JOE MICHAEL (MICKEY) RIPLEY 1948-2019
Oklahoma 38 – UCLA 3
September 6, 1986 ▪ at Norman ▪ Attendance 75,684
Defending national champion Oklahoma was named as the AP's preseason #1 team for the second straight year, garnering 44 first place votes out of a possible 59 to easily out-distance #2 Michigan who had six, as coach Barry Switzer returned 18 starters. Back on offense were ten, including sophomore quarterback Jamelle Holieway and the rest of the toned, honed wishbone backfield that rushed for 336 yards per game. Eight starters returned on defense, minus two departing All-Americans, that had made NCAA history by finishing first or second in all four major categories, and it was still a formidable unit led by menacing brash junior linebacker Brian Bosworth.
The Sooners immediately faced a tough test in the season's opener, as they hosted fourth-ranked UCLA in the first-ever meeting between the two schools. It was easy to see why the Bruins were rated so high, even collecting first place nods from three voters. A year earlier, the Bruins had posted a 9-2-1 record, were Pac-10 conference champions for the third time in four seasons, won the Rose Bowl for the third time during that span, lest us not forget to mention an '85 Fiesta Bowl win also, and finished ranked #7 in the country, all with a talented group of underclassmen. They should get nothing but better, having recruited one of the best crops of freshmen in the country, while their biggest loss was All-American place kicker John Lee. Ironically, it was also the school that former Sooners quarterback Troy Aikman had just transferred to, but NCAA rules required that he must sit out a year.
The Bruins were under 11th-year coach Terry Donahue, who had fashioned 80- 31-6 record and was one of three coaches to win four straight New Years bowl games from '83-'86, joining Bobby Dodd, five with Georgia Tech from '52-'56, and Bear Bryant, four with Alabama from '78-'81. In '85, UCLA had led the nation in rush defense, giving up an average of only 70.3 yards per game, and finished seventh in total defense. It was an experienced unit that returned eight starters, led by linebackers Ken Norton, Jr. and Carnell Lake, strong safety Craig Rutledge, and free safety James Washington.
Directing the offense would be fifth-year senior quarterback Matt Stevens, whose baptism had come in the '86 Rose Bowl win over Iowa when he subbed and threw for 189 yards. Behind him was a slew of talented running backs, but the bulk of the load would fall on Donahue's "co-tailbacks", junior Gaston Green, who had rushed for 712 yards in only eight-plus games in '85 due to a knee injury, and sophomore Eric Ball, whose 227-yard performance in the Rose Bowl as a frosh, when Gaston was forced to the sideline with a pulled hamstring, was the second highest total in the annals of the "Grand Daddy". Leading them through the holes would be junior fullback Mel Farr, Jr.
Oklahoma started slowly, they didn't touch the football until the 2:34 mark, but once they did, they never trailed. After a first quarter 29-yard field goal from Tim Lashar put the Sooners up, the only scoring in the quarter, UCLA cornerback Darryl Henley returned an interception 72 yards, where David Freeney kicked a 28-yarder to tie the game on the fourth play of the second. From there, the Sooners' defense took control of the game, and the wishbone got cranked up.
Midway through the second period, Holieway capped a 12-play, 80-yard drive with a six-yard keeper around the right side for a touchdown that put the Sooners up 10-3. Then, a few minutes later, cornerback Scott Garl intercepted another Stevens pass, his third errant toss of the game, at the Bruin 37. Six plays later, right tailback Patrick Collins swept around the left side on a pitch from Holieway and went across from a yard out. Lashar's kick made it 17-3 with 2:15 left in the half.
The statistics in the locker room were embarrassing, and it proved the Sooners' dominance. Oklahoma had out-rushed the Bruins, 219-25, and out-gained them, 228-89, in controlling the ball for 2/3 of the half. Garl, strong safety Sonny Brown, linebacker Paul Migliazzo, and free safety Rickey Dixon each had a first half interception, which saw the Bruins in Oklahoma territory only once.
In the second half, Bosworth and company continued the charge. The strong Oklahoma offensive line had completely worn down the UCLA defense when Leon Perry, a powerful, fast, 225-pound fullback, ran up the middle and through the Bruins for a 24-yard touchdown halfway through the quarter, making it 24-3.
Sensing the game well in hand, Switzer called off the first stringers. Sophomore backup quarterback Eric Mitchel continued the thrashing though. From the UCLA ten-yard line, he eluded the grasp of Lake, who grabbed him and spun him around 360-degrees in an attempt to slam Mitchel to the turf, but the quarterback slipped away and tripped lightly into the end zone. That made it 31-3.
Meanwhile, UCLA continued to be unable to move the ball consistently, and the Sooners added three more touchdowns. The Bruins never again penetrated into Oklahoma territory until the final period, and that drive, which reached the Sooner 47, ended with an interception by free safety David Vickers, Steven's fifth to equal a school record. Mitchel had added another one-yard touchdown run to close out the scoring, and the 38-3 pasting successfully opened defense of Oklahoma's '85 national title.
UCLA suffered its worst opening game loss in 56 years, since a 52-0 loss to USC in the '30 opener, and it tied the second-worst setback in Donahue's 11 years in Los Angeles. "They were obviously a vastly superior team in every category," Donahue said. "They are extremely physical. They can play great defense along with great offense. Their kicking game is as good as I've seen."
He continued, "They are a very powerful and unusually strong team. We obviously have a lot of work cut out for us when we start comparing us to someone Oklahoma. Obviously we were embarrassed by a much superior football team in every way."
"What happened today was what I hoped would happen, that our offensive line would dominate the ballgame," said Switzer afterwards.
Oklahoma's unstoppable wishbone, behind Holieway and fellow sophomore quarterback Eric Mitchel, tore through the Bruins' supposed tough defense, rushing for 470 yards on 75 carries, averaging an impressive 6.3 yards per carry. They accounted for all but nine yards of the total offense, as Holieway completed just one pass among his seven attempts. The Sooners were so dominating, and broke through the Bruins' defensive line so often, that Washington led UCLA with 15 tackles, from his free safety position.
Said Holieway, "It was a lot easier than I thought it would be. After the first series, I felt we could move at will. And we are geared to go out and put points on the board."
"We were in total control of both phases," said Switzer afterwards. "We knew we were much bigger and stronger in the offensive line for our style of play. Our speed and quickness was a factor and we dominated the ballgame from the first series."
He continued, "Our defense played well enough to have a shutout. We were fortunate enough to stop their running game and play five defensive backs most of the time."
Defensively, Oklahoma's defense smothered the UCLA running game, allowing just 34 yards on 24 carries, and 155 yards overall. Green managed 40 yards on 13 carries, Ball was sidelined with an injury, and Stevens was under siege most of the day.
Source: Jeff Linkowski