As the cannon fodder exited the Rose Bowl Saturday, UCLA was ready to enter Pac-12 play.
True, the Bruins will have to wait 11 days before opening conference play against Utah. That’s far too much time for UCLA players and coaches to digest the 59-13 beating administered to New Mexico State. Eleven minutes probably would be enough.
The short version:
The Bruins looked ragged at times and sloppy in other moments, finishing with three turnovers. And it didn’t matter. UCLA was a 42-point favorite and covered despite the uneven play, rolling up 694 total yards.
“Sometimes teams have nights aren’t so great,” said defensive end Cassius Marsh, who had two tackles for a loss, including one sack. “I’m glad it came in a game like this instead of a game — no offense, New Mexico State —that matter more.”
Games that matter more being in 11 days.
The No. 13 Bruins (3-0) could turn their attention to returning to the Pac-12 championship game. UCLA lost in the title game to Oregon in 2011 and Stanford last season.
“We’re looking at the bigger picture,” Marsh said. “We want to win a national championship. We want to win a Pac-12 championship.”
The Bruins were picked to win the South Division by the media. They also have one of the tougher schedules, having to play at No. 5 Stanford and No. 2 Oregon.
“Last year, we felt we got a little complacent,” receiver Shaquelle Evans said. “This season, we know that it’s just getting started. Our attitude has to be, ‘This one’s over. Let’s move on to the next one.’ “
UCLA has not won a conference title since 1998, which was the last time the Bruins went to the Rose Bowl game. The 14-year drought is the longest in program history.
The first step in ending it begins in Salt Lake City, where UCLA has been outscored, 75-12, in their last two visits.
“We were defending champs a year ago,” linebacker Jordan Zumwalt said. “We’re defending champs now. But we don’t look back on last year. We try to only look at what’s ahead.”
Coach Jim Mora probably will make them look back a little.
For all the gaudy numbers the Bruins put up Saturday, their play was spotty. Quarterback Brett Hundley had two passes intercepted. The Bruins had 15 penalties for 138 yards, including an unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty on Mora.
“What bothers are the unforced errors,” Mora said. “We had offsides on special teams. We had a delay of game. We had a false start. I don’t like those. The aggressive penalties, you kind have to live with those sometimes.”
Said Marsh: “These kind of mistakes against better teams are not OK. I’m glad we got it out of our system now.”
The Aggies were a great way to cleanse.
Southeastern Conference teams schedule opponents with words like “Southwestern” or “Eastern” or “International” in their names. At least, New Mexico State resides in the Football Bowl Subdivision. In theory, that means the Aggies play football at the highest level. In practice, well, …