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Bruins Need to Be Wired for Sound

Times Staff Writer

Thanks to a loss to Washington State -- which had dropped four in a row before defeating UCLA last week at the Rose Bowl -- the Bruins will have a tougher road to earn their pivotal sixth victory of the season.

UCLA (5-4, 3-3 in the Pacific 10) needs to win one of its final two games, against teams that are a combined 10-2 in the conference, to have a winning season and become eligible to play in a bowl game.

First up, before ending the regular season against top-ranked USC, UCLA will face an Oregon team that also needs a victory today to guarantee a bowl appearance. The Ducks (5-4, 4-2) are coming off a 28-27 loss at No. 5 California and are determined to make a strong impression in their final home game of the season.

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“There are no moral victories, we know that,” said Oregon Coach Mike Bellotti, whose Ducks have won four of their last five games and are expecting a standing-room-only crowd of more than 54,000 today at Autzen Stadium.

“We are attempting to secure an 11th straight winning season, bowl eligibility.... Any frustrations we may have in regard to the Cal game, we’re going to turn into positive action against UCLA.”

UCLA Coach Karl Dorrell had a tape of crowd noise booming during practices this week in anticipation of meeting a hostile environment.

“We know it’s going to be a very, very loud stadium,” he said. “But we’re ready for that. Our players understand that this a great opportunity to get ourselves in a good situation at the end of the season.”

Oregon lost three of its first four games but has been impressive since. Starting with a come-from-behind win at Washington, the Ducks had won four in a row before losing at Cal.

In the Cal game, Oregon led, 27-14, in the second quarter but was unable to hold on to the lead after tight end Tim Day, who caught two first-half passes for touchdowns, suffered a calf injury. The Ducks had a chance to win, but senior receiver Keith Allen dropped a fourth-down pass that would have put them in game-winning field-goal position.

“I am very proud of the effort, and the way we battled and the ability to play the [then-] fourth-ranked team in the nation to a standstill,” Bellotti said, “but it loses a little bit in the translation when you don’t win.”

This week, Bellotti made sure that his team did not lose sight of the bigger picture.

“Our basic goals every year [are] get to a winning season, get to a bowl game, get to the best bowl we can, contend for the conference title,” Bellotti said. “You build on those goals as you go.

“One thing I said to the team was we can’t dwell on Cal. Our game with UCLA becomes that much more important now.”

The Bruins can fault only themselves for their situation. After losing to Oklahoma State to open the season, they won four games in a row before hitting a rocky stretch and losing three of their last four.

“This is a young team that is growing and going through some tough experiences, but we’re going to build off those tough experiences,” said Dorrell, who has an 11-11 record in two seasons at UCLA.

“We’re all disappointed with what happened last week. We’re ready to do what we have to do in order to feel good about ourselves again.”

In losses to Arizona State and Washington State, the Bruins were in position to tie or take the lead on their final possessions of those games.

Junior quarterback Drew Olson said the Bruins’ attitude has not been hurt by their setbacks this season.

“5-4 is not where we thought we would be,” he said, “but this is where we are. As a team, we’re just going to keep on fighting.”

After the loss to Washington State, some UCLA players immediately ran to the locker room and did not shake hands with the Cougars.

Also, some Washington State players claimed that the Bruins were bickering with each other on the field.

Olson said the aftermath of that game made UCLA tighter as a team.

“In games, it’s tough to [determine attitudes] because you’re so concerned about yourself,” he said. “But in practices, you never see people down like you did last season. That’s what is so different about this team.”

A key for UCLA is applying lessons learned into game performance. That did not happen against Washington State.

“You have to have your ‘A’ game every week, and you have to finish every game that you’re in,” Olson said. “That’s what we’re taking from this season and that’s huge. We’re basically learning how to win games. It’s a hard process but a necessary one.

“We feel that we have a good football team, but we’ve just been stumbling here and there. Last year, we never felt this way. We’re more of a team now.”

A team still a victory away from becoming bowl eligible.


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