Sept. 3, 2000
PASADENA, Calif. - What began as a potential disaster ended in celebration for UCLA.
Nevertheless, coach Bob Toledo prefers not to read too much into his team's season-opening 35-24 victory over Alabama.
"I don't know if we're back, but I'm very excited right now for our football team and the Pac-10," Toledo said. "They are Alabama, but doggone it, we are UCLA.
"I'm happy for the coaches, I'm happy for the players, I'm happy for the people who came out and supported us."
Unranked entering Saturday's game, UCLA is No. 16 in this week's Associated Press poll. Alabama is now 13th, down from No. 3 in the previous poll.
UCLA was among the country's better teams in 1997-98, finishing 10-2 and playing in New Year's Day bowl games both seasons. Last year was a different story, as the injury riddled Bruins slipped to 4-7.
"A lot of people had counted us out," Bruins tailback DeShaun Foster said. "It's essentially the same team. We knew that once we got everybody back, we'd have a good team."
Hampered by a sprained ankle most of last season, when he gained only 375 yards, Foster rolled up a career-high 187 yards on a school record-equaling 42 carries and scored three touchdowns against Alabama.
"I definitely had some leftover aggravation from last year, and that motivated me," Foster said.
"We said we were going to run him at least 30 times," Toledo said. "Just give the horse the ball."
The UCLA defense, one of the country's poorest last year when it allowed 444.6 yards per game, held Alabama to 265 total yards. The Bruins, meanwhile, gained 396 yards against a defense that gave up an average of 296.5 yards last season.
"They dominated us on both sides of the line of scrimmage," Alabama coach Mike DuBose said.
UCLA won in convincing fashion despite the fact that quarterback Cory Paus separated his throwing shoulder on the game's first play. Toledo said he expected Paus to be sidelined two to four weeks.
Paus remained in the game for two more plays before UCLA punted, and Alabama's Freddie Milons returned the kick 71 yards for a touchdown.
Thus, the Bruins lost their quarterback and fell behind by a touchdown in the opening 75 seconds of play.
"When they scored right off, I thought they'd score 200 points," Toledo said.
The coach needn't have worried. UCLA bounced back impressively as Ryan McCann relieved Paus and guided the Bruins on three straight long scoring drives for a 21-7 lead midway through the second quarter.
It was 21-17 early in the third period when, with the Bruins threatening to extend their lead, Reggie Myles intercepted a McCann pass and returned it 91 yards for a touchdown to put Alabama on top 24-21.
"He (McCann) said, 'Don't lose confidence in me, coach,"' Toledo said. "I told him I wouldn't."
Three plays later, McCann threw a 46-yard touchdown pass to Freddie Mitchell, putting UCLA ahead for good. Foster's 8-yard TD run with 1:50 left in the third quarter completed the scoring.
McCann, who completed 14 of 24 passes for 194 yards, said Paus, a fellow sophomore, told him after being injured: "It's yours now, take it."
"The good thing we found out in practice is that UCLA has two quarterbacks who can play," McCann said. "It's a good feeling to know I can play and the coaches have confidence in me."
Alabama quarterbacks Andrew Zow and Tyler Watts didn't do much to inspire confidence by their coaches. Zow completed only 8 of 23 passes for 92 yards, while Watts was 3 of 7 for 27 yards.
"Our offense could not stay on the field long enough for us to make things happen," Watts said. "We can definitely learn from this."
By JOHN NADEL
AP Sports Writer