PASADENA, Calif. — UCLA tailback Johnathan Franklin acknowledges he had plenty of fun during the season's first three weeks, becoming the nation's leading rusher while the long-downtrodden Bruins got off to a 3-0 start.
Franklin says the fun is over for the Bruins, starting today at the Rose Bowl.
Oregon State is visiting with a run-stopping defense that doesn't care about No. 19 UCLA's perfect beginning to a long season, but the Bruins say they're prepared for the grind.
"Our season starts right now," said Franklin, who already has 541 yards rushing. "We're 0-0. We have to stay humble. We can't have our heads in the newspaper or TV. We've got to work hard. We haven't done anything even close to our potential."
The midday heat in Arroyo Seco is likely to be oppressive when UCLA hosts the Beavers (1-0) in the Pac-12 opener for both schools. The Bruins haven't opened a season with four straight wins since 2005.
Franklin knows UCLA was tested by Rice, Nebraska and Houston, but conference play presents a more imposing array of challenges — including that well-rested Oregon State defense, which shut down Wisconsin tailback Montee Ball in its only game of the year. UCLA has the nation's No. 2 offense with 622 yards per game, but the Bruins won't be surprised if they can't post anything near those numbers against a defense that blanketed Wisconsin.
"They've got a really good front seven, and it's going to be a major challenge for us," Franklin said. "They've been running that same defense for a while now, and we know it's going to be tough to do anything."
Coach Jim Mora has energized the UCLA program with innovation and energy, but the longtime NFL coach acknowledges he's still re-learning the intricacies of the college sport. He knows enough to see that Oregon State, which finished just outside the Top 25 last week, presents challenges UCLA hasn't yet faced in his brief tenure.
"I'm excited to see what it's like to play in a Pac-12 game," said Mora, a former Washington defensive back. "Pac-12 vs. Pac-12, I haven't done that in a while. ... It will be a gut-grinder. It will be the kind of game you look forward to being a part of."
Mora speaks reverently of veteran coach Mike Riley and his Beavers, who are so fresh because they had a nonconference game against Nicholls State postponed by concerns over Hurricane Isaac.
Riley says the Beavers have "no rhythm for the season" because of the postponement, but Mora isn't sure the weird circumstances will make much difference.
"I guess if there's a negative, it's that we don't have a lot of film on them, and they'll probably be a little more fresh," Mora said. "The positives are that we have a little bit more game experience, but I don't know that that's a real positive."
Riley will pull even with Lon Stiner as the winningest coach in Oregon State history with his next victory, his 74th at the school. He's not thinking about history while devising ways to stop UCLA's spread offense with Franklin and freshman quarterback Brett Hundley.
"The quarterback can run, the running back is a great runner, and they spread you out and force you into a lot of one-on-one tackles," Riley said. "We're real worried about (Franklin), and we've been seeing him for too long. He's a great player, and he's doing real well in this offense. We're going to have to do a good job against him. We've seen two of the best backs in the country in our first two games."
Mora's defense has been a revelation for Bruins fans, creating havoc and an FBS-high seven interceptions so far while outplaying the respected offenses at Nebraska and Houston.
Oregon State's offense couldn't do much in its season opener, but the novelty of playing at the Rose Bowl might be a benefit to quarterback Sean Mannion and the Beavers. Mannion made his first career start against UCLA last season in Corvallis, but lost 27-19.
"I've never been there, but it's obviously something you've known about your whole life," Mannion said. "It's going to be a cool experience. You want to enjoy it, but also stay focused on the game."