UCLA’s football team has been presented with yet another challenge. People are expecting the Bruins to win this week.
UCLA is anywhere from a 16- to 19-point favorite over Washington State on Saturday at the Rose Bowl.
Radio mouthpieces Monday were already talking about a big Bruins victory. One went so far as to predict a win by “three or four touchdowns.” Another was framing the game as “must-win” for UCLA, but was mum on what reward the Bruins would get by winning -- the likelihood of not finishing last in the Pacific 10 Conference?
In a world of instant hyperbole, the Bruins (1-3 overall, 0-1 in conference play) have a three-game losing streak and must guard against overconfidence.
“Anyone getting caught up in the hype of whether we’re any good or the worst team in America, whether we’re the underdog or whether we’re supposed to beat teams, shame on you,” tailback Kahlil Bell said. “The last time I checked, Washington State and us had the same amount of wins.”
The details are what has public opinion leaning toward Westwood.
UCLA beat Tennessee; Washington State (1-4, 0-2) beat Portland State. The Bruins lost, 59-0, to Brigham Young, now ranked No. 8. But Washington State has yet to hold a Pac-10 opponent to fewer than 60 points, losing to Oregon, 63-14, and California, 66-3.
“I would hope that the guys on our team, having been on the other side of the coin, realize they can’t pay attention to that stuff,” UCLA Coach Rick Neuheisel said. “We’ll make very sure that it is about us, and us improving.”
While prognosticators are leaning the Bruins’ way, history is on the side of the Cougars. Washington State has won six of its last seven games against UCLA, including the last three played at the Rose Bowl.
But this season, the Cougars have been outscored, 213-47, in their losses.
“Anyone who gets caught up in that stuff is just fooling themselves,” Bell said. “We were a huge underdog against Tennessee. Look what happened.”
The 250 return yards that Terrence Austin covered against Fresno State underscored the game-breaking potential the junior wide receiver totes around.
The difficulty has been getting Austin the ball on offense, where he can use his speed. He leads the team with 20 receptions, but is averaging only nine yards a catch.
Austin ran the ball twice against Fresno State -- on a reverse and on a fly-sweep when the Bruins lined up quarterback Kevin Craft at wide receiver and had a running back take a direct snap.
“Part of what you do on offense is say, ‘What can you do?’ and part of it is, ‘How do you get your playmakers the ball?’ ” Neuheisel said. “In the passing game, that’s a little more difficult because you can’t predict what the coverage will be. You don’t ever want to tell a quarterback who to throw to. That being said, we want to get the ball in Terrence’s hands as many times as we can.”
Odds and split ends
Tailback Aundre Dean and wide receiver Marcus Everett are expected to return to practice this week, and Neuheisel is hoping both will be ready to play Saturday.
Dean, a freshman, suffered a sprained ankle against BYU on his first college play. With Chane Moline moving to fullback, the Bruins need a fourth tailback.
Everett, who suffered a dislocated toe in the season opener, ran Sunday and Neuheisel said, “We’ll see if he is able to go at game speed.”