Bru­ins are win­less but not hope­less

De­spite a 0-5 record, there are rea­sons for op­ti­mism go­ing into game against Cal.

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - By Ben Bolch

BERKE­LEY — As he scanned the locker room af­ter UCLA’s fifth con­sec­u­tive loss to open the sea­son, Quentin Lake was rein­vig­o­rated by what he saw.

Things didn’t seem hope­less for a win­less team.

“You would think guys would be down, like OK, we might not be able to do this,” Lake, the Bru­ins’ sopho­more safety, said of the scene last week­end af­ter his team’s 31-24 loss to No. 10 Wash­ing­ton, “but I saw peo­ple smil­ing. I was telling the guys we played re­ally well and I saw ev­ery­body’s head was up and ex­cited to come into this week and pre­pare for Cal.”

The Golden Bears (3-2 over­all, 0-2 Pac-12 Con­fer­ence) will en­ter their game against UCLA (0-5, 0-2) on

Satur­day at Cal­i­for­nia Memo­rial Sta­dium as a touch­down fa­vorite, the same des­ig­na­tion they held against Bru­ins coach Chip Kelly’s first Ore­gon team in 2009.

Like Kelly’s cur­rent team, those Ducks also were strug­gling. They had dropped their opener against Boise State be­fore nar­row vic­to­ries over Pur­due and Utah prompted some fans to call for the bench­ing of quar­ter­back Jeremiah Ma­soli.

Those same fans got be­hind Ma­soli as soon as he threw for three touch­downs to help Ore­gon rout six­thranked Cal 42-3, a break­through mo­ment in a sea­son that ended in the Rose Bowl.

The Bru­ins, seek­ing vic­tory No. 1 af­ter their first 0-5 start since 1943, have more mod­est as­pi­ra­tions, though some haven’t ruled out a rosy end­ing.

“In our minds,” Lake said, “we’re go­ing 7-0 from here on out. That’s, I think, the mind­set that the guys have.”

Rea­sons for op­ti­mism can be found al­most ev­ery­where ex­cept in the Bru­ins’ record. They have tight­ened some ro­ta­tions, lead­ing to break­through per­for­mances at tail­back (Joshua Kel­ley) and re­ceiver (Michael Ezeike). The of­fen­sive line has compiled its best games in back-to-back weeks, al­low­ing no sacks last week­end for the first time this sea­son.

It was only a week ago that some fans were call­ing for a change at quar­ter­back af­ter Do­rian Thomp­son-Robin­son was com­ing off a sec­ond con­sec­u­tive shaky show­ing. Then the fresh­man played like a vet­eran in throw­ing for a ca­reer­high 272 yards and two touch­downs against Wash­ing­ton.

That qui­eted the clam­or­ing for grad­u­ate trans­fer Wil­ton Speight to make his first start since the sea­son opener. Speight went down with a back in­jury in that game but has been avail­able for three weeks now. Should Thomp­son-Robin­son con­tinue his up­ward tra­jec­tory, Speight might have thrown his last pass as a Bruin.

Thomp­son-Robin­son helped his team rally from a 24-7 half­time deficit against the Huskies, the Bru­ins twice pulling within a touch­down in the sec­ond half while show­ing a re­solve that had been miss­ing ear­lier in the sea­son.

“When we were down early in the game,” Lake said, “I think we just kept telling our­selves, ‘We’re OK, we’re go­ing to get through, we’re go­ing to push through these ob­sta­cles.’ ”

UCLA cer­tainly has its share of hur­dles left to clear. All win­less teams do. The Bru­ins rank last in the na­tion in third-down de­fense, al­low­ing op­po­nents to con­vert 43 of 80 op­por­tu­ni­ties (53.8%). They have also helped sus­tain four scor­ing drives in the last two games with penal­ties on de­fense.

“Those are the penal­ties that we’ve got to elim­i­nate and we’ll be suc­cess­ful,” safety Adar­ius Pick­ett said. “We’re in po­si­tion to stop all the teams that we’ve been play­ing.”

Kelly said he was pleased with his team’s per­se­ver­ance, prais­ing his play­ers’ at­ti­tude and ef­fort. He didn’t agree with the no­tion that there was an in­creased sense of ur­gency to get a win, not­ing that he wanted to win each week.

UCLA won’t have to delve any deeper into the record book to find a worse start should it lose to the Golden Bears. The 1943 Bru­ins dropped their first seven games, in­clud­ing losses to March Field and Del Monte Pre-Flight, on the way to a 1-8 fin­ish.

The play­ers aren’t the only ones confident in bet­ter days ahead.

“I think there’s hope all the time in this pro­gram,” Kelly said, “so I never felt like we didn’t have hope.”

UCLA (0-5) at Cal­i­for­nia (3-2) AT BERKE­LEY To­day, 4 p.m. TV: Pac-12 Net­works

Marcio Jose Sanchez As­so­ci­ated Press

DO­RIAN THOMP­SON-ROBIN­SON, a fresh­man quar­ter­back, played like a vet­eran in a loss to Wash­ing­ton.

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