Last Thursday, UCLA Coach Terry Donahue was asked if it was difficult for him to focus on Washington State, the Bruins' opponent two days later, when the big prize, the matchup with USC, was only three weeks away. Donahue refused to even talk about USC. "I won't allow myself to do what I don't want our players doing," he said. "Generally, it would be hard not to look ahead to that game, but this year you don't have the luxury of looking ahead because of the quality of the league."
By late Saturday afternoon the Bruins were ruefully looking back on a 34-30 loss to the Cougars—who had entered the game 1-3 in Pac-10 play—as well as on the wreckage of their undefeated record and the No. 1 ranking they had enjoyed in most polls.
UCLA appeared to have no obstacle in its path to a New Year's Day appearance in the Rose Bowl and a perfect season, except for the date with the Trojans on Nov. 19. The only drama expected in the Washington State game would be the race for fancy stats between Troy Aikman, the Bruins' Heisman-bound quarterback, and his opposite number on the Cougars, Timm Rosenbach, who was leading the nation in passing.
Instead the game turned on the inability of UCLA's defense to stop the running of 5'8", 175-pound Washington State sophomore Rich Swinton, who rushed for 117 yards and two touchdowns while filling in for the injured Steve Broussard, and on the failure of the Bruins' offense to deliver on two opportunities to pull the game out in the final two minutes.
November 7, 1988
The effectiveness of the Cougars' attack was no surprise; they entered the game ranked third in the nation in total offense. "Our offense is so potent that when we started to break down their defense, they didn't know which way we were going," said Swinton afterward. What was unexpected, and critical, was an interception thrown by Aikman—only his sixth of the season—and the Bruins' futile attempts to score on four downs from the six-yard line in the game's waning moments. With 1:59 left, Aikman was intercepted at the Washington State 45 by defensive back Artie Holmes.
But UCLA got the ball back again, on the Cougars' 39-yard line with 44 seconds to play. Aikman hit tight end Charles Arbuckle on a play that brought the ball to the Washington State six. He intentionally threw the next pass away, then threw three more times from point-blank range. His first two passes fell incomplete; the final one was broken up by corner-back Vernon Todd, and suddenly the Bruins were no longer among the undefeated.
As the Cougars climbed merrily on the team bus, Rosenbach's mother, Rosie, grabbed her bruised and battered son, hugged him carefully and then slipped him a UCLA jersey she had bought at one of the Bearwear booths outside the Rose Bowl. "He can wear it all week as a trophy," she said. It wasn't the Heisman, but it was as close as Rosenbach is likely to get—at least this year. He stuffed it into his game bag the same way he had stuffed UCLA's hopes of a national championship.