LOS ANGELES -- Just when it seems as if the UCLA Bruins are on the road to respectability, something like last Saturday happens.
UCLA's 43-17 loss at California derailed what had been a promising start to the season and the Bruins (4-2, 1-2 Pac-12) reached the midway point with doubt and pessimism beginning to creep back into the vernacular of those who follow the program.
It's a case of the same-old-Bruins blues, a feeling among fans who are just waiting for the season to spiral out of control because that seems to be the modus operandi for UCLA football.
The only cure would be to start winning again and that possibility begins with a nationally televised game against the Utah Utes on Saturday at noon at the Rose Bowl.
"We don't have a choice but to bounce back," said safety Andrew Abbott, a team captain. "There's no sitting around feeling sorry for ourselves or questioning ourselves. The resolve is there. Our coaches don't allow anything else and the players won't allow anything else. That's always good to have this common denominator of the team not wilting and not giving in to what people are saying."
What people were saying early on about the Bruins was that this was a team on the rise. They won their first three games, including an impressive victory over Nebraska, and moved to No. 19 in the national rankings.
Even a loss to Oregon State didn't seem so bad as the Beavers rose into the national top 10, but the blowout loss at California, which had won only one game before playing UCLA, served as a slap back to reality for UCLA.
"I wasn't expecting us to go out there like that," offensive lineman Jeff Baca said. "But to be honest, it doesn't matter if you lose by one or you lose by whatever we lost by. It's extremely important to bounce back. To get on a nice little win streak here would be great."
A victory over Utah (2-3, 0-2) probably won't do much in terms of getting UCLA back into the national spotlight, but it could go a long way toward restoring faith in the team and new coach Jim Mora. Bruins fans have seen too often over the last few seasons these hot starts with big wins and high hopes only to have the balloon deflate more quickly than it filled.
UCLA started 4-1 in 2006 and then lost four in a row. In 2007, the Bruins started 4-1 again and then lost six of their last eight. The 2008 season started with a marquee victory over Tennessee, but ended with a 4-8 record. In 2009, the Bruins followed a 3-0 start with a five-game losing streak. In 2010, a Week 4 victory at Texas was supposed to push the Bruins over the hill, but they finished 4-8 that season.
Now is the time to rebound with a win to show that this year's version of UCLA football is, indeed, different from those teams of the past that couldn't seem to keep losing streaks from sending seasons down the drain.
"We don't have a panic button around here," Abbott said. "We know what kind of team we are. We know our capabilities and we know we have to play up to those every week. The Cal game was somewhat of a shock, but the shock factor is over. It's back to reality now and we have to bounce back and make sure it doesn't happen again."
The team is looking at the California loss as a learning experience. The Bruins lost the game more because of self-inflicted mistakes such as six turnovers, 12 penalties and blown assignments than because of anything California did. It was a wake-up call filled with lessons the Bruins hope will last through the season.
"It was tough," cornerback Sheldon Price said. "We had been playing well and to get hit on the chin like that, it hurts. It just shows you that every week you have to bring your A-game because we didn't do that. Now it's time to bounce back and show that we can."
Mora says he likes what he has seen from his squad this week in practice but hopes the lessons learned from last week's loss will linger not only throughout the rest of the season but also throughout the lives of his players.
"You can either lie down and quit or you can keep fighting," Mora said. "That's not just sports, that's life. This won't be the only adversity these guys hit in their lives nor will it be the only adversity they hit this season, so it's got to be a constant message to just keep fighting. You hate to lose, but in a loss great lessons can be learned that serve these kids later in life."
The Bruins can only hope there aren't too many more of those lessons coming their way.