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UCLA FOOTBALL

Bruins try to maintain focus

UCLA has started fast in recent seasons, only to plummet into losing streaks. Fifth-year senior Andrew Abbott would like to see a new mind-set.

September 16, 2012|By Baxter Holmes

Andrew Abbott is a fifth-year senior defensive back at UCLA, and this, he said, is the story of his Bruins since he joined the program:

A big, momentum-building victory early in the season (vs. No. 18 Tennessee in 2008; at Tennessee in 2009; vs. No. 23 Houston and at No. 7 Texas in 2010)…

"And then it just drops," he said this week, adding a sigh.

After those wins, UCLA, which entered its Saturday matchup against Houston at the Rose Bowl with a No. 22 ranking and a 2-0 record, has completely derailed.

After that '08 win against Tennessee, the Bruins dropped eight of their next 11 games.

After beating Tennessee the following season, they then lost five of their next six.

And after those wins against Houston and at Texas, UCLA finished with a 4-8 record.

"It's really been something that's plagued this program," Abbott said.

He has told his younger teammates about this plague. Abbott wants them to know that the Bruins' hot start, which includes a 36-30 victory over then-No. 16 Nebraska, is nothing new.

What could be new, Abbott hopes, is how they finish.

"We've got to change it," he said. "The past is the past. This is a whole new coaching staff, a whole new mind-set."

First-year Coach Jim Mora sends his players mass text messages with reminders, bits of inspiration, etc., and Abbott said recent messages have harped on focus.

That is, focusing on the game at hand, not one down the road.

Of course, those cliche-sounding instructions sound simple. But this is UCLA, a program bereft of recent success. And now that the Bruins have tasted success — they play Houston as a ranked team for the first time in 78 weeks — and the glowing headlines that follow, they could be in for more of it very soon.

After the game against the Cougars, in which UCLA is favored by 171/2 points, the Bruins face Oregon State, Colorado and California — not exactly Murderers' Row, although the Beavers defeated Wisconsin and Cal almost upset Ohio State at Columbus.

It's feasible that the Bruins could be 6-0 for the first time since 2005.

But the only record quarterback Brett Hundley said he thinks about is his team being 1-0 every week. If the numbers pile up after that, then he said he'll take it.

"As long as we stay level-headed and grounded, we'll do just fine," Hundley said.

Time will tell if the Bruins can do that. Though the coaching staff and mind-set are new, old habits might remain.

For Mora, the challenge of dealing with success is, he said, the same as dealing with adversity, though he no doubt would rather have the former as a problem.

"When you're on track or off track, it's about maintaining focus so you can either get back on track or stay on track," Mora said, "so that's what we're going to do."

baxter.holmes@latimes.com

twitter.com/BaxterHolmes

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