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Out of Top 25 after 2 losses, UCLA rebuilds season

October 14, 2014

LOS ANGELES (AP) — UCLA’s national ranking is gone. That might mean the Gutty Little Bruins are back.

UCLA is out of the AP Top 25 after consecutive losses to Utah and Oregon. The Bruins are no longer a trendy pick to reach the College Football Playoff, and no longer in control of their own destiny to win the Pac-12 South and reach the conference championship game.

But finding themselves back in the role of underdogs might not be such a bad thing, receiver Jordan Payton said.

“To be honest with you, I like that mindset,” Payton said. “I have always thrived on that mindset. I can’t speak for the other 120 (players), but from the looks of the locker room it seems like they are doing just fine.”

The entire UCLA program has relished and frequently cultivated the underdog role ever since the 1965 season, when a smallish, scrappy squad earned the nickname “Gutty Little Bruins” for beating archrival Southern California before upsetting top-ranked Michigan State in the Rose Bowl.

And while the current Bruins are favored in their game at California on Saturday, they can be excused if they don’t draw any comfort from the oddsmakers. UCLA has not won in Berkeley since 1998, dropping its last seven games at Memorial Stadium.

In 2012, UCLA was blown out 43-17, with quarterback Brett Hundley throwing four interceptions.

“I remember it was like, ‘What the heck is going on?’ I think that is the phrase we used when we were up there. They play well up there,” Payton said.

The Bruins also failed to score touchdowns in the red zone in that game, with echoes of those offensive issues found in their 42-30 loss to Oregon last weekend. Two Hundley turnovers led to 14 points for the Ducks, while a tipped pass at the goal line cost receiver Devin Fuller an easy touchdown that could have blunted Oregon’s early momentum.

“We have to play a lot better if we want to win, especially to beat a team like Oregon later down the road,” Payton said. “This week versus Cal, they are another team that can light you up, so we know we have to put points on the board.”

There was one bright spot in a largely dismal performance against Oregon. Paul Perkins continued his strong play by rushing for 190 yards, while Hundley added 89 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries, the heaviest workload of his career.

Expanded use of the zone-read forced the Oregon defense to account for Hundley and opened up running lanes for Perkins, a sophomore who has now rushed for at least 98 yards in each of the last five games.

If the connection between Hundley and Perkins seemed natural, it should be as they played together in high school in Chandler, Arizona. The conversations in the backfield remain the same, Hundley said, but the venues in which they take place have gotten bigger.

“That’s pretty sweet,” Hundley said. “Paul is doing a great job for us. The things he is able to do in the open field are pretty spectacular.”

If UCLA is able to convert that spectacular running into a win, it would continue the unlikely trend of road dominance in the Pac-12 this season. The home team is just 4-14 in conference games, with all three of the Bruins’ conference games going to the visitor.

“I was actually looking at that the other day, teams losing at home,” Payton said. “I don’t know what it is. Maybe all the teams are getting complacent.”

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