Saturday, 7:30 p.m.
The Battle for Los Angeles between UCLA and USC is less than 10 days away, and this year, it actually means something.
The winner of next Saturday’s game at the Rose Bowl will be in the driver’s seat to win the Pac-12 South and advance to the Pac-12 Championship Game. When UCLA freshman safety Randall Goforth allegedly got into a social media spat with USC junior receiver Robert Woods earlier this week, it seemed easy to forget that the Bruins must line up against a team other than the Trojans on Saturday before they get to the crosstown showdown.
This weekend, UCLA will travel to Pullman, Wash. to face a downtrodden Washington State team that, on paper, looks to posses every quality of a prototypical trap game.
But UCLA coach Jim Mora doesn’t subscribe to such things.
“I don’t believe in trap games,” Mora said. “I think that’s a term that the media and the fans use. Coaches don’t use it. For us, it’s about focusing on what we have to do to win this game. I’ve never used that word with a team nor will I ever use it.”
No one would blame Mora or his players for looking past the Cougars. Washington State’s program is in all sort of disarray under first-year coach Mike Leach.
The Cougars are 2-7 and are assured of missing the postseason, a first for Leach. After the latest loss, a 49-6 blowout against Utah in Salt Lake City, Leach ranted about his team’s lack of effort and said its performance “bordered on cowardice” before ordering both his offensive and defensive lines out of the locker room to answer to the media.
He went so far as to suggest that many players on his current team won’t be back next season.
“I can’t fathom how you work at anything and then come out and not even try,” Leach said after the game.
“If five of our guys went in an alley and got in a fight with two of theirs, we would have gotten massacred. That’s ridiculously inexcusable. It was one of the most heartless efforts up front I’ve ever seen.”
Arguably the team’s best player and the school’s all-time leading receiver ““ junior Marquess Wilson ““ walked off the field during a conditioning drill on Sunday night and Leach suspended him on Monday.
As they have all year, Mora’s Bruins are staying grounded by worrying about themselves, not the opponent.
“Regardless of what their record is, every team in this conference has talent,” said redshirt senior linebacker Damien Holmes.
“If you even try to take the approach that you feel like you have the upper hand and don’t have to work as hard, that’s when you get beat.”
UCLA missed out on the trip to Pullman in 2010 and 2011 as conference expansion skewed scheduling. In mid-November 2009, the Bruins beat the Cougars 43-7 despite 34-degree temperatures. Saturday’s forecast calls for a low of 19 degrees and a chance of snow.
“If we play our football, the weather doesn’t matter,” said redshirt senior punter Jeff Locke.
“Once the whistle blows, you could care less about the weather.”