Re­al­is­tic goal for UCLA is to fin­ish on an up note

The Bru­ins still could reach the Rose Bowl with help from other Pac-12 South teams.

Los Angeles Times - - COLLEGE FOOTBALL - By Ben Bolch ben.bolch@la­times.com

The Rose Bowl re­mains in reach for UCLA un­der a sce­nario as likely as snow in the Ari­zona desert this time of year.

The Bru­ins would have to win their fi­nal three games and watch the rest of the Pac-12 Con­fer­ence’s South Divi­sion ex­pe­ri­ence some­thing ap­proach­ing Ar­maged­don. Then they would have to beat the North Divi­sion cham­pion as heavy un­der­dogs in the Pac-12 ti­tle game.

More re­al­is­ti­cally, the Bru­ins would like to fin­ish their first sea­son un­der coach Chip Kelly on an up­ward tra­jec­tory and snag a few wins along the way.

“I re­ally just want to come out with three Ws,” said se­nior re­ceiver Chris­tian Pabico, whose col­lege ca­reer is near­ing its end. “So that’s re­ally the main thing for me.”

The first op­por­tu­nity for UCLA (2-7 over­all, 2-4 in the Pac-12) comes Sat­ur­day at Sun Devil Sta­dium against Ari­zona State (5-4, 3-3), one of four teams the Bru­ins are try­ing to over­take in a jum­bled Pac-12 South where ev­ery team has at least three con­fer­ence losses.

Beat­ing the Sun Devils would likely in­volve clean­ing up the de­bris of a re­cent down­turn. UCLA has been be­dev­iled by missed tack­les, dropped passes, penal­ties and spe­cial teams break­downs all sea­son but par­tic­u­larly dur­ing its cur­rent two-game los­ing streak.

“A lot of it is get­ting out of our own way,” Pabico said. “The last two games I think a lot of it came down to us just shoot­ing our­selves in the foot. You know, sim­ple things like false starts, lit­tle hold­ing penal­ties or just not get­ting lined up, not be­ing in the right per­son­nel or what­ever the case may be. It’s a lot of stuff that we can fix.”

Kelly was hired to elim­i­nate th­ese sorts of mis­takes as part of a com­plete re­build­ing process. While it’s tak­ing longer than fans would have liked for the Bru­ins to make per­cep­ti­ble progress, Kelly re­cently ap­peared to ac­knowl­edge for the first time the scope of the un­der­tak­ing.

“It’s all brand new,” said Kelly last week af­ter his team dropped six passes, missed 12 tack­les and com­mit­ted an as­sort­ment of spe­cial-teams blun­ders dur­ing a 42-21 loss to Ore­gon. “They’re learn­ing us, we’re learn­ing them, so that’s part of the process that we go through. That’s the chal­lenge, and to be hon­est with you, that’s the fun part. No one wants it easy and that was one of the rea­sons [this job] was at­trac­tive, so let’s go see what we can get done.”

It would be easy to say that Herm Ed­wards, Ari­zona State’s first-year coach, is fur­ther along than Kelly in his takeover ef­forts based on the Sun Devils’ record, but some con­text is needed. Kelly in­her­ited a younger team, a tougher sched­ule and fewer dy­namic skill play­ers than his coun­ter­part, whose suc­cess has largely been a func­tion of vet­eran quar­ter­back Manny Wilkins, re­ceiver N’Keal Harry and tail­back Eno Ben­jamin.

Kelly has had to break in two new quar­ter­backs while search­ing for con­sis­tent play­mak­ers be­yond tail­back Joshua Kel­ley. A new of­fense and de­fense aren’t the only things the Bru­ins con­tinue to learn; an in­creased level of ac­count­abil­ity has led to the an­nounced sus­pen­sions of seven play­ers.

“Other peo­ple might ques­tion him,” Ed­wards told re­porters this week when asked about Kelly, “but I think when he gets his play­ers and de­vel­ops his sys­tem at UCLA, they are go­ing to be re­ally good.”

Pabico said the cur­rent ros­ter is al­ready adapt­ing to the new cul­ture, even if the re­sults might not show it.

“We just kind of trust the sys­tem a lot more,” Pabico said. “We’re a lot more com­fort­able with it, the of­fense and just the way that ev­ery­thing flows.”

Sev­eral Bru­ins play­ers said there re­mained plenty to play for amid a sched­ule that will end with mean­ing­ful games, Rose Bowl or not. UCLA still has to play USC and long­time neme­sis Stan­ford, which has won the last 10 games in the se­ries.

But first comes a chance to get back to win­ning against Ari­zona State.

“No one’s down and out,” UCLA de­fen­sive line­man Ato­nio Mafi said. “We still have faith in our team and get­ting bet­ter. We want to end the sea­son on a high note so we’re def­i­nitely go­ing to keep push­ing th­ese last three games.”

Robert Gau­thier Los An­ge­les Times

RE­CEIVER Chris­tian Pabico says Bru­ins could win fi­nal three games if they cut down on mis­takes.

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