No. 13 UCLA mindful of letdown vs New Mexico State
After the emotional extremes of the week following receiver Nick Pasquale's death, the UCLA Bruins embraced the chance for a quiet return to routine over the last several days.
And even with 42-point underdog New Mexico State arriving at the Rose Bowl on Saturday, the 13th-ranked Bruins (2-0) say they won't lose sight of their opportunity for a remarkable season in Pasquale's memory.
''I like the way that they are focusing when they come in here,'' coach Jim Mora said on the Bruins' on-campus practice field. ''I haven't seen any drop at all, and I think that's a sign of their maturity. I think they believe they can do some good things this year, and it's encouraging.''
After scoring the final 38 points in their comeback win at Nebraska last week, the Bruins are rolling back to Pasadena for what could be a glorified scrimmage with the Aggies (0-3), who have lost 14 straight games and beaten just one ranked team since 1999.
But overconfidence seems unlikely for the Bruins, who spent the week praising their unfamiliar opponent while focusing on steady adjustments to lingering areas of concern. If they're able to improve an offense averaging 49.5 points per game and a defense that has closed two straight games in dominant fashion, giving up just seven total points in the second half, New Mexico State could be in even bigger trouble.
''There's no guarantees in college football,'' UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr said. ''I've seen Division II schools beat Division I schools pretty frequently these days. They're going to have athletes that can play, just like we do. We've got to go out there and play our game.''
Five reasons to watch these schools' first meeting on a football field:
FRESH FACES: New Mexico State coach Doug Martin might have added another degree of difficulty to his team's already daunting task when he promoted freshman quarterback King Davis III and tailback Brandon Betancourt to make their first career starts in Pasadena.
Martin isn't happy with the turnovers committed by Andrew McDonald and Germi Morrison during the Aggies' rough start to the season. Just how rough? New Mexico State has been outscored 142-49 in its three losses to Texas, Minnesota and UTEP.
Davis and Betancourt don't have much experience, but they hooked up on a 72-yard TD pass last week.
BARR'S TURN?: Barr made a career-high 11 tackles last week at Nebraska, but the all-conference linebacker still doesn't have a sack this fall after getting 13 1/2 last year.
Barr figures his sack luck could change against New Mexico State and Davis, its freshman quarterback.
''I think I let a couple go last week,'' said Barr, who forced three fumbles by the Huskers. ''They'll come. I've just got to be patient and continue working. I think this week I'll have a better opportunity. The last couple of weeks, we're emphasizing keeping the quarterback in front of us. I'll make sure to hopefully get a couple of chances this game.''
NEW LOOKS: Mora sees the week as another challenge for his offensive line, which has kept quarterback Brett Hundley safe while setting up tailback Jordon James for 260 yards rushing in two games. The line was a preseason area of concern, but Mora sees progress before the Bruins enter the Pac-12 portion of their schedule.
''This week will be a real challenge, because New Mexico State does some things that we haven't seen up front,'' Mora said. ''They'll give you some unusual alignments, and can cause some problems and make some plays because of that.''
BALL SECURITY: New Mexico State's defense has been shredded for 47 points per game, but the Aggies have at least forced six turnovers - just three shy of their entire total from 2012.
Hundley has worked on avoiding turnovers as a sophomore, and has thrown just one interception in two games while attempting to learn how to throw the ball away more effectively. The Bruins have fumbled five times, but only lost one.
HONORING NICK: Pasquale will be honored by the Bruins throughout their return to the Rose Bowl.
The walk-on sophomore's No. 36 will be painted on the field, affixed to UCLA's helmets, and emblazoned on blue giveaway towels for every fan. Mora and athletic director Dan Guerrero will present a jersey to Pasquale's parents, Mel and Laurie, and brother A.J. during the break between the first two quarters.
The Rose Bowl also will sell special T-shirts honoring Pasquale for $20, with all proceeds going to the Nick Pasquale Foundation.
Pasquale made his UCLA debut in the final series of the Bruins' last home game against Nevada on Aug. 31.