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TGS PAC-12 RETROSPECTIVE...WHEN THE RIVALRY RAGED IN L.A.

                                         by Bruce Marshall, Goldsheet.com Editor

Those who can recall college football in the late 60s now that no rivalry shined brighter during that period of time, or has the ability to burn at a similar rate, as when USC and UCLA are flying high.  In the past, Los Angeles has often been stilled by the spectacle, and while it has been a while since the Trojans and Bruins would grip the local populace in such a way for their annual showdown, it has a glorious past.  The upcoming book, "McKay vs. Prothro 1965-70: When the USC-UCLA Rivalry Raged" will highlight that memorable era of LA intracity gridiron hostilities. Though the 1968 renewal might not be immediately recalled, a portion of that chapter of "McKay vs. Prothro" is featured below, and provides a bit of the taste of what a storied rivalry can deliver, even when one of the sides was having a disappointing season...

Though given consideration in the early-season rankings, projected 14th nationally by Sports Illustrated in its preview issue, and 16th in AP’s preseason poll, there were numerous skeptics about the prospects of UCLA in ‘68. After all, Heisman winner Gary Beban had graduated after the Bruins had won 23 games under his direction the preceding three years.

Among them the doubters was the shrewd HC, Tommy Prothro, who naturally fretted about the upcoming post-Beban era. Not as much because of a lack of confidence in the anointed successor at QB, junior Bill Bolden, with good size at 6'3, a strong arm, and ample speed, who had shown well in spot duty during his varsity debut season of ‘67. The deep-ball element of the UCLA offense seemed to be in good hands with the strong-armed Bolden, whose short-to-intermediate accuracy was in question but with a big arm that had rifled a 92-yard TD pass to trackster and wideout Ron Copeland in the Syracuse game. Copeland, Harold Busby, and wingback George Farmer, who caught a long TD pass from Beban in the epic ‘67 SC clash, and who gained 154 yards rushing in the spring game, were all sprinters and relay runners from Jim Bush’s Bruin track team and big-play targets for Bolden, who could also count upon ballyhooed 5-9 frosh fullback Mickey Cureton, a record-breaking prep from Compton’s Centennial High who appeared the perfect complement to the versatile Greg Jones and hammering Rick Purdy for the infantry in Prothro’s option offense. Prothro also liked his veteran defense, which would be re-deployed into a more-modern 4-4-3 look featuring junior inside linebacker Mike Ballou, nicknamed “Cat” not as much because of the movie featuring Jane Fonda but because of his quickness.

Prothro’s concern, however, was for an offensive line that had to be almost completely rebuilt. Six linemen were gone from ‘67; junior tackle Gordon Bosserman was the only regular to return. “Oh, it’s (the line) as good as what we lost as pure, raw, latent talent is concerned,” said Prothro to the preseason Skywriters. “But it is woefully lacking in experience and that is vital to springing our backs loose."

For a bit, it seemed as if the post-Beban era would pick up where “The Great One” had left off upon his graduation the preceding year. Indeed, opening night of the ‘68 UCLA campaign was as grand as anything in the Beban years. At the time, however, no one realized that the Pitt side visiting the Coliseum that Saturday night, September 21 might be the worst in Panther history. (Later in the season, Pitt would be behind Notre Dame 49-0 at halftime when coach Dave Hart and Irish counterpart Ara Parseghian agreed to play the second half with a running clock to prevent further humiliation of the once-proud Panther program.) In the end, the Bruins’ 63-7 win before 43,218 delighted onlookers was the biggest UCLA point total since the 72-0 slaughter of Stanford by Red Sanders’ 1954 co-national champions.

There was, however, an ominous undercurrent in the opener. Bolden, off to an encouraging start in which he completed his first three passes for 34 yards, and skillfully choosing plays to make use of his arsenal of considerable weapons (Copeland, Farmer, Busby, Jones, Cureton), would suffer a shoulder separation on a 12-yard TD run in the second quarter, tripping over the leg of a Pitt defender and somersaulting out of the end zone. Though Bolden would not be missed thereafter that night, as backup Jim Nader, a soph who had led Pasadena City College to the Junior Rose Bowl crown in 1966 before redshirting the previous year at Westwood, completed 13 of 24 passes for 140 yards and 4 TDs, tying a school record set by Paul Cameron against Santa Clara in 1951. “I have to be very pleased with Nader’s play,” said Prothro afterward. “He’ll have to be our man now.”

Nader, however, was not to have the good fortune of facing Pitt every week. The following Saturday night at the Coliseum, Washington State, under new coach Jim Sweeney, offered a bit more resistance than the Panthers, indeed keeping the Bruins off balance much of the night with the introduction of a shotgun-based offense not seen on gridirons since briefly popularized by the NFL San Francisco 49ers a decade earlier. Nader struggled, completing only 3 of 12 passes, and was relieved on a couple of occasions by HB Greg Jones, who didn’t throw a pass when taking snaps but did run for 60 yards as the signal-caller. A pair of key interception returns by the defense, first Mark Gustafson picking off Coug QB Jerry Henderson early in the 3rd quarter and zipping all of the way to the one-yard line, from where Nader would sneak over on the next play to bolt UCLA to a 17-7 lead, and then linebacker Vince Bischof’s 18-yard TD return of an errant Rich Olson pass early in the 4th quarter to pad the lead to 24-7, kept UCLA out of danger. Though the UPI poll had UCLA at No. 4 following the 31-21 win, backers of the 24-point favorite Bruins were among those wondering if the Westwood bunch might be more than a bit overrated.

The answers came soon enough in a subsequent three-game stretch in which Prothro’s team not only didn’t win, but continued to absorb injuries that were suddenly making the Bruin roster look like a M*A*S*H unit. Traveling for the first time all season and greeted by rain and mud at Syracuse’s ancient Archbold Stadium, the UCLA speed was non-existent on a pitch that more resembled a cow pasture. As had been the case the previous year at the Coliseum, a bigger and more physical Orangemen squad used brute strength to stop the Bruin infantry (held to a mere 56 yards) and dared Nader to throw. Meanwhile, the latest hammering Syracuse big back, Al Newton, rumbled for 121 yards between the tackles, and when the Bruins finally pulled to within 13-7 midway in the 4th Q on a short TD run by Greg Jones, Prothro was burned by one of his old tricks, the onside kick, returned 49 yards for a TD by 239-pound ‘Cuse lineman Bill Maddox on the subsequent kickoff. UCLA would disappear from the polls after the 20-7 loss.

Things got no better the next week at home against a resurgent Penn State side that hadn’t lost for third-year coach Joe Paterno since the previous year’s 17-15 setback at State College vs. the Beban-led Bruins. Ranked 3rd nationally entering the Coliseum for a game regionally telecast by ABC, the Nittany Lions, who rated no better than a toss-up with the oddsmakers, used big plays, including a blocked-punt TD by LB Jim Kates to open the scoring, and a 76-yard pass-run from QB Chuck Burkhart to FB Tom Cherry, who dragged DB Mark Gustafson across the goal line to pad the lead to 14-6 in the 3rd quarter before a TD run of 28 yards by All-American RB Charlie Pittman in the final stanza accounted for the last points of a 21-6 win for the Paternos.

Bolden would finally return for some meaningful action the following week in Berkeley vs. Cal, but was proving injury-prone, sidelined again (this time by an ankle sprain) as the Bruins were in the process of blowing an early 15-7 lead. The revived Golden Bears, dreaming of a Rose Bowl under coach Ray Willsey, ambushed the Bruins in the 3rd quarter with a 23-0 spurt en route to a highly-satisfying 39-15 romp. UCLA wingback George Farmer became the second Bruin (along with Bolden) to suffer a serious injury on a TD play, breaking his leg while catching a 12-yard TD pass from Bolden in the 1st quarter, lost for the season. Key linebacker Vince Bischof was KO’d by a shoulder separation, strong-side guard Rick Pertulla was concussed, and weak-side tackle Tory Matheson suffered a leg injury. Moreover, Prothro had battle influenza during the week, adding to the despair. “I’m pretty down right now,” Prothro lamented in the LA Times. “I really thought we were going to play better than we did.”

By this point, the Southland was beginning to tune out the Bruins, with crosstown SC atop the polls, the NFL Rams involved in another high-stakes battle with the Baltimore Colts in the NFL’s Coastal Division, and the Mexico City Olympics all diverting attention from the rapidly-evaporating UCLA season. There was also a presidential election just around the corner. The ‘68 Bruins hadn’t quite become invisible, but they were rapidly becoming harder to detect in the crowded local landscape.

*****

NOVEMBER 23

By the time late November rolled around, the populace in Los Angeles, like most of those elsewhere in the country, remained in an energized state. The times dictated as much; protests of the Vietnam War had ramped up considerably during what had already been a turbulent year on the domestic front, with UCLA (especially) one of the nerve centers of discontent on the West Coast. Assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy had further jarred a nation that had also just endured a breathless election night on November 5, when Richard Nixon would barely squeeze by Hubert Humphrey (and the upstart challenge of former Alabama Gov. George Wallace) to win the White House. Meanwhile, the Apollo space program, delayed almost two years by the tragic launch pad fire in January of ‘67, was finally off of the ground as Wally Schirra’s Apollo 7 crew began the manned portion of the program in October. The upcoming Apollo 8 flight at Christmas-time was already captivating the nation with its mission to orbit the Moon, which itself was tentatively due to be visited by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin within the next eight months.

College football, however, retained the ability to captivate the masses. And within that highly-charged landscape was fitting a gridiron campaign that appeared headed for a dramatic conclusion in late November. At the vortex was familiar USC and its Heisman frontrunner, the colorful O.J., by now a nation-wide celebrity. Thanks to ABC’s decision to feature John McKay’s Trojans for late-season telecasts, the national football audience was looking forward to a double-dose of O.J. sandwiched around Thanksgiving. First would come the rematch of the ‘67 epic vs. UCLA before a visit from Notre Dame the following Saturday.

By this stage of the season, however, the Bruins were merely a supporting cast member, simply the next chapter in the unfolding Simpson narrative that was sure to add the Heisman Trophy and perhaps another national championship for the Trojans within the next few weeks. Handicapped by numerous injuries, the Bruin season had fallen apart, with only a pulsating late October home win (20-17) over Stanford in the middle of six losses that doomed Tommy Prothro to his first losing season in Westwood. Heavy defeats at Tennessee and Oregon State, allowing 40+ points on each occasion, marked the low points. Good news was good to find other than the fact that backup center John Crestman, who suffered a serious spinal injury and temporary paralysis in the Tennessee game, was making notable progress in his recovery.

Adding further ignominy was the previous week’s grating 6-0 loss at Washington, the first blanking a Prothro Bruin team had absorbed. Frustration for UCLA had reached a peak in that loss at rainy Seattle, turned away three times deep in Huskies territory, twice in the 4th Q by two of the combined four interceptions thrown by QBs Bill Bolden and Jim Nader.

One of the few notes of encouragement for UCLA was the fact the next game would be played on good, old grass after recent games at Knoxville (Tartan Turf) and Seattle (AstroTurf) surfaces. When asked to compare the tracks, most of the Bruins said they didn’t like either. Recalling his experiences, halfback Greg Jones recently related to us his dislike of the artificial stuff. “At Tennessee, my elbow pad slid down my arm on one play and I ended up with a bad rug burn,” said Jones. “It was awful, became infected, and bothered me the rest of the season. I was not much of a fan (of the carpet).”

Bruins fans, however, were already looking forward to 1969, when the team would be returning almost intact. Among the starters, only five seniors–defensive tackle Larry Agajanian, defensive end Hal Griffin, defensive back Mark Gustafson, flanker Ron Copeland, and offensive tackle Tory Matheson, would be playing their final college games on Saturday at the Coliseum vs. the Trojans.

No matter, McKay was understandably nervous. Even though the ‘67 win over the Bruins might have been the most satisfying of his career, and temporarily stinted the belief of many that he was always apt to be out-foxed by Prothro, the Irishman knew his ‘68 team often flew dangerously close to the flame. Coupled with the realization that Prothro was still capable of coaxing a heroic effort from his troops, McKay was uneasy. The fact that 33 of the 35 sportswriters at the weekly Southern California press luncheon picked SC to win by an average of 16 3/4 points (oddsmakers posted the price at SC -13 ½) did little to comfort the Irishman. “This is always a tremendously difficult game for us,” McKay warned the assembled sportswriters at the weekly luncheon. “I hope we play better than in any previous game.” And the SC coach listened warily as Prothro told the same press corps that an upset of the top-ranked Trojans “will salvage the season for us.”

Moreover, could SC possibly be flat for UCLA after a titanic revenge battle for the Rose Bowl vs. Oregon State the previous week? When asked, McKay adroitly fielded that one on the first hop. "We'd like to be national champions," the Irishman said softly, "and you can't do that without being city champions."

Meanwhile, Simpson, despite sitting on 1449 yards rushing, and on the cusp of another national rushing title in addition to the Heisman, had other things on his mind, such as wife Marguerite and their first baby, due any day the week of the UCLA game. In retrospect, many elements were present for a harder-than-expected early evening on the SC side.

There was much speculation the week of the game that Prothro might utilize the quirky “Formation Zero” that he deployed, to some effect, in the loss at Oregon State, when the unorthodox spread formation (featuring tackles and ends split far wide of the three interior linemen) exploded for a couple of long plays against the Beavers, including a 38-yard run by fullback Cureton to set up the Bruins’ first touchdown.

Gimmicks aside, there appeared little encouragement for the stagnating Bruins offense, especially as QB Nader, who had taken the majority of the snaps that season due to Bolden’s recurring injuries, was primarily a dropback passer, and, to use Prothro’s description, “not a good runner.” Which made Nader an awkward at best fit for Prothro’s “quarterback offense” which featured many options and roll-outs...perfect for predecessor Beban, and, if healthy, perhaps the junior Bolden. But Nader? Not so much.

Whatever their chances, the Bruins showed up on Saturday for the odd kickoff time of 3 PM, a preference of ABC which was beginning to dabble with the concept of prime-time action (in the East, at least) for its featured Saturday games. Unlike subsequent years, the Michigan-Ohio State Big Ten showdown on the same day was not televised; instead, ABC had regional fare earlier in the day, with most of the country treated to Oklahoma’s 47-0 dismantling of a dazed and stunned Nebraska. By the time USC and UCLA were ready to kick off in front of a national audience, the Buckeyes had sewn up their bid to Pasadena with a rousing 50-14 demolition of the Wolverines. Much of the college football world was also starting to buzz about news of Harvard scoring pair of TDs and 2-point conversions in the last 42 seconds to tie Yale, 29-29, in a battle of unbeatens and the biggest Ivy League showdown in a generation.

From the kickoff, there was a surreal, almost Rod Serling-like Twilight Zone setting at the Coliseum, as an early-arriving fog combined with a bad case of LA smog created a hazy glow that deepened as the game moved into early evening. Indeed, the arriving fog helped to create an eerie feel to the proceedings more befitting a San Francisco Giants game at Candlestick Park, especially in the second half after dusk, with the pea soup spilling over the top of the big saucer and making it a bit difficult for Chris Schenkel and Bud Wilkinson in the broadcast booth to identify the players. With accumulating heavy fog, the ABC cameras would often switch to field-level shots for a clearer view of proceedings.

At the outset, however, UCLA was not looking intimidated by the smog/fog or the top-ranked Trojans, as Prothro’s trickery was on display from early on. In hopes of relieving some pressure on QBs Bolden (who would be deemed fit enough to start) and Nader, and playing the ball control necessary to keep Simpson off of the field, Prothro had installed a new-look offense for the game. Specifically, an unbalanced line, with Gordon Bosserman, normally the weak-side tackle, instead lined up as an end, with reserve tight end Bruce Bergey lined up as an extra tackle. Just before the snap, a Bruin back would then usually shift to the power side, and behind all of those blockers in essentially a single-wing mode, UCLA was able to confuse and even trick the Trojan defense while banging out consistent, if not spectacular, results. (“If they overshifted on us,” Prothro would explain in the post-game notes, “we ran back away from the unbalanced line. If they didn’t overshift, we could run toward it.”)

With this new look, UCLA was able to sustain the first significant drive in the game, moving behind Bolden from its 21-yard-line, alternating runs, mostly to the left side, from fullback Rick Purdy and halfback Greg Jones, with Bolden mixing in a couple of sweeps for 22 yards, and intermediate passes to Purdy and tight end Mike Garratt for first downs, in a 13-play march that finally stalled at the Trojan 15. Junior kicker Zenon Andrusyshyn, the goat of the ‘67 game and who had not kicked a field goal since the second week of the season vs. Washington State, and perhaps remembering his low trajectories that proved low-hanging fruit for the Trojan pass-kick rushers 12 months before, got plenty of elevation on his 32-yard field goal try that was right down the middle to give Prothro’s team an early 3-0 lead. The Bruins were not looking like the team that had been dismantled by Cal, Tennessee, or Oregon State.

No stranger to slow starts, SC was not about to panic, though O.J. was finding a lot of congestion in his running lanes. Prothro’s defense didn’t design anything specific, other than a few schematic triggers; the Bruins’ jerry-rigged stop unit was simply inspired. “We played it like we have all season,” said Prothro afterward. “Our two middle linebackers (Ballou and Don Widmer) keyed on the fullback (Dan Scott) because he leads Simspon, on most of his runs, while the two corner linebackers keyed on the tailback (Simpson).” After O.J. was held to short gains on a pair of prior runs after the kickoff, QB Steve Sogge, swarmed on a pass rush led by blitzing cornerback Lee McElroy (a future college AD at Albany and RPI), passed harmlessly and incomplete, intended for tight end Bob Klein at the Trojan 40. A punt beckoned; early momentum now clearly with UCLA.

Only for a moment, however. Well after the play concluded, and with SC preparing to punt, the referees had thrown a flag on UCLA for an illegal substitution prior to the 4th down. At the time, rules permitted only two substitutions on any play, the exception being an injury which could increase the number to three. Having sent in two reserves for the punt-return team, Prothro then noticed McElroy up slowly from his blitz on the previous play, clutching his shoulder, a victim of a pinched nerve. Immediately, Prothro yelled “Injured player!” as an alert to the referees as he sent linebacker Dick Davidson in for the hurting McElroy. Head linesman Jay Settle, however, tossed a flag for an illegal substitution!

After the game, Prothro remained dissatisfied with the explanation of the referees. “We had to put in a man for (injured) McElroy,” said Prothro, “and we were permitted to do that in addition to putting in two other substitutes.

“When he (Settle) dropped his flag, I asked him way. At first, he said we had substituted four men. Then he said, ‘It was three, and I didn’t hear you.’ He just assumed there wasn’t an injured player. He was right most of the time, but not that time.”

Given a first down and a reprieve, the Trojans finally got their offense moving. Thirteen plays later, and into the second quarter, SC, with Simpson doing most of the work, including the last four yards on a sweep to the right side, finally got on the scoreboard and assumed a 7-3 lead. Trojan fans among the 75,066 at the Coliseum, and watching on TV, breathed a sigh of relief as their number one-team had seemingly awakened. And when Bolden fumbled on a second-down sweep the on the next UCLA possession, turning the ball over to SC on the Bruin 42, the tide seemed to have officially turned, especially as Bolden went down with another shoulder injury on the play.

But the recurring theme of a difficult day for the Trojans was about to reappear. A holding penalty on Sogge’s first-down pass to Bob Chandler pushed the Trojans back into their end of the field, and a Wes Grant sack of Sogge shoved the Trojans back even further. Soon it was fourth down and 21 to go from their own 46 yard-line, and punter John Young was summoned. His boot carried to the Bruin 15, where a backpedaling Mickey Cureton would field the ball near the left sideline.

At the outset, there appeared little chance for the squat Cureton to maneuver upfield, but soon enough he had picked his way down the sideline and then veered back toward the center of the pitch around midfield, suddenly with what looked like a clear path to the end zone. All of this weaving might have tired Cureton just a bit; he couldn’t quite outrun Trojan flanker Bob Chandler to paydirt, but did get as far as the SC 17-yard line to complete an electrifying 68-yard return. The roar from Bruin backers who occupied the north side of the Coliseum shook the big bowl as UCLA supporters were starting to believe again when Nader brought the offense on the field with a chance to reclaim the lead from number one.

It was not a smooth excursion to the end zone, as it took seven, hardscrabble plays, which included a clutch 3rd-down pass completion over the middle to fullback Purdy, who slid to the SC 4. The Trojans were hard to budge, and it took UCLA the entire set of downs to finally cross the goal line. Fittingly, it was the mighty-mite Cureton navigating the last yard on fourth down with a quick pitch and dive inside of the right end. Andrusyshyn’s conversion put UCLA back ahead by a 10-7 count midway in the second period.

Paraphrasing legendary L.A. Lakers announcer Chick Hearn, it was rapidly becoming “nervous time” again for Trojan Nation.

Sensing it was time to get serious, SC finally got Simpson untracked on its next possession. After do-everything O.J. returned the kickoff to the SC 22, his 30-yard gain over right tackle on first down put the ball into Bruin territory. With Simpson doing the bulk of the work, the Trojans moved deeper into the UCLA end, and with just over a minute to play in the half, Simpson swiveled the last four yards on a 3rd-and-1 situation to put the Trojans back ahead, 14-10, at the break.

As UCLA had routinely crumpled in many second halves of this difficult season, it seemed to many as if Prothro had coaxed all he could out of his troops in the first 30 minutes, and that Simpson’s TD with 1:02 remaining in the half might have swung momentum SC’s way once and for all. But this late afternoon/evening, Prothro had instilled a kamikaze mindset within his troops, who continued to battle after intermission. In fact, on the first possession of the second half, SC’s Sogge was intercepted near midfield by Bruin d-back Dennis Spurling, who might have been able to score had he better navigated a sideline toe dance. A quick pass from Nader to Greg Jones moved the ball to the Trojan 35, but penalties pushed the Bruins back near midfield, and the drive fizzled. A couple of subsequent punt exchanges resulted in advantage SC when safety Mike Battle, one of the nation’s best return threats, skipped 37 yards with an Andrusyshyn boot to put the Trojans in business at the UCLA 22. Five plays later, from the Bruin 2, fullback Dan Scott scored the first non-O.J. rushing TD of the year for the Trojans. Now up 21-10, and barely five minutes to play in the 3rd quarter, order finally seemed restored for McKay’s team.

But as the dense fog descended upon the Coliseum, UCLA was still bobbing and weaving, proving as elusive to knock out as welterweight champ Curtis Cokes. Near the end of the quarter, an exchange of punts would this time work in the Bruins’ favor when SC’s Young, fielding a low snap from center, scuffed a poor 25-yard offering that got no further than the Trojan 37. Nader, gaining confidence, would then set UCLA sailing goalward, a clutch 3rd-and-12 completion to end Ron Copeland keeping the drive alive near the end of the quarter. As the 4th quarter commenced, another Nader third-down completion, this one to Greg Jones, set up the Bruins with a first down at the 9. The bouncy Cureton would barrel around left end on the next play and bull past the All-American safety Battle and into the end zone to cut the deficit to 21-16. Gambling on a 2-point conversion to get the deficit to three points, even after a 5-yard penalty, Nader’s pass to Purdy was incomplete, but UCLA was back to within one score of the lead, and had the momentum. The Trojans were on the ropes.

The remainder of the quarter produced some of the most-dramatic moments in SC-UCLA annals. More tense, in fact, than the previous year’s epic 21-20 Trojan win, decided by Simpson’s run with over 10 minutes to play. The Bruins had not seriously threatened thereafter in the ‘67 game, but they were about to threaten seriously in ‘68 as the SC fans at the Coliseum sat dumbfounded, wondering why on earth their top-ranked team kept getting involved in scraps with middling opposition like Washington, Oregon, and the worst UCLA team of the Prothro era. All Simpson and the Trojans could manage on the following possession was one first down, as a couple of Sogge incompletions preceded yet another Young punt.

With just over 12 minutes to play, the Bruins had the momentum, and the ball on their 24-yard line. As he had done on the previous possession, the unheralded Jim Nader began to fire up another drive and a chance to shake college football ‘68 to its foundation. The huge Coliseum saucer was rocking, with most of the noise coming from the suddenly-aroused UCLA side of the stadium. The floodlights at the Coliseum were working as hard as they could to fight through the fog and give the fans a better look, while those at home were counting upon the ABC cameras to get just enough of a squint at the unfolding drama as described by Schenkel and Wilkinson.

Nader picked up where he left off on the previous drive, continuing to have success by rolling to the weak side, either handing off to fullbacks Cureton or Purdy, or sometimes keeping the ball for good gains. On this flight downfield, Nader navigated himself for runs of 13 and 16 yards, needing to pass just once (a short dump over the middle to tight end Mike Garratt for a first down and into SC territory at the 45) as UCLA methodically, and more than a bit shockingly, banged its way to a first down at the Trojan 7.

The decibel count at the Coliseum was reaching DC-8 levels and becoming progressively louder and louder with each successive snap as Nader continued the march. Driving toward the “closed” end of the Coliseum, where SC and UCLA seating sections would collide behind the goal post, the din was especially loud, to the point Nader was being forced to step away from center on almost every snap and ask for some help from the refs to quiet the increasing noise. (Longtime Bruin and Trojan fans who were at the Coliseum that night have said that they never heard the old oval get as progressively deafening as it did on this pulsating, Nader-led drive).

Hammering away at the bigger, but tiring, SC defensive front, UCLA moved to the one after a second-down smash by fullback Purdy, whose bobble at the end of the play was alertly gathered by Bruin guard Dennis Alumbaugh. On third down, Nader took off on a rollout to the right side, and with a convoy of blockers ahead of him looked for a moment as if he had a path to the end zone before his feet gave way as he tried to cut on the now-slippery, dew-topped grass (“I got a chance to turn, but the turf gave out under my left foot,” Nader would recount after the game). The Bruins had one more down, although it would be snapped from the Trojan 3 yard-line as opposed to the 1 on third down.

Again, trying to work above the loud din of the crowd that forced the referees to once more ask for quiet, before Prothro intervened with a timeout to discuss strategy with his QB, Nader was in position to change the course of the college season. This time faking a handoff to Cureton and rolling left, Nader had designs on aiming a pass for tight end Mike Garratt over the middle. Garratt, however, was caught up in traffic, and Trojan defensive end Jimmy Gunn was moving in on Nader, who quickly noted that wingback Gwen Cooper had momentarily broken clear in the left side of the end zone. Nader might have been better advised to try a soft lob to Cooper, but under pressure had to get the ball off quickly and hope that no SC defender could recover in time. Heady Trojan linebacker Bob Jensen, however, was able to react just in time to tip the pass, which stayed in air for an agonizing moment as Cooper made a valiant dive to snare the deflected toss. The pigskin, however, fell incomplete, and SC had dodged the proverbial bullet!

Not out of the woods quite yet, the Trojans, as expected, leaned on Simpson to move the ball away from the shadow of their goal line and provide a bit of breathing room while hopefully exhausting the clock and provide a needed breather for their weary defense, as the clock ticked to under 5 minutes to play. Carrying the ball six straight times, O.J. punched out a couple of first downs, but the drive stalled on the SC 32 after a damaging illegal procedure on 3rd-and-1, preceding the Bruins stacking up O.J. on 3rd down. Nader would have one more chance to deliver the upset after John Young’s 36-yard punt rolled dead on the Bruin 32. Barely two minutes remained.

SC was still finding itself on the ropes, as the emboldened Nader rifled a 20-yard completion to wingback Cooper to get the ball back into Trojan territory. Two plays later, however, the UCLA half of the Coliseum would deflate when a Nader pass across the middle was deflected by SC linebacker Bill Redding, with fellow LB Jim Snow making the interception and going down at the Trojan 43.

The records will indicate that SC would score a decorative TD with 25 seconds to play, as O.J. gulped 47 of the 57 yards on three carries, the last of those a four-yard run on his 40th carry of the foggy evening, which helped pad the Juice’s already gaudy statistics. That final drive put Simpson at 105 yards for the second half and 205 rush yards for the night, and upped his season total to 1634 yards and 334 carries, both NCAA records. (The yardage mark broke the record set just the previous week by West Texas State’s  Mercury Morris).  SC could be flattered by the final scoreline that read 28-16, but knew it had authored another of its now-familiar Perils of Pauline escapes.

The defeat was bitter for the Bruins, who might have played their best game of the season, but at the same time infused the returnees with the confidence that the following 1969 could be something special. “If we had played that kind of football all year that we did today, we would have been playing for the Rose Bowl,” sighed gallant fullback Rick Purdy, who played through a shoulder injury but would be one of those Bruins seniors that would not get another crack at the Trojans or the Rose Bowl. Nonetheless, Prothro and the Bruins would be back.

As for SC and Simpson? "Only 40 carries?," McKay said of his Heisman hopeful afterward. "O.J. can dance tonight.”


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