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UCLA football had an opportunity to grab true momentum by ending a 14 year winless streak in Berkeley against a struggling Cal program. Instead it suffered another humiliating and disgraceful loss, playing lifeless and listless football just like it has done time and again during the abysmal and incompetent reign of Dan "Chianti" Guerrero.
By the time I got home last night it was around 1 am EST. It took me about 90+ minutes to get to Western side of SF peninsula though BART and MUNI after leaving Memorial with 3 something minutes left on the clock. I haven't been feeling too well for last few days. But still went to the game because I didn't want to miss out on the chance to hang out with my BN friends and reconnect with some old one.
So this morning around breakfast time Mrs. N asked me, "was the adventure worth it?" I didn't have to think twice. I said it was because of how much fun it was to meet AHMB and Mrs. AHMB in person, getting to meet P's Dad (a huge Bruin fan), and getting to hang out with Menelaus who flew up from Southern California to check out the game. We all met up at a pretty cool bar in Berkeley before the game ("Triple Rocks"), took in the A's game and got all fired up about our game. There were other Bruins in the Bar, including some students who drove for the game. Couple of others friend came over little later to share some cold ones. There was a good feeling and vibe all around, just reinforcing all over again how wonderful it is to be part of this community.
And, speaking of community, we sat right in the middle of the UCLA section with whole bunch of other friends from college days, who I had not seen in 10+ years. Most of are now Bruin Dads and Moms, getting our little ones indoctrinated about all that is amazing about UCLA blue and gold, reminiscing about the glory days from college, and also appreciating what we have.
So ... this morning when I was thinking about the game ... I wasn't feeling down. I was appreciating what I have and how lucky I am to be part of this wonderful community, not just among friends here OL, but also IRL. That said, there was the game.
Before the game, AHMB and I specifically talked about how huge this game was Jim Mora, and how winning this could be a massive psychological boost for a program, that has been mired in total abyss under the dismal leadership of an incompetent athletic director and a non-caring Chancellor. This game was Mora's chance to exorcise the demons of Toledo, Dorrell and Neuheisel, and truly set the programs on to a new trajectory of culture change, making UCLA football more relevant beyond the articles and blogposts flouting meaningless off season, pre-season hype, and making a big deal out of September wins that have turned out to be total fluke year after year.
And we were feeling it. The Cal crowd looked despondent and sedated early on. Our side of the stadium was loud and making all the noise. Then we went up 7-0, and then just like that roof caved in. It was basically the same feeling we felt in the Farm back in 2001. Bruins came into the Farm 5-0 and IIRC it was a Ryan Neece fumble return for TD that had us up 7-0 and feeling on the top of the world. And, then Stanford scored something like 28 straight points, and the game/season meltdown ensued.
I really feel don't like going over every micro detail from Saturday's debacle. gbruin did all the hard work of breaking it down - South Campus style - in his morning reflections. There is one thing though, I think that is worth highlighting as a standalone issue. And that's the Mora's decision making process when it comes to going for FGs (as opposed to going for 4th down conversions).
The key moment of the game I though was when the Bruins down 7-10 had a 1st and 10 at Cal's 23 yard line after a quick run by Jet Ski. Instead of sticking with Jet Ski, Noel Mazzone kept trying to be cute with Brett Hundley, and had the Bruins at 3rd and 12 at Cal's 28. Right at that point, I though the Bruins should have operated as if they had 2 downs to work with (not depending on Kai'imi Fairbarn). Instead Hundley threw an incomplete pass and then Mora inexplicably went with his freshman kicker who not so surprisingly missed a clutch 46 yard old kick. But that whole sequence reeked of the same old Donahue/Dorrell/Neuheisel conservatism that made UCLA football irrelevant for last 10 years. It gave the impression of a scared, vanilla head coach, who didn't have any confidence in his offense and took the safe call with the kicking game (imagine the kind of coach Mora would be if actually had someone like Kai Forbath on his roster, LOLz).
Mora made the exact same Donahue/Dorrell/Neuheiselian conservative decision in Q4 when the Bruins were down 15. We had a 4th and 6 and were threatening around the Bears' 11 yards. Instead of going for the TD and closing it within one score (8 points), Mora again went with his kicking game. Even after the made kick Bruins were down by more than 1 score. That was a decision that didn't make any sense, and yet it did if you pull back a little bit and view Mora as just another bland, vanilla, average, journey-man NFL coach.
BTW speaking of bad offense, our offense reminded me of the undisciplined, paper tiger offense of ASU that always imploded under pressure in last two seasons. Remember it was the same offense that melted against a defense coached by none other than Joe Tresey.
It's definitely a fun and pretty offense to watch in spurts - against bad to mediocre teams. But neither Mora nor Mazzone seem to have any answer for Pac-12 coaches, who have their team well scouted and scheme for.
The same goes for our defense, where we have Lou Spanos coaching as if he was still a defense assistant for the Pittsburgh Steelers (where cornerbacks are given responsibilities to shut down their matchups from their respective islands, so that the DL and LB can wreak havoc from their points of attack). It's surreal to see how Mora and Spanos keep going with the same flailing combination of senior cornerbacks, as if they have combined case of Howlanditis, trying out the same ineffective personnel combination over and over again thinking it will make a difference.
Anyway, I am not giving up on Mora. Just like I have never been emotionally invested in him. From my pov, it will be all about the bottom line. That's why heading into this season I was agnostic about how I felt about this season, and remain so for the second half. Losses like last night doesn't hurt as much as it used to because after 10 years of Chianti incompetence, none of this should ever be a surprise. Lifeless and listless football - that is the trademark of Chianti football and doesn't come as a shock to our system after absorbing it year after year.
We have had 6 games in Mora's first season and right now the record of this mediocre NFL coach with a .500 record (34-34) is the same as what Karl Dorrell was in his first season. Dorrell started his first year at 6-2, before imploding down the stretch. Mora is now 4-2, with 4 victories against atrocious to mediocre teams (can't call Nebraska anything but mediocre). He and his supporters have talked a lot about accountability and culture change. If they want to make a case for that happening in Westwood, this team needs to finish the remainder of the regular season either going 5-1 or 4-2, including a must win on November 17. Anything, short of that will mean, we are going to have a mediocre head coach (who was wanted by no one in the NFL or in the college ranks, before stumbling onto UCLA after a debacle and joke of a "coaching search") on the hot seat heading into his second year of the program.
A simple message for this coach who doesn't like talking much to press. Get it done. No mora of this nonsense.