Sept. 6, 2000
LOS ANGELES - The season was just beginning, and backup quarterback Ryan McCann was watching on the UCLA sideline, waiting for an opportunity he knew might never come.
It came faster than he possibly could have imagined.
Cory Paus, named the Bruins' starting signal-caller 12 days before the Bruins faced Alabama, separated his throwing shoulder on the game's first play.
Paus stayed in for two more plays before the Bruins punted, and Alabama's Freddie Milons returned the kick 71 yards for a touchdown to give the Crimson Tide a quick 7-0 lead.
Enter McCann, who guided the Bruins to three straight touchdown drives, and later threw a 46-yard scoring pass to Freddie Mitchell to put UCLA ahead for good in a 35-24 victory Saturday at the Rose Bowl.
"Go find the helmet and get loose," McCann said Monday when asked his first reaction to Paus' injury. "The blood starts pumping. That helps you get loose a little bit.
"I felt immensely prepared. You've got to stay focused, plan on playing as a backup each week. I think I played OK, I didn't do as many things as I'd have liked. I'm looking forward to next week, getting more preparation."
McCann completed 14 of 24 passes for 194 yards and one touchdown with one interception. The starting job is his for now, since UCLA coach Bob Toledo said he expects Paus to miss at least three games starting with Saturday's contest against Fresno State at the Rose Bowl.
Toledo praised McCann's effort against Alabama, but added: "Ryan needs to continue to improve, he needs to pull the trigger, he needs to work on his accuracy. He's a very coachable kid, he does have a whole lot of potential and athletic ability."
McCann expressed sympathy for Paus, but said he hoped to keep the starting job.
"It's a devastating blow, anybody would be upset," McCann said. "It's an unfortunate way to get the job. I was fortunate enough to be ready and take advantage of the situation."
McCann said he expects a quarterback controversy of sorts when Paus returns.
"Cory's going to be like a bad cold, he's always going to come back," McCann said. "I just have to be at the top of my game."
Toledo, who said he thought Paus was injured on a late hit by an Alabama defender, sidestepped the issue of a quarterback controversy.
"Right now, we're going to go with McCann and then (Scott) McEwen," he said. "Right now, McCann's the quarterback."
Toledo said he was pleased with just about every aspect of his team's performance against the Crimson Tide, but emphasized it was time to move forward.
"They key thing now is we put it behind us," he said. "We worked too hard to not enjoy the victory, (but) it's my job now to make sure we put it behind us, starting with a team meeting at 3 o'clock today."
Unranked entering the season, UCLA is No. 16 in this week's Associated Press poll. Alabama is 13th, down from No. 3.
"The poll thing really baffles me," Toledo admitted. "I'm pleased we moved up in the rankings, but are you going on last year, or are you going on this year?
"When you beat somebody, you should be ranked ahead of them."
The Bruins rolled up 396 yards in total offense against a defense that allowed an average of 100 yards less last season. The Crimson Tide, meanwhile, gained 265 yards against UCLA, which gave up 444.6 yards per game last year.
"I had said we had the best defensive group since I've been here," Toledo said. "They didn't score any points on our defense in the second half. Offensively, we controlled the clock. Our offensive line, our tight ends, our fullbacks, we were knocking guys off the ball. They were very physical, (DeShaun) Foster was very physical."
Foster, plagued by a sprained ankle much of last season, when he gained only 375 yards, had a career-high 187 yards on a school record-tying 42 carries against Alabama.
By JOHN NADEL
AP Sports Writer