UCLA – Good Reason To Feel Uncertain About Field Goal Attempt

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UCLA first-year head coach EDWIN C. “Babe” HORRELL is flanked by the Bruins co-captains for the 1939 NCAA football season, right halfback DALE GILMORE (# 25) and right guard JOHN FRAWLEY (# 12).
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As previously discussed, hindsight does not a good historian make and so, therefore, it is necessary to try and look at the UCLA BRUINS’ monumental decision towards the end of the de facto Pacific Coast Conference championship game to forgo a field goal attempt from the USC TROJANS’ 4-yard line through some sort of lens circa 1939.

Now, to review the situation at hand rather late in the fourth quarter, the football had been spotted “directly in front of the standards (goalposts) and in perfect postition for a placekick,” as Ronald W. Wagoner of the United Press noted in his post-game report. There was no gusting wind or pouring rain or any other weather issue to be concerned with. And, yet, the majority of the eleven UCLA players in the huddle did not want any part of kicking what amounted to an extra point from precisely two yards farther back than normal!

The truth of the matter was, though, it would have been very difficult for anybody on the entire Bruins’ squad to be overflowing with the utmost of confidence in the team’s placekicking at that exact moment in time. As it was, despite being the # 9 ranked in the entire nation according to the latest Associated Press poll, UCLA had missed their last five extra point attempts in succession during their last two Pacific Coast Conference games against the Oregon State Beavers (13-13 tie) and the Washington State Cougars (24-7 win), respectively. Furthermore, after sophomore fullback LEO CANTOR scored the tying touchdown against Oregon State with roughly one minute remaining in the fourth quarter, the Bruins might have won but right guard JOHN FRAWLEY, the senior co-captain from Miles City, Montana, let the Beavers of the proverbial hook by botching the extra point kick.

Although UCLA right halfback JACKIE ROBINSON had excelled all throughout the 1939 NCAA campaign in the punt return department, the simple fact was that the placekicking element was, indeed, a very weak link in the Bruins special teams chain that season :

1939 West Coast Placekicking (final season stats)
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Stanford Indians …………………….. 7/7 XPs ……. 100.00% ……… 1 FG
Santa Clara Broncos ……………… 12/17 XPs ……… 70.59% ……… 1 FG
Washington State Cougars ……… 7/10 XPs …….. 70.00% ……… 0 FG
USC Trojans ………………………… 17/27 XPs ……… 62.96% ……… 0 FG
Oregon State Beavers …………… 14/24 XPs ……… 58.33% ……… 0 FG
Washington Huskies ………………. 6/11 XPs ……… 54.55% ………. 1 FG
Oregon Ducks ………………………… 8/15 XPs ……… 53.33% ……… 3 FG
UCLA BRUINS …………………….. 10/19 XPs ……… 52.63% ……… 1 FG
California Golden Bears ………….. 4/14 XPs …….. 28.57% ……… 1 FG

(Note — included above are the eight Pacific Coast Conference teams eligible to play in the annual Rose Bowl Game at Pasadena plus the West Coast’s so-called “King of Independents”, the Santa Clara Broncos, who concluded the 1939 NCAA season ranked # 14 in the final Associated Press poll)

Of course, the UCLA Bruins had not had all that much success with their placekicking during the preceding term, either. Indeed, the Bruins converted just 53.85% of their extra point attempts (14 of 24) in 1938, this even after changing its preferred kicker early in the season. UCLA also could have knocked off pesky Oregon State with a late “kick from placement” in the fourth quarter against the Beavers that year, too, but a 27-yard field goal try on the last play of the game from Frawley, who had displaced fullback BILL OVERLIN to become the Bruins’ first choice, was agonizingly wide.

There had been some hope before the 1939 NCAA campaign that the recruitment of the multi-talented Robinson, who kicked 20 extra points and one field goal during his last season at Pasadena Junior College, might elevate the overall quality of UCLA’s placekicking. And the Bruins new right halfback made good on his first two conversion attempts against the Washington Huskies and Stanford Indians, respectively, to begin, as well. But then Robinson failed on his only extra point try versus the Oregon Ducks and also missed on a pair of extra point kicks against the Washington State, with the second attempt having been blocked by the Cougars.

1939 UCLA BRUINS : Extra points & Field goals
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Texas Christian …….. Frawley 0/1
Washington ………….. Robinson 1/1, Kyzivat 1/1
Stanford ……………….. Frawley 1/1, Robinson 1/1
Montana ……………….. Frawley 2/3
Oregon ………………….. Robinson 0/1, Frawley 1/1 …….. Sommers 40 FG made
California ………………. Frawley 2/3
Santa Clara …………….. none …………………………………….. Sommers 38 FG missed
Oregon State ………….. Frawley 1/2
Washington State …… Frawley 0/1, Robinson 0/2, Kvitky 0/1
USC ……………………….. none

So, having taking into account all this background information, it is not so hard to see how a majority of UCLA players would not have wanted to try what, in modern terms, would be known as the classic example of a “chip shot” field goal.

As is widely known, the indecisive Bruins finally settled on what should be done about fourth & goal from the Trojans 4-yard line by taking a taking a vote of the eleven players on the field. It was UCLA quarterback NED MATTHEWS, the normal play-caller in the huddle for the Westwooders, who broke a deadlock and cast the deciding ballot. Bruins left end WOODY STRODE discusses this particular instance of democracy in his book, “Goal Dust : The Warm Candid Memoirs Of A Pioneer Black Athlete And Actor”, but, unfortunately for the sake of history, does not provide a breakdown of how each individual player voted nor does he make it known what his own preference was.

What is truly astonishing about this whole episode is not so much that the UCLA players passed on a short field goal attempt as it is that Bruins first-year head coach BABE HORRELL seems to have had no pre-arranged strategy & tactics for coping with this very situation all worked out in advance.

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