First came a blistering postgame lecture from UCLA Coach Rick Neuheisel after the Bruins’ 49-20 loss to Texas at the Rose Bowl.
Then, UCLA players said, came an optimistic reminder: “We’re 0-0 in [Pacific 12] conference play.”
UCLA (1-2) gets a fresh start, opening conference play at Oregon State on Saturday. The Bruins, though, tote along extra baggage on this trip: They are 2-11 in conference road games since Neuheisel became coach.
UCLA plays three of its first four Pac-12 games on the road this season.
Neuheisel had little insight to offer about why his Bruins teams have struggled in conference play away from home.
“I can’t tell you why, other than we played good teams and have not played well enough,” he said. “I don’t think we go in and play nervous. We don’t play well enough.”
UCLA’s only conference road wins in the Neuheisel era have been against an 0-12 Washington team in 2008 and a 1-11 Washington State team in 2009.
Oregon State appears to be the Bruins’ best opportunity for a win in their first three road games. The winless Beavers were off Saturday after losing to Sacramento State at home and being shut out by Wisconsin on the road.
UCLA plays fifth-ranked Stanford on Oct. 1 and on Oct. 20 plays Arizona in Tucson, where the Bruins have lost three games in a row. Nestled between is a home game against conference doormat Washington State.
“There are not many games in this conference that are going to be easy wins,” linebacker Patrick Larimore said. “Oregon State needs a win just as bad as we need a win.”
The two worst road teams in conference play the last three seasons are UCLA and Washington State. The Cougars are also 2-11.
UCLA has won nonconference road games on traditionally difficult trips — Tennessee and Texas — the last two seasons. Yet, the Bruins have lost five consecutive conference road games by the combined score of 202-38.
“We have to erase all that and fix it, and fix it fast,” Neuheisel said. “It think it’s a confidence thing, a swagger if you will. It’s about having the ability to focus and block out the distractions.”
Of course, winning conference games, no matter where, has been a struggle for UCLA, which is 8-19 in conference play since Neuheisel arrived. That includes losses in three consecutive conference openers.
Oregon State wide receiver James Rodgers, who has not played since suffering a knee injury early in the 2010 season, is expected to be available Saturday. … Neuheisel was optimistic that UCLA cornerback Andrew Abbott (concussion) would be available Saturday. … Cornerback Jamie Graham (knee surgery), who is expected to be cleared to practice, may be ready in a limited capacity. … Offensive lineman Sean Sheller, a sixth-year senior, is scheduled to undergo surgery Tuesday for two broken bones in his left arm, ending his college career.