Perception is everything.
The perception has been UCLA was national title contender.
The perception now is the Bruins can’t even win the Pac-12 South Division.
They may well be finished, but there are six weeks left in the season.
After being touted all summer as a national title contender, the Bruins labor near the bottom of the division. They can’t get to the conference championship game without help.
Yet strange things can happen, and they have this season, Coach Jim Mora pointed out.
“We know how long the season is and how crazy college football has been this year,” Mora said.
His philosophy remained unchanged.
“The only way we can reach our objectives is to maintain that one-game focus,” Mora said.
That one-game focus was not enough the last two weeks, and to find their way back, the Bruins need to solve some serious issues. For starters, they have allowed 500 yards rushing the last two games.
The Bruins were overwhelmed defensively Saturday until Oregon holstered its offense in the fourth quarter of its 42-30 victory.
But rebuilding may be easier for UCLA now that the Bruins have been tossed on the college football scrap heap in terms of perception — after spending months on the pedestal.
In short, the pressure may be off.
“I don’t think that should matter, but we understand there is a human element to this,” Mora said. “No matter what I say or what we emphasize, there are certain things these guys feel innately. We try to keep the pressure off them by trying to maintain that one week at a time attitude.”
Asked if that may become easier now that outside expectations have plummeted, Mora said, “the change may free us up to play. I don’t like admitting to that, but I am.”
There was a sense of that post-game Saturday.
“I’m kind of excited,” receiver Jordan Payton said. “I know that is probably the worst thing to say, but I have a good feeling that we’ll definitely fix all this.”
Some were keeping big-dream embers burning.
“Everyone thinks we’re out of it, obviously,” quarterback Brett Hundley said. “The way college football is going this season, there will be one or two loss teams in the playoff. If we play not good, but great football, we still have big games to play. As long win out, we have a chance.”
It’s more difficult than that. In that plan, Utah has to lose twice and Arizona State once.
Those scenarios will not be up for discussion under the one-week-focus plan.
Asked if players needed to be reminded that there was still a lot of season to be played, Mora said, “They know that. You got be careful with what you say, when say it, how say it. These guys hang on every word.”
The sideline spat between Mora and defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich Saturday was dissected thoroughly post-game.
Asked during his conference call on Sunday about the job Ulbrich was doing, Mora said, “I think he’s doing a good job and getting better every week.”
Mora ended the call by accepting responsibility — for everything.
“If you’re going to write something, please blame me,” Mora said. “I’m the guy to blame, not the players, not the assistants. Blame me. It’s my job to shoulder the burden.”
If there were silver linings to be found in the Oregon loss, running back Paul Perkins was one of them.
Perkins had 190 yards in 22 carries, continuing his strong season. He has gained more than 100 yards in three of the last four games. He also has had games of 99 and 98 yards this season.
“I think the offensive line is doing an awesome job blocking,” Perkins said. “How good I’m doing is a testament to how good they’re doing.”
Perkins has 730 yards rushing, averaging 6.3 yards per carry.