McKay's Corner UCLA edition

"College Football has great value. Take the USC-UCLA game, for example. We get 80,000 people together, 40,000 of them knowing who one coaching idiot is and 40,000 knowing who the other idiot is. I mean, they have decided on two idiots. That's got to be great group therapy."

John McKay's thoughts on what quite possibly was the biggest game in USC football history, 1967 vs UCLA:

       "Football was a different game when we won our next national championship in 1967. The two-platoon rule was back, players were bigger, and the quality of play was better. Defense had become more refined, because there were now full-time defensive players. In 1967 our defense allowed only 87 points. Until 1972, it was our best defensive unit.
       Our 10-1 record was the beginning of a three-year hot streak, resulting in a 29-2-2 record, final rankings of first, fourth, and third and three straight Rose Bowls, giving us a record four straight.
       We had also gone to Pasadena at the end of the season in 1966, but a three game losing streak climaxed by a loss to Purdue in the bowl did not leave us with pleasant memories over the winter.
       A new recruit had visited our losing Rose Bowl locker room to try and cheer us up. His name was OJ Simpson.
       Jay said to one of the players he knew:
       "Don't worry about this loss. We'll be back next year."
       He brought a host of talented players back with him. We had super defensive personnel, like ends Tim Rossovich and Jimmy Gunn, linebacker Adrian Young, middle guard Ralph Oliver and several good tackles. Young and Rossovich were All-Americans, and Mike Battle was one the next year.
       Outland Trophy winner Ron Yary at tackle led the offensive line, which also had two very good tight ends in Bob Klein and Bob Miller. World-record hurdler Earl McCullouch was at split end, Jimmy Lawrence was a versatile flanker, Steve Sogge gave us good leadership at quarterback, and there was Simpson, who simply gave us the national championship with a 64-yard touchdown run against UCLA.
       OJ averaged 154 yards rushing a game in 1967, toping 150 seven times, including a one game high of 235 yards. When he sprained his foot against Oregon, reserve Steve Grady came in at tailback to run 108 yards that day and 103 the next week against California. Even without OJ, the old I-formation kept working.
       The two biggest games were the 24-7 defeat of Notre Dame, USC's first win at South Bend since 1939, and the 21-20 victory over UCLA that won everything.
       We were 8-0 when we were dealt that 3-0 upset by Oregon State. On the way home many of the players were crying on the plane. Some of them swore the Oregon State field goal was no good.
       "Listen," I said. "If the referee puts both hands over his head, he's not praying to the Lord. And the referee put up both hands after that kick."
       Danny Scott, our fullback, came over to me and asked if I thought we still had a chance at the Rose Bowl and the national title.
       "You better believe it," I said.

       The same afternoon UCLA had smothered Washington, 48 to 0, to become the nation's top ranked team. We fell to third. Next week would be the showdown. It was USC against UCLA for the national championship, the Rose Bowl, and the ownership of Los Angeles. And we had lost two in a row to the Bruins. They were 7-0-1 and we were 8-1.
       UCLA was a versatile team, led by Heisman Trophy winner Gary Beban at quarterback, and All-American linebacker Don Manning on defense. The Bruins went in to the game with two big advantages: they could clinch the Rose Bowl with a tie, and they had a tremendous long-range kicker in Zenon Andrusyshun.
       As we studied films, however, we discovered that Zenon's soccer-style place kicks were line-drive, low-trajectory shots that barely cleared the line of scrimmage. So by game time we had adjusted our defense against his kicks, overloading five men on the right side of our defensive line that he had to aim through. Whenever he kicked, 6-8 Billy Hayhoe leaped up in the path of the ball. The tackles and the middle guard were instructed to charge through the gaps in the Bruin line with their hands up, even if they were on the ground or blocked. The linemen who didn't rush joined Hayhoe in jumping with their hands in the air.
       On that memorable Coliseum Saturday afternoon, Hayhoe blocked one of Andrusyshun's field-goal attempts, Tony Terry knocked down another, and the rattled Bruin kicker missed still another. More importantly, Hayhoe slightly tipped Andrusyshun's third conversion attempt, which sailed wide to the left.
       Of all the great games we've had with UCLA, this one remains my favorite. The lead changed hands four times, and the score was tied twice. Both teams played fanatically.
       For example, Jimmy Gunn, our sophomore defensive end, tore ligaments in his knee in the first quarter - he later needed surgery - and sat out most of the game. Although he had trouble running, we didn't realized how badly he was hurt, and when he insisted on returning in the fourth quarter with us ahead by a point, we sent him back in. On that bad leg, Gunn rushed Beban and threw him for losses three times in the last five minutes as UCLA struggled to catch up.
       Although Beban - who was playing with torn rib cartilage himself - passed for 301 yards and two touchdowns, we sacked him for 80 yards in losses. And, on the last play of the first quarter, cornerback Pat Cashman picked off Gary's pass in the left flat and ran untouched 55 yards to score for a 7-7 tie.
          In the second quarter I called a play I felt would surprise UCLA. It was a reverse to McCullouch, who had been switched to flanker for the injured Lawrence, and Earl ran 52 yards to set up the first of Simpson's two touchdowns. Number one by OJ was a 13-yarder that some coaches have said is the greatest run they've ever seen. When Jay took Sogge's handoff, he disappeared into a crowd of blue Bruin jerseys, but he broke six different tackles to make the end zone. So we led at the half, 14-7, and I thought that we had established momentum. We had taken away their running game. In fact, they rushed for only 43 yards all day.
       Beban's passing was another story. He struck back with a 53-yard scoring bomb in the third quarter and a 20-yard touchdown pass with 3:19 gone in the fourth quarter for a 20-14 UCLA lead. It was after that last touchdown that Andrusyshun, assisted by Hayhoe, missed the conversion.
       The Bruins kicked off, and I sent senior Toby Page in at quarterback to replace Sogge. I wanted to shale some life into our attack. Simpson, who was to gain 177 yards on 30 carries, had been having a good day, despite a curious ploy by UCLA. Every time the Bruins tackled Jay they helped him up immediately. I guess they didn't want him to lie on the ground and rest.
       "That didn't bother me," said OJ later. "I was glad they helped me up. I was getting a little tired."
       Not too tired to win a national championship.

       A minute after UCLA's final touchdown, we were faced with a third-and-eight play on our 36. I called a pass, but ordered Page to audibilize to Simpson if they double-covered our receivers. Toby lined up the team, looked at UCLA's defense, and handed off to Simpson.
       A good back might have made the eight yards for a first down. OJ made it to the Rose Bowl.
       He faked to the right side, then cut left, getting good blocks from guard Steve Lehmer and tackle Mike Taylor. He twisted through a crowd of Bruins and as end Ron Drake and center Dick Allmon also threw blocks, shot down the left sideline dodging more tacklers - he almost fell once - and then, right in front of me, exploded toward the middle of the field and was gone. McCullouch went with him, screening off UCLA's safetyman, who tried in vain to pursue.
       As OJ touched the end zone after running 64 yards, my mouth fell open. "That's the damndest run I've ever seen," I whispered to myself.
       Rikki Aldridge kicked the extra point, we held UCLA off, and we won the national championship, 21-20.
       Since the alumni had given me a swimming pool for winning USC's last national championship, I was asked what I expected now.
       "I am hoping," I said, "to get the light fixed on the front porch."

Some of John McKay's thoughts on UCLA 

       "College Football has great value. Take the USC-UCLA game, for example. We get 80,000 people together, 40,000 of them knowing who one coaching idiot is and 40,000 knowing who the other idiot is. I mean, they have decided on two idiots. That's got to be great group therapy."

       Coach McKay's first UCLA game: "My first big victory at USC was a defensive one - an upset of UCLA in 1960. Out of it came a new three year contract, and it occurred when I was very unpopular with USC's fans. Our record was 3-5.
       My hiring was a disappointment to many, because I wasn't a "name" coach. In addition, people figured we'd have a great team in 1960, because we were coming off an 8-2 season in 1959 and had people like All-Americans Mike and Marlin McKeever returning. Playboy magazine, in fact, picked us as number one in the country.
       Playboy, however, knows a lot more about the female formation than the T-formation. In 1960, I could outrun our backs, and I was a 37 year old. Dave Levy, the first assistant coach I hired, said we might have trouble against the Long Beach Poly team he had just coached to the Southern California prep championship.
       But while we recruited for the future, we were stuck with the present, and no sooner than did the 1960 season begin than we were hit with a flurry of injuries. Before playing Baylor, I announced that we were so short of players that my son, Richie, one and a half years old, was going to start for us. Richie immediately slipped in the bathroom, cut his chin and had to have four stitches.
       From that season I learned that we would have to be real deep in personnel to play USC's type of schedule."

       1962 playing for his first national championship: "UCLA was next, and the pressure of a possible national championship was starting to tell on our players. We were 8-0 and voted in to the Rose Bowl that week, but the conference delayed the announcement of the vote until after the game with the Bruins. At halftime, we trailed 3-0.
       This time I wasn't sure what to say. I thought of giving the players a loud harangue on their mistakes, but I figured the polls had them under enough pressure. So I took it easy, although I admit if I had an old Knute Rockne record, I would have played it.
       In the third quarter we drove to UCLA's 20 and lost the ball on a fumble. Later in the period, we got a break, recovering a Bruin fumble on their 21. We were on the UCLA three as the fourth quarter began. From there, Ben Wilson fought to the one on fourth down and missed a first down by inches. The score remained 3-0.
       UCLA punted on third down and Willie Brown made the first of two plays that helped save our national championship. The first was a spinning 18-yard punt return that brought the ball back to UCLA's 26.
       Two plays, however, gained two yards. On third and eight from the 24, Willie broke open a pass pattern in the end zone, but Pete Beatherd didn't see him and threw incomplete.
       I sent Bill Nelsen in to try the same play on fourth down. Willie went downfield again and Nelsen threw for him on the two yard line. The pass was very high, but somehow Willie went up a ladder of air and caught the ball just as his legs were jerked out from under him by UCLA defensive back Al Geverink. He came down on Geverink's back, clutching the ball in his right hand. It was an unbelievable catch.
       And it destroyed UCLA. On first down, Wilson boomed two yards for the touchdown that put us ahead 7-3, with ten minutes left, and the Bruins wilted. We drove 82 yards to score again with 35 seconds left, and won, 14-3.
       Louise Hunter, Corky's (Coach McKay's wife) mother, hugged me after the game. "Whew, I'm glad that's over," she said. "I couldn't sleep all week, worrying about UCLA."
       "But why?" I asked. "I didn't plan to use you."

       1969 Jones to Dickerson in the gloaming: "The 1969 team belonged to a sophomore quarterback Jimmy Jones, tailback Clarence Davis  and an aggressive defensive line known as the Wild Bunch. This was perhaps my most interesting team, and a pretty good one, although I believe it just wasn't better than many of its opponents. Yet we went unbeaten, powered past Michigan in the Rose Bowl for a 10-0-1 record and wound up as probably the most maligned unbeaten team in history.
       Two members of the Wild Bunch, end Jimmy Gunn and tackle Al Cowlings, were 1969 All-Americans, and the other end, Charlie Weaver, made it in 1970. Other members of the unit were middle guard Bubba Scott and tackle Tody Smith, Bubba Smith's younger brother.
       The "Wild Bunch" nickname just happened, inspired by the movie of the same name. Assistant coach Marv Goux, who handles the defensive line, looked at the guys one day in practice and said they were the meanest and wildest group he'd ever seen.
       "That's us, coach," grinned Cowlings, "the Wild Bunch."
       In a dramatic repeat of 1967, the season came down to the UCLA game. Both teams were unbeaten, with 8-0-1 records, but this time we could have clinched the Rose Bowl with a tie because the Bruins had a league tie, and our league record was perfect.
       Unlike us, they had beaten most of their opponents with relative ease - Tommy Prothro called it his best team - and were favored by two. Sharp shooting Dennis Dummit, who passed for 2,000 yards that season, was the quarterback.
       Three minutes into the first quarter, Dummit pitched out to halfback Greg Jones on a third-and-one play, and Jones threw a 41 yard touchdown pass. Since he couldn't afford a tie, Prothro gambled for a two point conversion, but Weaver knocked down Dummit's pass.
       For the next 54 minutes the Wild Bunch dominated the game. They were devastating. The Bunch threw Dummit for losses nine times, including three in a row at one point, intercepted two of his passes, broke up two more, caused three fumbles and forced Dummit into three other interceptions. Previously he had only five interceptions in nine games. He really hated Cowlings, who sacked him five times.
       We weren't moving much better. Jones missed all nine of his first half passes, and we scored just one touchdown, a 13-yard run by Davis. Ron Ayala's conversion gave us a 7-6 halftime lead.
       It was 7-6 for a long, long time. With only five minutes left in the game, Dummit suddenly connected on a 57 yard pass, and with three minutes left, he threw a 7-yarder for a touchdown. UCLA led for the Rose bowl 12-7. Dummit again tried to pass for two, but the Wild Bunch broke it up again by sacking him.
       So we behind, as usual, and, as usual, Jones found his arm. He completed three passes in a row, and we had a first down on the Bruin 43. Jimmy narrowly missed a bomb to the endzone, but on fourth down we were still on the 43. His desperate pass for Dickerson sailed over Sam's head at the 32.
       As it did, however, a Bruin cornerback tackled Dickerson, and as he fell, so did a referee's handkerchief for interference. The Cardiac Kids had a reprieve on the 32. And a first down.
       I knew what play I wanted. All season Dickerson had been our most explosive receiver, averaging 20 yards a catch. Sam's best pattern was a simple streak to the corner of the end zone.
       UCLA figured we might try the play, and they shot both linebackers to Dickerson's side on first down. But fullback Charlie Evans knocked down one, and Davis picked up the other. It was one on one, Dickerson and a UCLA safety deep in the corner of the endzone, and Jones laid the ball up in the darkness. Sam made a tremendous catch in the back of the end zone, just before going out of bounds, and we had exploded again, for a 13-12 lead with 1:32 left.
       Our team went crazy. They all ran to the end zone, where they were jumping up and down, hugging Sam, dancing and yelling. I was yelling too - yelling for a time out. This was no time for a celebration.
       UCLA still had Zenon Andrusyshun as a kicker, I wanted to tell my players to go for two points, instead of one. We could have lost on a field goal, 15-14.
       But the kicking unit lined up automatically, without hearing me, and Ayala kicked the conversion for a 14-12 lead. I settled for 14-12, because we won with it - our third straight victory over UCLA.
       "I've checked my heart," I said to Corky after the game, "and I don't have one."

All above from: McKay: A Coach's Story (1974) by John McKay & Jim Perry

RIP Coach McKay.
Fight On.      


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