Michigan has become our second-biggest rival, right behind USC," UCLA Fullback Frank Bruno said before the Bruins beat the Wolverines for the second time in 98 days, 24-14, in last Saturday's Rose Bowl game in Pasadena. Michigan had defeated UCLA 33-14 in last season's Bluebonnet Bowl, and the Bruins answered with a come-from-be-hind 31-27 victory at Ann Arbor on Sept. 25. "We've gotten to know each other real well," said UCLA Noseguard Karl Morgan.
"Yeah, there are some things in the back of our minds," Bruin Quarterback Tom Ramsey said, "things that aren't easy to forget." Like the Bluebonnet Bowl, when UCLA Coach Terry Donahue and Michigan Coach Bo Schembechler jawed at each other before the game had even started because Schembechler had convinced Bluebonnet officials not to use a 25-second play clock. That game had ended with UCLA complaining that Bo had run up the score.
Relations between the two teams deteriorated further in the September rematch when Bruin players were summoned from their dressing room after leaving the field at halftime because Schembechler had called a time-out with one second left. One second was all it took the Wolverines' Ali Haji-Sheikh to kick a 47-yard field goal and increase Michigan's lead to 24-14. When Donahue began giving the referees an earful about the whole matter, Schembechler reportedly ran past and screamed, "That's three more points, Terry!" The Bruins came back to win, and Donahue gloated a little.
"They beat us, and immediately we were dropped into nowhere land," said Michigan Quarterback Steve Smith. The Wolverines had to win seven straight before losing to Ohio State for an 8-3 finish to creep back to 17th in any major poll. Declared Schembechler on Wednesday before the Rose Bowl, "We are going to win this football game."
The Wolverines, however, were snakebitten. Tackle Rich Strenger went down on their third play from scrimmage with torn ligaments in his left knee. A more devastating injury came midway through the second quarter, with UCLA leading 7-0 after a one-yard TD plunge by Ramsey. On a trap option, one of the few new plays Michigan had added for the game, Smith carried the ball around left end for eight yards. "The play worked," Schembechler joked later. "It got all the way to the safety." Bruin Safety Don Rogers leveled Smith with a brutal blindside hit at the Michigan 26, separating Smith's right shoulder and putting him in street clothes. Moments earlier, Rogers had intercepted a Smith pass at the UCLA 12 to kill Michigan's only scoring threat of the first half. "I just try to be the maker of the big play," says Rogers, who picked up his sledgehammer tackling style from former UCLA Safety Kenny Easley, now with the Seattle Seahawks.
The Wolverines replaced Smith with Dave Hall, a junior too inexperienced to run their option attack. And, as Donahue said later, "If you control the Michigan option game the rest is just regular football." The swarming Bruin defense was almost making Anthony Carter, the Wolverines' three-time All-America receiver, appear mortal. Carter's two end-around runs lost three yards. The longest of his five pass receptions was good for 15. His one attempted pass fell incomplete.
Even worse, when Michigan tried to block a punt near the UCLA goal line shortly before halftime, Carter, rather than make a fair catch as Schembechler had instructed, attempted to field the kick in mid-stride and dash off with it. "I tried to catch 'em off guard," Carter said later. UCLA Center Dan Dufour forced A.C. to fumble and Mike Durden recovered at the Michigan 47. Seven plays later, Korean-born John Lee kicked a 39-yard field goal to put UCLA up 10-0 at halftime.
While the Bruins were making the most of their first Rose Bowl appearance since 1976, they were still rather stunned to be playing at all on New Year's Day. Despite their 9-1-1 regular-season record and No. 5 national ranking, they had fully expected to play Maryland in the Dec. 25 Aloha Bowl in Honolulu. But upset defeats dealt to both Washington (Nov. 20) and Arizona State (on Thanksgiving weekend) had handed UCLA the Pac-10 title, and the 38-year-old Donahue, in his seventh year as the team's coach, had immediately refocused on Michigan. He had reason to be confident.
First, the Rose Bowl would be on UCLA's home field; the Bruins moved to Pasadena this fall to escape the L.A. Coliseum, which the UCLA administration felt had given them short shrift in favor of the L.A. Raiders, and were unbeaten in six games there. Second, before Saturday's game, Pac-10 teams had won 11 of the last 13 Rose Bowls. Further, UCLA had developed a solid running attack to complement the formidable passing game that Offensive Coordinator Homer Smith had devised. Toward that end, Donahue had shifted 6'6", 264-pound senior Irv Eatman, an honorable mention All-America defensive tackle last season, to offensive tackle and had installed Danny Andrews, a quick sophomore, at tailback. Andrews' 42 yards rushing, along with Kevin Nelson's 48 and Frank Cephous' 46, helped UCLA accrue 181 rushing yards Saturday, 140 more than it had amassed at Ann Arbor in September.
However, as the third quarter began, Michigan suddenly took control. Hall ended a 45-yard Wolverine drive by flipping a one-yard touchdown pass to Fullback Eddie Garrett; the Bruins' lead was now 10-7. Yet on the very next series, Ramsey, who had completed his first seven passes and then lost his touch, found it again.
Ramsey, a senior, showed why he had come in seventh in the Heisman Trophy balloting and had shared Pac-10 Player of the Year honors with the more renowned John Elway of Stanford. He scrambled for 20 yards, completed four of five passes, taking his team from its own 20 to the Michigan nine in 12 plays, then handed the ball to Andrews, who swept right and dived into the corner of the end zone. Ramsey's final passing stats—18 of 25 for a mere 162 yards—wouldn't fully reflect what might well have been his greatest performance.
Whatever hopes the Wolverines had disappeared when Hall was forced to drop back into his own end zone and threw the ball directly to Bruin Inside Linebacker Blanchard Montgomery, who loped 11 yards for a touchdown; UCLA led 24-7 with 8:08 to play. "You yank a kid off the bench and tell him to win the Rose Bowl for you," Schembechler said later. "It's tough." Hall hit Fullback Dan Rice on a four-yard pass to make it 24-14, but his final throw was intercepted by Jimmy Turner.
"Michigan ain't——!" hooted one of the Bruins after the game. But most of his teammates were more generous. They'd love a rematch in Pasadena any Jan. 1, they said. And when Carter was asked to rate the Bruins, he was generous, too—up to a point. "I'd say they're about a 9½," he said. That left just enough room for disagreement.