Coming off a discouraging 35-17 loss to Stanford, the UCLA Bruins and head coach Jim Mora are seeking revenge. A win on friday is not your average, everyday, boring win. A win would signify that, during Mora’s short tenure at UCLA, he has made a huge step in returning UCLA to greatness. As stated by Mora on multiple occasions. “We’re playing to win. Thats what we do here. We’re trying to create a culture about winning.”
Imagine this: The Bruins of 2011 (6-8) after losing the oh-so-precious Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl (a place where the Trojans may finish their season), head to the locker room with a bad taste in their mouth. If you told that team that next season, they would finish the season 9-3, beat USC, win the Pac 12 South (this time not by default), and be consistently ranked in the top 25, they would look at you like a crazy man.
Well, its happened. And you know what else? They are one win away from the Rose Bowl. No, not a regular home game at the Rose Bowl, but the Rose Bowl. The Granddaddy of Them All. Now that sounds like a Cinderella story to me.
But what will it really require to take this last, large step? Well it surely wont come with a bow attached. The Cardinal have one of the best and most aggressive run defenses in football. And what is UCLA’s strength? That’s right — running.
But with 50-plus years of NFL experience, the Bruins coaching staff is no joke. Offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone must have a plan, right? Exploit their weaknesses. This Stanford defense is very lopsided. A great run defense with a mediocre pass defense. We saw UCLA attack downfield with a 71 strike through the air from Hundley to Shaq Evans, but they rarely came back to this method.
TJ Simers assumed Mora and his staff packed up and played it “like an NFL preseason game” after the first quarter, but Mora said this was not the case. As a fan, I sometimes wondered the same thing. Why, with 6 minutes left, and the game nearly out of reach, do you keep your starters in, especially against a D-line that is repeatedly disrupting your back field? Soon, I figured out why. It’s because Mora wants one thing. A win. Nothing will stand in his way… Except his own team.
Football is a game of emotion. Everything stays on the field. This Bruin team may have had a “post-USC emotional hangover.” They didn’t seem to want it all that bad, but it is very understandable.
Put yourself in their shoes, as a college athlete. No matter what your coach says, as a young man knowing that regardless of the score of this game, you will play in the Pac-12 Championship game, where do you find the motivation and work ethic?
Knowing Mora, this team will come out of the tunnel on Friday, at 5:30 PST, fired up and ready to go.