LOS ANGELES — If it were any other opponent, UCLA’s regular-season finale would be somewhat anticlimactic. Arizona State clinched the Pac-12 South title and the last time the Bruins suffered a big defeat, their Oct. 26 loss to then-No. 3 Oregon, they came out flat in an unimpressive win over cellar-dweller Colorado the following week.
This is 84 years of competition and history and a Victory Bell that has only been blue for a year.
This is where the Bruins show what they are made of: They either coast from here on out knowing they don’t have a shot at the Pac-12 Championship or they can show resolve and fight for another win.
It’s no big deal; it’s only the pride of entire city on the line.
“We’re disappointed but we’ve got to get over it,” said head coach Jim Mora. “And we’re going to get onto the next one, which is next Saturday, a big one here in Los Angeles.”
Linebacker Anthony Barr’s response was a little more succinct: “Just win.”
The Bruins come into the week ranked No. 22 in the BCS standings, only one spot above the Trojans.
The biggest question mark surrounds quarterback Brett Hundley. At times this season, Hundley has been unbeatable and played up to his reputation as one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in the country.
But at times, it’s looked as though the redshirt sophomore has regressed, showcasing poor decision-making, a discomfort in the pocket and a tendency to run with his head down straight into coverage.
Against the Sun Devils, Hundley struggled as much as he dominated.
“There’s a lot of things in this game where we could look back on,” Hundley said following Saturday’s game. “There are critical moments in every game and ups and downs in ever game. We’ve got to learn how to win make it through and win the down.”
“You always go back and say, ‘Could he have thrown it earlier? Could he have used his legs to get out of there?'” Mora said. “And the answer is most likely not.”
Mora cited the Arizona State front four and extra protection against the run but there won’t be a reprieve on the defensive front this week against the Trojans.
Left tackle Simon Goines, who has struggled to stay healthy this season, will be out for the remainder of the season after fracturing his fibula and had surgery early Sunday morning. The Bruins will go back to using three true freshmen on the offense line.
“Without trying to sound like I’m making any excuse at all, when you’re starting three true freshmen, there is going to be downs that are not pretty,” Mora said. “There are mistakes that are going to pop up and hurt at very inopportune times.”
The injuries piled up against the Sun Devils. Some new and some old injuries re-aggravated. Receiver Grayson Mazzone suffered the worst fate, as his catch that nearly kept the Bruins final drive alive tore his ACL, MCL and meniscus. Mazzone and Goines are only a few of a handful of Bruins to go under the knife this week.
As for a Myles Jack’s position this week, Mora would only continue to reiterate that Jack is a linebacker, as he has done since the linebacker first carried the ball.
It’s not going to be an easy week for the Bruins, but it will be one that shows their character.