LOS ANGELES -- This time when UCLA and Stanford meet, the game will have a name on it.
And in that name is the word ‘championship.’
The Cardinal defeated the Bruins, 35-17, Saturday in a regular-season finale that carried significance only for Stanford. When they meet again Friday at Stanford it will be the same teams, the same players and the same coaches, but they will be playing in the Pac-12 Championship game and the winner gets a Rose Bowl berth.
“We know what’s at stake,” UCLA safety Tevin McDonald said. “We know how big the opportunity is. We know how hard it is to get to the Rose Bowl game and we have this opportunity so we’re going to bring it all out there and leave it all on the field. Not that we didn’t last week, but you put the name on the game and the urgency is higher.”
Last week, Stanford had to win to clinch the Pac-12 North Division and set up a rematch while UCLA had already secured its spot by winning the South Division a week earlier. The Bruins say they gave it their all, but couldn’t quite match the emotional intensity of Stanford.
This week, the circumstances will be different.
“I think it’ll just juice up the adrenaline,” UCLA coach Jim Mora said. “I know it will for our team. They have a chance to realize a dream on Friday night and that’s to become a champion.”
The psychological edge would seem to favor the Cardinal, which will face a team only six days after dominating it in an 18-point victory. But the Bruins say there is something to losing that puts a chip on your shoulder.
“We all feel like we could have won the game even thought the score was what it was,” linebacker Jordan Zumwalt said. “When you lose to somebody, you always think ‘oh, he got lucky. I’m going to come back swinging harder next time.’ It’s actually an extra edge. It’s like losing to your pops or your friend. You’re like ‘I’m going to get you next time.’ It’s that kind of mentality.”
Luckily for the Bruins, the score on Friday will not pick up where last week’s left off. Each team will start with zero and that makes this game an entirely different entity that will develop a life of its own. Offensive lineman Xavier Su’a-Filo said it’s best for the Bruins to treat it as such while remembering how the blowout loss made them feel.
“When you lose like that, it hurts,” he said. “You get bitter. What we have to do is realize that we have an opportunity to turn right around and play the exact same team again and redeem ourselves. That’s not an opportunity that comes along very often in this game.”
UCLA has lost two other games this season and rebounded for a win both times. They trounced Colorado, 42-14, a week after losing to Oregon State and won hard-fought 21-14 victory over Utah a week after getting blown out at California.
Mora said showing that type of resiliency will help his team stay confident despite the lopsided loss last week.
“I think one thing about being a young man like these guys are is that you get over things quick,” Mora said. “I haven’t seen confidence be a problem with us because we’ve had some success this year. I don’t think it’ll be an issue. I think they are amped up and ready to go.”