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UCLA faces new pressure as a Pac-12 South division contender

UCLA FOOTBALL

UCLA is a half-game behind USC in the South division standings and has the same overall record as the Trojans, 6-2. The Bruins say they are not looking too far ahead, though.

October 28, 2012|By Chris Foster
  • UCLA players celebrates their 45-43 win over Arizona State.
UCLA players celebrates their 45-43 win over Arizona State. (Matt York / Associated Press )

There were two views of UCLA's 45-43 victory over Arizona State.

There was Saturday's version …

"This game was huge," defensive end Cassius Marsh said. "Arizona State is one of the top teams in the Pac-12 South [division]. We needed it. We came and got it."

And there was Sunday's version …

"I think you have to be real careful," Coach Jim Mora said when asked whether the Bruins had cleared a hurdle with the victory. "As soon as you think 'Aha, we've got it,' all of a sudden you don't have it. It's real important to stay grounded and don't overreact."

Welcome to the Pac-12 South division race, UCLA. It's a different sort of pressure.

The Bruins spotted Arizona State 14 points and came back Saturday. They had a nine-point lead with nine minutes left and blew it.

UCLA has files filled with such losses. Then quarterback Brett Hundley and Co. got kicker Ka'imi Fairbairn into range. His 33-yard field goal with two seconds left gave UCLA the victory, which, combined with USC's loss to Arizona, left the division wide open.

"This allowed us to show everyone we don't have any quit in us," defensive end Datone Jones said. "We're ready to move forward. You could tell in our play how hungry we were to get it done."

UCLA had lost five of its previous six games in Tempe. Road missteps have been a Bruins staple in recent seasons, and seemed to continue in a 43-17 loss to California on Oct. 6.

"I think, as a program, as a team, we've already moved on from the past," Marsh said. "This program is different already."

People noticed. UCLA slipped back in the Associated Press poll at No. 25.

Now the Bruins can claim to be division contenders as they prepare to play 24th-ranked Arizona at the Rose Bowl on Saturday. With that comes a different pressure.

Mora is already tapping on the brakes. He talked with the Bruins about the opportunities ahead last week and said Sunday, "That was enough. They know."

For those who don't know, UCLA sits a half-game behind USC in the South division standings. Both teams are 6-2. It is the first time they have had the same record entering November since the 2005 season, when both were 8-0.

Asked whether any players have talked about USC in recent weeks, Mora answered quickly, "No."

Said Mora: "We're still fighting for respect, fighting to get better. We are really trying to keep the focus narrow."

Some are already absorbing the company line.

"U of A is our only mind-set," running back Johnathan Franklin said. "That's it. That's all that matters right now."

Right now.

Wildcat offense?

UCLA faces the same Arizona team that knocked off USC on Saturday. Well, almost the same team.

Wildcats quarterback Matt Scott suffered a concussion and it remains to be seen whether he can play. If Scott is out, it will be the second consecutive week the Bruins won't face the opponent's best player.

Arizona State defensive tackle Will Sutton sat out because of a knee injury Saturday.

Scott was injured while sliding at the end of an eight-yard run to the USC nine-yard line with seven minutes left Saturday. He threw for 369 yards and three touchdowns in the 39-36 victory.

Wrapping up

Eric Kendricks had 17 tackles against Arizona State on Saturday — 11 solo, six assisted. It was the most by a UCLA player since linebacker Reggie Carter had 20 against Brigham Young in 2008.

Goines hurt

Tackle Simon Goines, who left the Arizona State game after reinjuring his left knee, had an MRI exam Sunday, which Mora said did not show any damage.

"He aggravated it a little bit," Mora said. "He's fine. He shouldn't even miss practice."

chris.foster@latimes.com

twitter.com/cfosterlatimes

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