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UCLA win special for `D' coach

This loss would have haunted UCLA defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti for the rest of his coaching career.

But he didn't lose.

Aliotti, the former Oregon defensive coordinator, escaped having to deal with a loss to his former team in his first meeting against the Ducks since he coached Oregon's Gang Green defense into the Rose Bowl in 1995 under head coach Rich Brooks.

Aliotti left the Rose Bowl quickly after UCLA held on to defeat Oregon, 41-38, in a classic finish Saturday before 75,367 fans in this ancient, but restored venue that still hosts the Rose Bowl game every year. All of those fans sat through four hours of searing pressure as the Bruins and Ducks traded leads and emotional swings in more than 60 minutes of hard-hitting, intense football.

In the end, Oregon came so close to extending its perfect start to 6-0, but the Ducks couldn't re-start their offense in the overtime, when they took the ball at the UCLA 25.

Quarterback Akili Smith was sacked twice in the overtime by UCLA linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo as Bruin fans screamed for joy in the packed stadium.

Aliotti opted to return to the Pac-10 this year and join the talent-rich Bruins to lead their defense as coordinator after spending three years as an assistant with the St. Louis Rams.

He found out Saturday that if the Bruins do indeed have an edge in talent over these game and together Ducks, it didn't show much as a warm sun baked down on the Rose Bowl's fast, grass track.

As the teams battled through 60 minutes of regulation time and into overtime before the Bruins emerged with the win on Chris Sailer's 24- yard field goal, it became apparent this Oregon team is even more special than we thought after it won five straight games to open the season.

They have a belief in themselves, said Oregon head coach Mike Bellotti. They believe they can make plays. And they went out and did it all day today. We want to walk out of here still feeling that belief.

After falling behind 24-7 in the second quarter, Oregon scored 24 straight points to take a 31-24 lead early in the fourth quarter and set up fireworks that made this game seem like is just would not end.

When it finally did end, Oregon had 438 total yards and UCLA 547 in the battle of the fastest guns in the West.

Oregon quarterback Akili Smith, under extreme pressure all day from Aliotti's defense, completed 15 of 37 passes for 221 yards and three touchdowns.

But UCLA senior Cade McNown out-gunned him with 20 completions in 36 throws for 395 yards and three touchdowns, although he threw two interceptions.

I'm not that happy with how I played and there are no moral wins here today, said Smith. We had our chances to win and we gave it away.

Three lost fumbles by Oregon tailback Reuben Droughns didn't help. Even despite the miscues, and playing with an injured ankle, Droughns rushed for 172 yards on 25 carries and one touchdown. He was the horse Aliotti's defense could not tackle or contain consistently.

`I told Reuben he had to stop fumbling, said Smith. It was killing us. But it was one of those days. He was running hard but he kept losing the ball.

And with that, the Ducks lost their first game. They may make USC pay for it next Saturday at Autzen Stadium.

We'll be up for it, said Griffin. SC is another good team. We proved today we can play with the No. 2 team in the nation. We should have won.

Randy Hammericksen is the Mail Tribune's sports columnist. He can be reached at 776-4499.