Bruins won’t duck a challenge against Oregon
For 10 days, since its no-show performance in a 35-7 loss at California, UCLA’s football team has had no games but plenty of issues:
Two players were suspended for violating team rules, with a third appealing his punishment.
Starting quarterback Kevin Prince has hobbled around the practice field with ongoing knee problems.
The Bruins had only three healthy cornerbacks.
And now, just to make matters a little more challenging, up comes what will be UCLA’s bounce-back effort, a Thursday night date at top-ranked Oregon under the spotlight of a national television audience.
“Anyone is beatable,” free safety Rahim Moore said. “One thing about us, we can beat anybody we want if we go out there and play.”
But, he added, “That is easier said than done.”
UCLA has proven that.
How a Bruins team capable of going into Texas and beating the then-seventh-ranked Longhorns could be overwhelmed by unranked California has caused head-scratching around UCLA’s Spaulding Field.
The question was even more perplexing after last Saturday, when Texas beat Nebraska in Lincoln and California was routed by USC at the Coliseum.
“It’s a good question,” Moore said.
As for moving on, Moore said, “We have to accept that we don’t want that to happen anymore. Somebody has to do something.”
That somebody won’t be wide receiver/kick returner Josh Smith or F-back Morrell Presley. Both were suspended for violating team rules last week. Nor does Prince appear likely to be available. His injured right knee forced him to sit out practice Monday.
The Bruins are also expected to be without two other starters — wide receiver Nelson Rosario, who has a high ankle sprain, and cornerback Sheldon Price, who has a sprained knee.
Those were the side dishes to an already full plate of concern after the loss to California, where the Bruins were buried, 28-0, in the first half. UCLA’s 144 total yards were the fewest since the Bruins gained 114 against USC in 2001.
The postgame included Moore chastising some teammates for laughing in the locker room.
“The bye week came at a perfect time, where we were able to wash all those things away,” strong safety Tony Dye said. “It was two days of pain and regrets, but we had a bigger challenge ahead of us. So that kind of took over.”
In a way, No. 1 comes along at the right time. Focusing on the Ducks helps tune out the other distractions.
“I think a lot of guys are looking to prove they’re better than they showed” against Cal, linebacker Akeem Ayers said.
That goal has been stressed by team leaders, who tried to move the Bruins past the suspensions and injuries.
“We hear all the excuses about everyone being inexperienced, or the offense did that and the defense did this,” Moore said. “Forget all that. We play one good series, then two bad ones. That’s the reason we’re not winning.
“We’ve been missing out on big-time bowl games and recognition. We lose to teams that we need to beat.”
The Bruins aren’t expected to beat Oregon. The Ducks, who are 21-point favorites, lead the nation with averages of 54.3 points and 567 yards a game. Pacing that explosive offense is tailback LaMichael James, who leads the nation in rushing, averaging 169.6 yards a game.
“This game brings its own energy,” UCLA defensive tackle David Carter said. “Yeah, we have lost a couple guys.
“We’ve just got to pick it up a little bit.”