After frustrating Oregon loss, UCLA is focused on earning a Pac-12 title — and more
“We have way bigger goals than that,” quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson said when asked about competing for the conference championship, “and I personally think we can still accomplish those if we just do our jobs on a weekly basis.”
The obvious follow-up question: Does bigger goals mean the College Football Playoff semifinals?
“I won’t get into the goals, that’s more of a team, personal matter,” Thompson-Robinson said, “but yeah, it’s definitely way bigger than that, I can tell you that for sure.”
Some guesswork left a few possibilities.
A Pac-12 title comes with a Rose Bowl appearance — at a minimum — so it’s conceivable Thompson-Robinson meant winning a Rose Bowl, something the Bruins haven’t done since 1986.
UCLA still remains in the hunt for the Pac-12 championship game after Saturday’s 45-30 loss to Oregon. Here are five takeaways from the game.
More likely, he meant making college football’s final four. That’s going to be considerably tougher after UCLA dropped to No. 12 in the Associated Press poll following its 45-30 loss to Oregon on Saturday at Autzen Stadium.
The Bruins (6-1 overall, 3-1 Pac-12) are still in prime position to qualify for the Pac-12 title game on Dec. 2 at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas. Assuming they don’t stumble in any of the games in which they will be decisively favored, including Saturday night against Stanford (3-4, 1-4) at the Rose Bowl, the Bruins could likely get there with a home victory over No. 10 USC on Nov. 19.
UCLA has significantly more work to do to make the Pac-12’s first appearance in the CFP since Washington did so in 2016. There’s no margin for error, and the Bruins might need substantial help. Six unbeaten teams are positioned ahead of them in the rankings, and there’s always the specter one — or more — of one-loss teams qualifying from the mighty Southeastern Conference.
UCLA coach Chip Kelly said he reminded his players that they had not lost in almost a year — 357 days, to be exact — before the Oregon game, but now all that matters is what the Bruins do over the next 39 days ending in the Pac-12 championship. Kelly pointed out that his team responded to its last defeat with a nine-game winning streak.
“This is a really good football team,” Kelly said. “We didn’t play up to what we should have played on Saturday and we’ll move on and we’ll see how the rest of the season turns itself out, but our whole mantra since the beginning of the season is, ‘Pick your head up in December and we’ll see if our body of work is good enough for us to have an opportunity to continue to play after December.’ ”
Penalty disparities during recent Texas and USC losses call into question whether officiating is slanted against teams leaving for other conferences.
There were multiple nods to the urgency of the moment Monday. A few hours after Van Halen’s “Right Now” blasted over speakers during the opening minutes of practice, Thompson-Robinson hit upon a similar theme when speaking with reporters.
“If there’s a time to fix things, it’s now,” Thompson-Robinson said. “We know that, we’re a mature enough group, we’re grown men to be able to go in there, look at ourselves in the mirror and say what we did wrong and come out here and fix it on Monday. So I think that’s where we’re at.”
Without mentioning specifics, Thompson-Robinson said the team had slipped in its habits during the week before facing the Ducks.
“It’s always a culmination of things and things adding up that you don’t really notice until it gets you,” he said. “So I think that’s what we’ve gotta go back to, is just making sure we’re doing every little thing right, and if it still doesn’t work, then we’ll go from there. But, you know, those six games that we won, everything that we’ve done before those six games really, really showed up on Saturday for us.”
The cracks in UCLA’s defense were blown wide open by Oregon, which took some cues from the old, Chip Kelly playbook to cruise to a 45-30 win.
Thompson-Robinson endured his worst game of the season while facing a relentless pass rush, heaving one pass into double coverage that was intercepted and missing a few shorter throws that he normally makes, but far bigger issues emerged on the other side of the ball. UCLA’s defense was gouged for a season-worst 545 yards.
“Defensively, there were breakdowns at all three levels,” Kelly said.
Those failures were perhaps best illustrated by free safety Mo Osling III finishing with a career-high 17 tackles, including a handful that saved touchdowns.
“I don’t think that’s a recipe for success as you move forward unless you’re blitzing your free safety every play and he has 17 tackles, then that’s a good thing,” Kelly said, “but we weren’t blitzing Mo every single play, so we need to get a little bit more production [from others] and get those tackles evened out.”
Go beyond the scoreboard
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