Johnson, the senior wingback who had already run for 1,022 yards and 15 touchdowns. "They'll be thinking so much about our running game that our passes will sneak right by them—and that will be it. I can't see any way they can stop us."
What few passes UCLA did throw all season would have to be classified as sneaky, all right. Mostly they came when games were already well won and even then there were only 83 of them. Nor was the passing that effective, just 35 completions. By contrast, the Bruins had run the ball 635 times.
"I was afraid against USC last year, and so were a lot of other guys," offered Fullback James McAlister, who had been stung from his usual quiet and gentle role when Davis had stopped by the UCLA campus to show off his Rose Bowl ring. "But we're not afraid any longer. They are going to get theirs."
Although a blithe free-wheeling optimist, UCLA Coach Pepper Rodgers became a model of conservatism. "USC is always tough," he said, "but this year they are doubly tough. They have three great tailbacks and a running game that can stick it to you. And if you grab them unawares and grab a lead, they can come back with the pass. If they put it together they can do anything they want. But so can we. So it comes down to the errors. Who makes them? Where? How often? How critical?"
If Rodgers had known the answers in advance, when UCLA won the toss he might have elected to surrender. The Bruins made all the errors. And often. And when are four fumbles and two intercepted passes not critical?
Instead, UCLA elected to receive and the Trojans went into their 50 defense (3 linemen, 4 linebackers) with orders to protect their flanks at any cost. "We'll play it just like we have all year," said USC Coach John McKay. "We won't be able to stop them; we'll slow them down. But we can't let them go wide. We have to turn them inside." Against the Wishbone the defense is dead without speedy linebackers, and USC has a corps that could masquerade as a sprint relay team—while using an enemy fullback as the baton. Nor were those big, speedy linebackers all that happy with UCLA's loose-talking backs.
"All that talking won't do you any good unless you are playing U. of P. [University of the Pacific]." said Richard Wood, an angry 6'2", 217-pound junior who stalks the middle. "They were talking and not paying any attention to who they were playing."
On the first play, Wood savagely served notice. UCLA sent McAlister over left guard and he made a yard before Wood flung him to the Coliseum's wretched turf. Then the linebacker leaned over and said, "You know who you are playing now?" Looking more Syracuse scissor than Wishbone, UCLA slugged twice more at USC's middle, gained little and punted.
The USC offense came on and, under the cool guidance of junior Quarterback Pat Haden, showed none of September's uncertainties while using up a little less than nine minutes, giving up the ball only after Davis had sizzled the final four yards to score. The march covered 68 yards in 15 plays, and except for the minor annoyance of an incomplete pass it was as faultless as a Marine precision drill.
After a UCLA field goal cut the score to 7-3, USC opened a second crisp attack, and a Bruin cheerleader grabbed a microphone and shouted, "Baby, this is it. If we don't stop them now something bad is gonna happen." The something bad was a 16-yard pass from a scrambling Haden to J. K. McKay, who was alone in the end zone.
Down 14-3, it was time for some sneaky UCLA passes. Rodgers pulled senior Quarterback Mark Harmon and replaced him with John Sciarra, a sophomore who is both a better passer and runner but unpolished as a ball handler. "When Sciarra comes in they want to make you think he'll throw," Wood said, "but they still want to run." Running, UCLA went 84 yards to score, with Johnson getting 39 in one chunk and the last three. A USC field goal, the first of three by Chris Limahelu, made it 17-10 at halftime.
From there, little went right for UCLA which, on the basis of a better record (9-1 to 8-1-1) needed only a tie to wind up in Pasadena on New Year's Day. The Bruins fumbled the first two times they had the ball in the second half, once managed to hold on long enough to kick a field goal and then fumbled again. As a change of pace Sciarra threw an interception, his second.
The final score was 23-13, but for Pepper Rodgers it will always be 6-0. "Can you believe that?" he demanded to know when it was over. "We hand that ball over six to zero. They were supposed to make the mistakes but they didn't make any today. Six to zero. Incredible!" He thought of the incredible for a moment, then added, "Aw, well. They've got six All-Americas. Who can play against a team with that many All-Americas?"
A man came in and wondered why UCLA had failed to attack the USC corners. It was suggested that perhaps Rodgers had decided it was an impossible task and had all but eliminated it from his game plan. Since UCLA had spent most of the afternoon hammering away at USC's jammed middle, it seemed a logical assumption.
"That's negative thinking," Rodgers snapped. "We didn't go outside because we thought we could run on them inside. That's positive thinking."
"I wasn't thinking of it negatively," the man demurred.
"Yes you were," said Rodgers.
Not far away, on the other side of the wall that separates the two dressing rooms beneath the Coliseum, Davis peeled away his dirty uniform and then perched on a small bench. Next to him someone had placed a small red rose. He said he had read some of the stuff the UCLA players had said before the game, but it hadn't bothered him.
"But now that it's over maybe this town will finally shut up," he said. "That's all we heard: how great the UCLA offense was. It's a good offense, but I just wanted to show people that all those big statistics and all those points scored in the past don't mean nothing. Not until they do it to us. That's why I don't believe in national ratings. Everybody doesn't play everybody else. How come Ohio State has been No. 1? They never played us. Well, we'll get either them or Michigan in the Rose Bowl. That's really going to be something. And we've got all that time before we play."
"Relax? No," Anthony Davis said. "To sweat. Now that we found out what kind of an offense we got, we can really go to work on it. Then on New Year's Day we'll find out just how good it actually is."