By Mitch Light
They’ve lost four games, the last three by an average of 30.3 points. They gave up 254 yard rushing to a team (Arizona) that was averaging 71.8 yards on the ground. They don’t have a win vs. a team with a winning record.
Yet, UCLA finds itself still very much alive in the Pac-12 South Division. The Bruins, at 3–2 in the league, are tied with USC, which is ineligible for the title, and one game behind an Arizona State team that visits the Rose Bowl this weekend. How convenient: Win and the Bruins will be tied for the South lead and own the all-important tie-breaker with the Sun Devils.
First things first: Winning this week will be very difficult. Arizona State is 6–2 overall, highlighted by wins over Missouri and USC. The Sun Devils are known for their defense, but the offense, at least statistically, has been better in 2011. Led by quarterback Brock Osweiler, ASU is averaging 35.9 points and 438.8 yards per game.
“We realize it is a tremendous challenge trying to contain their offense and score points against a vaunted defense,” says UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel. “It will take focus and resolve.”
The key for UCLA will be finding a way to play well for a second-straight week. The Bruins are coming off their finest effort of the season, a 31–14 win over California. But they have followed up their previous three wins with lopsided losses — 49–20 at Texas, 45–19 at Stanford and 48–12 at Arizona.
“We are 0-for-3 in terms of following up a victory with that kind of effort that we need,” Nueheisel says. “Not we have our fourth chance, and shouldn’t squander it.”
UCLA is at its best when it is running the ball effectively. The Bruins are averaging 236.8 yards rushing in their four wins and 137.8 yards in their four losses. Last week against Cal, they ran for 294 yards and four touchdowns on 52 attempts. Quarterback Kevin Prince was responsible for much of the damage, with a 163 yards (almost double his previous career high) on 19 carries.
“I thought Kevin did a very good job, and he got better as the game went along,” Nueheisel said. “He is 230 pounds. He is a load to bring down.”
Prince, who has been in and out of the lineup due to injuries (and poor play) in his three years at UCLA, caught the attention of Arizona State coach Dennis Erickson.
“Prince is playing extremely well right now,” Erickson said earlier this week. “If they can run the football, they can create a lot of problems for you. They’re sitting there in a situation, like us, where they have a chance to win our division. They have to beat us to do it. On the road, it’s a real important game for all of us.”
It’s more important for UCLA, though. The Bruins have to win this game to remain in contention in the South. Arizona State, even with a loss, will be in good shape because the Sun Devils have a much kinder schedule to end the season. ASU will be favored in its remaining three games (at Washington State, vs. Arizona, vs. Cal), while UCLA must end the season with two of its final three games on the road, most notably the finale at USC.
The road might be tough for UCLA, but it’s amazing that this team, with all of its issues, is even talking about a championship this late in the season.
AROUND THE PAC-12
• Cal is 4–11 in its last 15 Pac-12 games dating back to the end of the 2009 season.
• Washington State is averaging 33.3 points per game, good for 33rd in the nation. The Cougars ranked 118th, 119th and 106th in scoring in Paul Wulff’s first three seasons.
• Oregon has scored 52 touchdowns in eight games. Colorado has scored 20 touchdowns in nine games.
• Oregon State true freshman Malcolm Agnew has converted all five of his rushing attempts on third down and three yards or less into first downs.
• Andrew Luck is converting 79.5 percent of his passes in the fourth quarter.
• Coby Fleener of Stanford leads the Pac-10 in with 22.5 yards per receptions — a very high number for a tight end. Fleener is the only tight end in the top 50 in this category nationally.
• Arizona State leads the Pac-12 in both fumbles gained (12) and interceptions gained (13).
• Oregon has scored 40 points or more in 17 of its last 20 league games.