No. 24 UCLA sees way to Pac-12 South title after Utah's loss
''I'm not going to say that much, but the winning team was the team we wanted to win,'' Duarte said.
No. 24 UCLA (5-2, 2-2 Pac-12) would now claim the division title and a berth in the conference championship game by winning its final five games, including a Nov. 21 trip to Salt Lake City before facing USC at the Coliseum on the following Saturday, and having Arizona State lose another game. That stretch begins Saturday with Colorado's visit to the Rose Bowl.
The Sun Devils hold the head-to-head tiebreaker thanks to their 38-23 win at the Rose Bowl earlier this month, but UCLA would almost certainly advance from a multiple-team tie that included Arizona State because of a superior intra-division record.
To make those scenarios meaningful, UCLA has to keep winning. The 40-24 win over previously ranked California last Thursday night was a good start, breaking a two-game losing streak.
UCLA has never lost three straight regular-season games under coach Jim Mora, and has put together winning streaks of three and five games following consecutive losses the past two seasons.
That track record of success was on display against the Golden Bears, Duarte said.
''We've been there before,'' Duarte said. ''We have experience. This team is a veteran team. We know how to bounce back and we showed it against Cal, so we're just going to stay focused and keep working hard.''
Defensive lineman Eli Ankou hinted that injuries to standout defenders Eddie Vanderdoes, Myles Jack and Fabian Moreau had a negative effect on UCLA's mentality going into losses against Arizona State and Stanford.
Now UCLA is waiting for updates on the availability of running back Paul Perkins (knee), wide receiver Devin Fuller (neck) and linebacker Isaako Savaiinaea (knee), each of whom exited the game against Cal with injuries. Mora has given few specifics on the extent of those injuries, but all three showed up for at least part of Tuesday's practice.
Ankou said another rash of injuries should not hurt the team's psyche at this point in the season.
''The numbers dwindle a little bit, but that's not something that should affect us mentally. It's always next man up,'' Ankou said.
Freshman running back Soso Jamabo displayed that mentality against Cal, stepping in for Perkins and rushing for a game-high 79 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries. Jamabo said UCLA has the right mindset now, and the opportunities created by USC's win over Utah add to that focus.
''We want to stay very energetic, very optimistic, and we got an opportunity now. It's in our own hands,'' Jamabo said. ''We got to take it one game at a time, one day at a time, have a great week of practice and get ready for Colorado.''