To Rush The Punt Or Return It, That Was UCLA’s Real Question

ucla-easley-all-america
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Although the playing rules of contemporary college football had changed radically since the time that All-America left halfback KENNY WASHINGTON was starring on both sides of the football for the UCLA BRUINS in the late 1930s, four decades later the Westwood staff under the direction of head coach Terry Donahue faced a very similar dilemma as had their predecessors in terms of how best to deploy three-time consensus All-America safety KENNY EASLEY in any given punting situation.

The legendary Easley, of course, is UCLA Bruins’ career leader for interceptions (19) and is the only player in history to be named All-PAC 8/10/12 Conference four years in a row. The former high school quarterback coming out of Chesapeake, Virginia, also still ranks 9th on the all-time UCLA list in terms of number of punts returned (45) and had a respectable average of 10.1 yards per attempt. Furthermore, the Easley did very well when used by the Bruins as a kickoff return man (14 ret, 337 yrd, 24.1 avg) during his junior year in 1979.

But Easley, who currently stands fourth on the all-time UCLA chart having been credited with 374 tackles while on defense for the Bruins, had also shown an ability to get in the opponent’s backfield ever since registering two QB sacks during his freshman season in 1977. Not surprisingly, the All-America safety also proved to be a dangerous special teams performer when placed on the end of the line in a punt return situation. So Donahue and the Bruins coaching staff were constantly presented with a ‘difficult’ decision to make — should Kenny Easley try to block the punt or run it back?

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ucla-easley-punt-blk-Wash
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Washington Huskies sophomore punter AARON WILSON has his punt blocked by leaping UCLA Bruins safety KENNY EASLEY (# 5) during the second quarter of the newly-expanded Pacific Ten Athletic Conference’s very first official football game, a noteworthy event which was witnessed by the crowd of 54,000 waterlogged spectators at rain-soaked Husky Stadium in Seattle.
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September 9, 1978 – (# 12) UCLA BRUINS at (# 11) WASHINGTON HUSKIES
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UCLA sophomore free safety KENNY EASLEY is the unquestioned star of this nationally-televised show as the visiting Bruins fail to score an offensive touchdown against the Washington Huskies but still knock off the defending Rose Bowl champion 10-7 on a very wet carpet in the Pacific Northwest.

The most crtical play of the contest arrived in the second quarter when Washington attempted to punt the football from its own eight-yard line. Easley, who was named All-Pacific Eight Conference as a freshman after making six interceptions for UCLA the season before, came flying in off the left end of the Bruins’ line and foiled Washington punter AARON WILSON’s bid to boot the pigskin far away. The wet ball was eventually recovered in the end zone by UCLA reserve cornerback BRIAN BAGGOT for a pivotal touchdown that extended the Bruins’ lead to an insurmountable 10-0 lead.

The Huskies pulled one touchdown back before the halftime whistle and would limit their guests to just three first downs and 67 total yards of offense in the final thirty minutes. But the Washington attack would be undone by a combination of penalties and turnovers, two of which were fourth quarter interceptions. One of those thefts was made by Easley, who was formally recognized as the Defensive Player of the Game by ABC Sports Television, and the other, by Bruins linebacker GLENN WINDOM, came near midfield with just 42 seconds left on the stadium clock.

game statistics
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net yards rushing ……………………….. UCLA 144 – Wash 171
net yards passing ……………………….. UCLA 16 – Wash 89
passes completed / attempted …….. UCLA 1/4 – Wash 9/16
passes intercepted by …………………. UCLA 2 – Wash 0
opponents fumbles recovered …….. UCLA 2 – Wash 2
penalty yards lost ……………………….. UCLA 15 – Wash 61

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