Friday, December 13, 2002
Mitchell shows who the best Freddie is
By Marc Connolly
PASADENA, Calif. -- If Ryan McCann was looking for a pat on the back for his quarterbacking from Bob Toledo, he'd better stand in line.
"Freddie Mitchell might be our best quarterback," said UCLA's head coach.
Hey, and why not? His perfectly placed 31-yard tear-drop pass to fellow wide receiver Brian Poli-Dixon on a reverse in the first quarter gave the Bruins the lead and the momentum. After all, no one can call this junior flanker's arm a fluke. Upping his career total to 4-of-5 passing for 144 yards and three touchdowns, Mitchell's exploits on the trick play with the score knotted at 7-7 was eerily similar to what happened almost two years ago to the date.
"It reminded me of the Texas game," said a boisterous Mitchell amid a joyous scene in the UCLA locker room after the Bruins defeated Alabama 35-24 on Saturday at the Rose Bowl. "Same place on the field, same yardage and everything."
On that day, Sept. 12 against Texas in 1998, Mitchell threw a 34-yard touchdown pass in addition to catching four balls for 108 yards, gaining 30 yards on a reverse and returning three kickoffs for 78 yards in his Bruins debut.
His pass to Poli-Dixon was three yards shorter, but no play could have been executed as well as the one Mitchell came through on Saturday.
On a 2nd-and-7 at the Alabama 31, McCann handed the ball off to workhorse DeShaun Foster, who had already torched the Tide's defense for 28 of his game-high 187 yards rushing on that drive. Still between the hashes, Foster surprised a swarming group of linebackers by handing it off to Mitchell, who showed Peyton Manning-like form in releasing a soft ball in the smoothest of motions. Seconds later, recipient Poli-Dixon tightroped the back right corner of the end zone after grabbing it out of the sky over his left shoulder.
"I knew it was perfect when it left my hands," said Mitchell.
"You want to look at a pretty pass, that was his," said his quarterback for the at least the next two weeks, McCann. "I've got to take notes from that."
It's just what Mitchell guaranteed Toledo during game preparations.
"We went over it about three times during the week, and some of them were short and some of them were wobbly," said Mitchell, who led UCLA with 38 receptions for 533 yards in '99 after missing all but two games in '98 with a broken right femur. "I said, 'Hey Coach, don't worry about it. In the game, it'll be there,' and it happened."
Fact is, there's not much this kid from Lakeland, Fla. can't do. He won a share of the Pac-10 title and reached the NCAA Super Regionals with the baseball team this past spring. Though only 6-foot tall, he can dunk a basketball, and some say he'd be Steve Lavin's point guard if he chose to play three sports. He's also an aspiring actor (who isn't in Westwood) who appeared on "Pacific Blue" with one of his best friends, Mario Lopez (better known as A.C. Slater from "Saved by the Bell").
By the way, he plays a little receiver too. If you want to know how well, just ask him.
"I got mad. Everyone was talking about Freddie Milons -- Freddie this and Freddie that. I can play this game, too," said Mitchell, who joined Milons on the preseason "Watch List" for the Biletnikoff Award, which goes to the nation's top receiver. "I work out three times a day. I mean, nobody works harder than I do."
Mitchell strut his stuff throughout the day, catching four passes for 91 yards. His exploits came after his forced-into-action teammate had a talk with him moments into the game.
"McCann came and put his arm around me and said, 'Fred, you're gonna have to do your thing. I said, 'Hey, just put the ball in the air and I'll make it happen.'"
That's exactly what transpired on his longest reception -- the 46-yard bomb he hauled in for a TD during the fourth quarter proved to be the game-winner.
"It was a pump-and-go pass and Freddie sold it great," said McCann.
As McCann rolled left and faked the pass, Mitchell juked Hirchel Bolden out of his knickers with a stutter step and quick glance back over his left shoulder. By the time he hit full speed again, Mitchell had a three-step lead on his man. If not for the wobbly, underthrown pass, he would have breezed untouched into the Promised Land. Instead, he dragged Bolden with him for the last five yards of his excursion.
"I hadn't seen the end zone in a while (two years), so the whole team could have jumped on my back. I was gonna score," said Mitchell on his first TD reception since that Texas game nearly two years ago.
As he did after his passing TD, Mitchell erupted into a Deion Sanders-like celebration. He explained that his camera-pointing, finger-waving exhibition wasn't showboating. It was a release -- a release of years of frustration -- for breaking his leg during UCLA's glorious run in '98 as well as for last year's woeful 4-7 mark.
"All the doubts and everything just came out," said Mitchell, who joked that he also wants to punt against Fresno State next weekend. "I was just ready to roll at that point and show them which one the best receiver was. I left it all out on the field.
"We've been underrated as receivers all along, and I think the world knows now that Freddie Mitchell and Brian Poli-Dixon are for real."
Marc Connolly is a senior writer for ABC Sports Online.
|UCLA's Freddie Mitchell hauls in a touchdown against Alabama. He also threw for a score in the Bruins' victory.|