Tuesday, July 7, 2009

UCLA’s 1982 Defense: Big Plays and a Sack of Roses

Greg Robinson’s big time coaching career began in 1982 when he had left Monte Kiffin’s North Carolina State football staff and joined Terry Donahue to coach the defensive line at UCLA. Robinson would work for defensive coordinator Bob Field. This would be Bob Field’s first year at UCLA as well, replacing former defensive coordinator Jed Hughes. Hughes had been a former assistant coach at Michigan under Bo Schembechler in the 1970s.

The previous football season ended in disappointing fashion for UCLA and coach Donahue as no one quite knew which Bruin team would show up on Saturday. Would it be the UCLA team that shutout eventual PAC-10 champion Washington 31-0, or would it be the Burin team that lost to Big Ten champion Iowa 7-20 on the road? The Bruins were 7-2-1 and fighting for a shot at the Rose Bowl, but were eliminated from such contention by a painful loss to cross-town rival USC 21-22 as Norm Johnson’s 46 yard FG attempt was blocked in the final moments of the game by a Trojan defensive player, George Achica.

The Bruins wrapped up the 1981 season with an embarrassing defeat at the hands of Michigan 14-33 in the Bluebonnet Bowl. This was a contentious game as the coaches Donahue and Schembechler argued before kickoff whether the visible 25 second play clock should be used by the game officials. Bo successfully convinced the game officials to apply Big Ten rules for the game. Therefore the visible play clock went unused. Michigan proceeded to throttle the Bruins with 490 yards of total offense. There were post-game accusations by UCLA that Michigan had intentionally “run up the score”.

The 1982 Bruin Defense
The 1982 season promised many new things for UCLA football. In addition to the new defensive coaching staff of Field and Robinson, the Bruins would begin playing home games in the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, ending a 52 year association with the Los Angeles Coliseum.

The Bruins returned a healthy number of starters to contend for the PAC-10 title in 1982. The offense was coached by legendary, pass-happy offensive coordinator, Homer Smith. Smith had quite and impressive roster of players work with in returning quarterback Tom Ramsey, tailbacks Danny Andrews and Kevin Nelson, and a slew of great wideouts like Jo Jo Townsell, Cormac Carney, Karl Dorrell, Dokie Williams and massive tight end target Paul Bergmann.

Following the disappointing ending of the 1981 season all eyes would be on the UCLA defense. Bob Field and Greg Robinson, too, would have plenty of highly-talented playmakers to work with:

UCLA Bruin Defense 1982 10-1-1

Pos.1st TeamYear2nd TeamYear
DTMark BarbeeSo.Mark WalenFr.
NGKarl MorganJr.Mark FergusonJr.
DTIrv EatmanSr.David RandleJr.
OLBEugene LeoniSr.Doug WestJr.
ILBBlanchard MontgomerySr.Rex GraySr.
ILBLee KnowlesSo.Ron ButlerJr.
OLBNeal DelloconoSo.Kenny PageJr.
CBJimmy TurnerSr.Mike DurdenSr.
FSTom SullivanSr.Walter LangSr.
SSDon RogersJr.Larry ThomasSr.
CBLupe SanchezJr.Mike DardenFr.

Finished No. 5 in API and UPI. Allowed 19 points per game.

UCLA ran 3-4 and 4-3 defenses in 1982. The defensive front was anchored by noseguard Karl Morgan who wore No. 40, defensive tackles Irv Eatman, Mark Walen and Mark Barbee.
The linebackers were led by Blanchard Montgomery, Lee Knowles and Eugene Leoni and Neal Dellocono. The 1982 secondary was one of UCLA’s finest ever with CBs Jimmy Turner and Lupe Sanchez and hard hitting safeties Tom Sullivan, Walter Lang and Don Rogers.

In 1982 the Bruins would have to contend with a rather strange non-conference schedule by today’s standards with the inaugural season home game at the Rose Bowl Stadium versus Long Beach State followed by three road games against Wisconsin, Michigan and Colorado in succession. Michigan and Wisconsin had won bowl games in 1981.

The Bruins would escape this gauntlet 4-0, including a huge revenge win over favored Michigan 31-27 in Michigan Stadium. The Michigan game is still regarded as one of UCLA football’s most spectacular come from behind wins in school history.

UCLA 1982 Football Season

09/11/82Long Beach StateW4110
9/19/1982at WisconsinW5126
9/26/1982at MichiganW3127
10/2/1982at ColoradoW346
10/16/1982Washington StateW4217
10/23/1982at CaliforniaW4731
11/6/1982at WashingtonL710



The 1982 Michigan Game: The Bruin Defense Holds
The Bruins were coming off a decisive win over a tough Wisconsin team 51-26 in Madison. The Wolverines were returning home from a shocking night game defeat to Notre Dame 17-23. In the first half of the game in Ann Arbor, the Bruins were absolutely shredded by the Wolverines’ mix of option plays and precision passes to flanker Anthony Carter (8 rec, 123 yards, 1 TD). Michigan led the Bruins at one point in the first half 21-0. Bruin QB Tom Ramsey then shocked the crowd with a 46 yard touchdown bomb to wide out Dokie Williams to put UCLA on the board 21-7. Shortly afterward Ramsey himself scored on 1 yard QB dive, cutting the Wolverine lead to 21-14. What happened next stoked the flames of animosity between these two teams that were obviously still smoldering since the Bluebonnett bowl game in December of 1981.

With one second to play on the game clock before halftime, UCLA players started filing into the locker room. But Bo Schembechler had called Michigan’s final timeout. The Bruin team was instructed by game officials to return back to the field. Ali-Haji Sheikh then booted a 47 yard FG to give Michigan a 24-14 half time lead. According to Sports Illustrated writer Craig Neff back in 1983, as Donahue started to chew out the officials about that whole stream of events, there was a rather flippant exchange made by Bo Schembechler to Terry Donahue:

Schembechler (running past and yelling): “That’s three more points, Terry!”

The Bruins returned to the field after half-time breathing fire. Free safety Don Rogers intercepted a Steve Smith pass and setup a 6 yard TD pass to WR JoJo Townsell. Michigan followed with only a FG and the score was Michigan 27, UCLA 21. Then Michigan’s kicker Ali Haji-Sheikh made the mistake of kicking off to UCLA wideout Dokie Williams who returned the ball 65 yards, which setup yet another Bruin touchdown, a run by UCLA tailback Kevin Nelson. UCLA now led for the first time in the game 28-27. The Bruins tacked on a field goal by PK John Lee to up their lead 31-27 over the Wolverines.

The final minutes of the game would require stellar defensive play to control the big play potential of quarterback Steve Smith (14-37, 174, 3 INT, 1 TD) and Michigan’s star player WR Anthony Carter. Following Lee’s field goal, Greg Robinson’s defensive line pressured Smith heavily, forcing 2 interceptions on the following 2 Michigan possessions by defensive backs Don Rogers and Lupe Sanchez. In the final minute with 100,000 plus Michigan fans screaming their lungs out, Steve Smith drove the Wolverines all the way down to the Bruin 8 yard line. But the Bruin defense held as Smith’s three pass attempts fell harmlessly to the ground as the game clock ran down to 00:00. UCLA 31, Michigan 27. The Bruins would be ranked 9th in the land that Sunday.

The 1982 USC game: Morgan Delivers Roses in a Sack
This game would be remembered as one of the greatest tests for the new defensive coaches Bob Field and Greg Robinson. The Bruins entered the game ranked 11th in the country with an 8-1-1 record. Only a tie to Arizona (24-24) and a 3 point loss at Washington (7-10) blemished the Bruins record. USC was struggling this year with a 7-3 record. The Trojans were also ineligible for any bowl game due to NCAA sanctions. The Bruins would need to not only beat USC, and get some serious help from others in order to earn a trip to the Rose Bowl game on January 1st.

The pressure would be on the UCLA defensive the entire second half of the game because the Bruins scored on their first two possessions of the game. In the 3rd quarter Bruin DT Mark Walen recovered a Scott Tinsley fumble deep in SC territory, which resulted in a John Lee FG and a 20-10 Bruin lead. USC responded by backup quarterback Scott Tinsley marching the Trojan offense 55 yards for a 22 yrd FG by USC placekicker Steve Jordan to cut the lead down to 20-13. By this time the UCLA defense was exhausted, having been on the field most of the second half. The Bruin offense had been shutdown completely. Tom Ramsey and the explosive Bruin offense had gained one lousy first down the entire 2nd half! USC’s quarterback Tinsley drove the Trojans deep into Bruin territory and threw a miraculous touchdown pass to tight end Mark Boyer to come within 1 point of a tie and 2 points from victory. The score was USC 19, UCLA 20. Time out was called. With zero time remaining in the game, USC coach John Robinson chose to go for the 2 point conversion and the win. The Bruins’ defense of Bob Field and Greg Robinson proceeded to make one of the most remembered plays in UCLA football history. USC quarterback Scott Tinsley dropped back to pass, but before he could even get himself set, star Bruin nose guard Karl Morgan and outside linebacker Eugene Leoni crashed through the Trojan line and slammed Tinsley to the turf. Sack and game ovah. UCLA 20, USC 19.

That same fateful day, PAC-10 leader Washington (9-1) inexplicably lost the Apple Cup game to cross-state rival Washington State and was knocked completely out of Rose Bowl contention. The following Thanksgiving weekend the Arizona “Killer Bee” defense stunned 6th ranked, and formerly-Rose-Bowl-bound Arizona State, 28-18. Earlier that same Saturday California pulled off “The Play” against Stanford. The Washington State and Arizona victories catapulted the Bruins into a Rose Bowl rematch with Michigan, which the Bruins would win decisively - again with great defense - 24-14.

Bob Field’s and Greg Robinson’s first year at UCLA was a great success. Their 3-4 UCLA defense helped to win the Pac-10 conference championship and the Rose Bowl. Furthermore, the Bruins had won ten games in a season for the first time since 1946, gave up only 19 points per game against several record-breaking quarterbacks during the 1982 season including te likes of Wisconsin’s Randy Wright, Michigan’s Steve Smith, Arizona’s Tom Tunnicliffe, Arizona State’s Todd Hons, Washington’s Tim Cowan , California’s Gale Gilbert and Stanford’s John Elway.

The Bruins finished 10-1-1 and ranked 5th in the land in both polls.

UCLA Players Drafted in 1982

PosPlayerNFL Team
CBJimmy TurnerCincinnatti Bengals
DT/OTIrv EatmanKansas City Chiefs
WRDokie WilliamsL.A. Raiders
WRJo Jo TownsellN.Y. Jets
LBBlanchard MontgomerySan Francisco 49ers

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