UCLA must overcome adversity for the first time

September, 22, 2012
9/22/12
7:20
PM PT
PASADENA, Calif. -- You can call it a letdown or a wake-up call or maybe even an inevitable slip-up by a still-growing team.

But if the UCLA Bruins are to rebound from their 27-20 upset loss to the Oregon State Beavers in a Pac-12 opener Saturday at the Rose Bowl, it had better become a learning experience.

[+] EnlargeOregon State Beavers defense
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesAfter averaging 180 yards rushing, Johnathan Franklin was held to just 45 by the Beavers. His Heisman Trophy hopes will be influenced by how well he and the Bruins respond in Colorado.
The Bruins had been flying high this week, creating national buzz with their 3-0 start. Talk of the Heisman Trophy and being the best team in L.A. had been swirling around Westwood as the Bruins reached No. 19 in the Associated Press poll.

The loss Saturday puts a halt to all of that, takes the luster off the Bruins and most certainly will draw some UCLA naysayers out of the woodwork.

The way the Bruins respond next week at Colorado will tell us more about the team than any of its first four games.

"It’ll be a huge test to see how we can respond," safety Tevin McDonald said. "All the doubters will come back."

History suggests those doubters have good reason to come back. The last time the Bruins started 3-0 was 2009; they lost to Stanford in their Pac-12 opener that season and went on to lose five in a row after that.

But this is not the 2009 team, the Bruins insist. Saturday’s loss was the result of Beavers team that simply played better, had a better game plan and executed better than UCLA. The Beavers have now defeated 11 ranked teams since 2005.

"I don’t feel that vibe from this team," said cornerback Sheldon Price, a senior who started on that 2009 team. "This team is hungry and we want to continue to get better every day. I don’t feel like there are any letdowns. We just let one slip away today."

The proof will come over the next week. UCLA is a young team that starts five freshman, including quarterback Brett Hundley. This is the first time they will face a practice week following a loss. Not only that, the bubble will have burst on the Bruins, who had become somewhat of a national darling after putting up the No. 2 offense in the nation.

Running back Johnathan Franklin had been getting some ink as a Heisman candidate after leading the nation with 541 yards rushing through three games, but his campaign took a hit Saturday after he registered only 45 yards rushing.

That kind of adversity has the coaching staff very focused on the upcoming week.

"I’m kind of anxious to see how they handle it," said offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone. "These guys didn’t know any better. They thought, ‘Oh, this is fun,’ but life isn’t always like that. There’s always going to be adversity in your life, I don’t care what you’re doing. Sometimes that’s what kind of makes the mettle of the man. This will be interesting to see how they react."

The reaction will start Monday in the film room and continue on the practice field through next week. UCLA will face in Boulder a Buffaloes team filled with confidence after winning its first game of the season -- a 35-34 come-from-behind thriller at Washington State.

The Bruins also must deal with the start of classes this week and a new practice schedule that will have the team on the field at 7 a.m. every day.

"We're asking a lot from our young men," coach Jim Mora said. "All indications from me being around these guys is that they'll respond."

The Bruins have a 24-hour rule in which they are allowed wallow over a loss. (The converse is true after victories.) Offensive lineman Xavier Su'a-Filo said players need to embrace their emotions. They need to let it hurt, he said, and they need to use that as fuel to avoid feeling it again.

And, he said, the Bruins need to use this loss as an opportunity to show their character.

"I think it’s perfect for us," Su'a-Filo said. "Unfortunately we didn’t win. That’s terrible and it doesn’t feel good to lose, ever, but I think it’s important to mature as a team and demonstrate what kind of team we are."

The coaches and the captains will be looking for accountability. In the film room, they want to hear players taking responsibility for their mistakes instead of farming out blame. On the practice field, they will be looking for hard work and attention to the details -- a lack of which might have contributed to this loss.

And they will be looking for the type of focus that helped UCLA get off to that fast start and the type of resolve that ensures the Bruins shut out the talk that these are the same old Bruins who weren't able to handle a little success and are destined to repeat that 2009 losing streak.

"We’re obviously going to get the doubters, but we can’t listen to the noise ... like we didn't listen to it the last couple of weeks," safety Andrew Abbott said. "We aren’t hitting the panic button in no way, shape or fashion. We know we’re a great team, but we know we also have a lot of work to do. We just have to bounce back."

Exactly how they do will speak volumes about what we can expect from this team.

Peter Yoon

ESPNLosAngeles.com

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PASSINGATTCOMPYDSTD
B. Hundley369248307124
RUSHINGCARYDSAVGTD
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RECEIVINGRECYDSAVGTD
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