UCLA's Pac-12 goals still in grasp, even after Wash St loss
LOS ANGELES (AP) Although the Pac-12's vicious internal competition has all but eliminated the conference from the College Football Playoff chase, UCLA is still in a prime position in its own playoff race.
Even after a home loss to Washington State last weekend, regular season-ending wins over No. 18 Utah and No. 22 Southern California would put the Bruins into the Pac-12 title game for a chance at its first conference title and Rose Bowl berth in 16 years.
''The way we see it is we're in the quarterfinals,'' defensive line coach Angus McClure said. ''You got to win in the quarterfinals to get to the semifinals. Win the semifinals and you're in the championship game, that's the way we are looking at it as a program.''
The Utes' double-overtime loss at Arizona essentially rendered UCLA's last-minute 31-27 loss to the Cougars irrelevant in the race for the Pac-12 South. Running back Paul Perkins admitted keeping an eye on the scoreboard Saturday night to see what was happening with Utah, and the redshirt junior was glad for the reprieve.
''Us as players, we're not going to admit it - well, we will - we always look at the scores and see what is going on around college football,'' Perkins said. ''Once we lost, we realized we still had a mulligan. Our goal is still within our grasp.''
Whether UCLA can reach it is a question that pits the program's road dominance under coach Jim Mora against its occasionally overwhelming tendency to self-destruct. With a 16-5 road record in Mora's four seasons, winning nine of its last 10 games away from the Rose Bowl, UCLA knows how to perform away from its scenic home stadium.
''I personally thrive off of a hostile environment,'' center Jake Brendel said.
Said Perkins: ''We just go out there with the mentality that the whole world is against us.''
But that same mentality too often forces UCLA to overcome a litany of self-inflicted mistakes, something it could not do against Washington State. There were punts of 29 and 0 yards, two lost fumbles, 13 penalties for 75 yards and only one touchdown in five trips to the red zone. The latter two issues were clearly linked, Perkins said.
Consecutive false starts forced UCLA to settle for a 22-yard field goal on its first drive, and a delay of game penalty helped scuttle another red-zone possession in the fourth quarter.
''We had to stay on track,'' Perkins said. ''We can't get out of whack, can't get penalties. We definitely need those (touchdowns) against a good Utah team.''
After committing seven false starts at Oregon State, there were six more flags for early movement against Washington State. Offensive lineman Caleb Benenoch said those issues should be resolved by being more disciplined.
''It's simple. It's on us,'' Benenoch said. ''We just got to handle our business. Can't worry about what anyone else does, what the defensive line does, what gets called and what doesn't. We just have to do our job.''
Brendan believes the use of a silent count against Utah and USC should help cut down on those issues, seemingly another benefit of playing on the road. In a de facto playoff, UCLA needs every edge it can get.