By Chris Foster
7:07 PM PDT, September 16, 2013
This could be viewed as the next best thing to another week off for the UCLA football team, giving the Bruins more than two weeks to prepare for the Pac-12 Conference opener at Utah.
Coach Jim Mora might scoff at the thought, and there might be a stern look peering out from beneath the brim of his tightly attached baseball cap if asked, but facts are hard to ignore.
The Bruins should get a light workout from New Mexico State on Saturday night at the Rose Bowl. The Aggies are 0-3 and have lost 14 consecutive games. They have not had a winning season since 2002. The matchup was so unappealing to television executives from ESPN and Fox that it was turned over to the Pac-12 Networks.
So it was left to Mora to set the bar.
"We have to find a way to get focused for this game and find a way to play better," Mora said. "There are a lot of areas for improvement on this football team. We've got a vision here of what we want to be and we've got to work at that every day."
The blistering pace at which the Bruins dispatched Nebraska in Lincoln on Saturday was an accomplishment to savor. Beyond the fact the Bruins won, it was how and where they won, and how that bodes for them in the future.
"It showed us that we can win on the road in a tough environment against a good team," Mora said. "So when we go to some of these places we have to go to this year, having that in our back pocket to draw from is a positive. We know we can handle it."
Down the schedule road, there will be a lot to handle.
The Bruins play at No. 5 Stanford (Oct. 19) and No. 2 Oregon (Oct. 26), and also play at Utah, Arizona and across town at the Coliseum against USC.
UCLA has been outscored, 75-12, in its last two visits to Salt Lake City. The Bruins haven't won in Tucson since 2003 and at the Coliseum since 1997.
"We all saw the schedule before the season and we understood it wasn't the greatest," quarterback Brett Hundley said.
The Nebraska experience can now be drawn on like an annuity.
"I don't think we'll get another place like Lincoln," Hundley said. "Obviously, everyone thinks of Oregon, and that is a tough place to play. But Nebraska is the same type of environment as Oregon, but you've got 92,000 people instead of 60,000."
But first things first. New Mexico State has not beaten a team from a Bowl Championship Series conference since slipping past Minnesota, 28-21, in September 2011. The Gophers had a 3-9 record that season.
Said Mora: "You certainly could understand a hangover. We can't let that happen and be the team we want to be. I think we've got a coaching staff capable of pushing kids out of any hangover effect."
It won't just be coaches doing the pushing, Hundley said.
"The team leadership, including myself, will remind young guys that everyone at this level is a big-time player, even if their record might not show it," Hundley said.
Anthony Barr is recognized
Linebacker Anthony Barr was chosen Pac-12 defensive player of the week. Barr had 11 tackles and forced three fumbles against Nebraska. He had two tackles for losses totaling 20 yards.
Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times