Mora needs to close out the 2012 season with a win. - Stephen Dunn
It's Monday morning, which comes on the heels of a bad weekend for UCLA sports fans: the Bruins came up short in Palo Alto, while Howland's dumpster fire joke program got beat down by San Diego State in Anaheim. As usual, it's time for us to take a look at the various bits and pieces of news floating around the UCLA-iverse, with a focus on our upcoming bowl game in San Diego, which is shaping as a must-win for UCLA to sustain the momentum from this successful season.
Well, we're not going to the Rose Bowl. That sucks. If you were one of the many UCLA fans who braved the "rain" (which was more of a mist than actual rain) to cheer on your Bruins in Palo Alto on Friday night, kudos to you. The fans rode quite the emotional roller-coaster in Stanford Stadium, with the Bruins driving for a chance to win, all before Jim Mora turned into Terry Donahue/Karl Dorrell/Rick Neuheisel in the last minute of the game.
Couple of quick thoughts before turning to Baylor and the Holiday Bowl: (1) UCLA was the better team that night - in every facet of the game, the Bruins won, which gives me a lot of long-term hope for this program; (2) we lost because of our own mistakes (the interception returned for 80 yards, which turned (at worse) 17-7 to 14-14, Price's blown coverage on that final third-and-fourteen which let Stanford tie it up, and (3) Mora's inexplicable decision to put the game on Fairbairn's leg. Yes, Jim Mora could have won that game and he made a colossal error. First, Fairbairn's career long FG at UCLA is 48 yards and he was only 1-for-4 on FGs over 40 yards, so a 52 yard FG was itself stretching the odds. Second, it was obvious that, for whatever reason (thicker, heavier air due to the rain/moisture; poor field conditions; moist footballs; etc.) that the football was not carrying in Palo Alto: look no further than Jeff Locke's inability to drive it into the end zone (and this guy was blasting every kick-off deep into every end zone he's seen this year), so if Locke, one of the best legs in college football, is struggling to get his usual power because of the conditions, it's kind of tough to think that a freshman kicker (who had early season struggles) wouldn't. Third, it was 4th-and-4, on Stanford's 35 yard line, and you're down by three: that is the kind of situation that you roll the dice and play to win. Instead, Jim put the Rose Bowl on the leg of a true freshman kicker, who has never hit over 50 yards before, in a hostile environment on the road, with the conference title and Rose Bowl birth on the line (can you imagine a more high pressure situation?), all with far-less-than-optimal conditions for kicking. It makes absolutely no logical sense, whatsoever. To lose that way was just flat-out frustrating, especially since our defense shut Taylor down for most of the night and Johnathan Franklin was just smashing Stanford's vaunted defensive front seven. That just sucked.
But, it's time to move on and focus on the Baylor Bears, the Holiday Bowl, and a crucial end-of-the-year nationally-televised bowl game. First, you can find our on-going Holiday Bowl coverage in the stream located here. Second, the Bruins find themselves, for the first time in the Jim Mora era, coming off back-to-back losses. By all accounts, Jim Mora's first season in Westwood met all our expectations and was a very good, very big first step in the right direction to get UCLA football back to where we all want it to be. That being said, a lot of the great momentum built up around this program will be lost if UCLA ends the year on a three-game losing streak by giving one away a mid-tier Big XII team, especially one from Texas where Mora and his staff are trying to make recruiting in-roads.
To be blunt: this is must win game for UCLA, from not only a recruiting stand-point, but to give UCLA's seniors, who have done everything we could have hoped for in their final season for the Blue and Gold one last chance to go out as winners in front of a blue-and-gold home crowd in Southern California. So, yes, it is a must-win and this young team needs to win, not just to keep the recruiting momentum going strong, but to give Johnathan Franklin, Joe Fauria, Richard Brehaut, Jeff Locke, Datone Jones, Jerry Johnson, Damien Holmes, Aaron Hester, Sheldon Price, Donovan Carter, Andrew Abbott, Ryan Medina, Kevin McDermott, Brett Downey, Jeff Baca, David Allen, and Dalton Hilliard that one last win. And of course, there's nothing I want to see more than Kevin Prince on the field at the end of the game, taking the final snaps in victory formation for the Blue and Gold: that kid has earned it and has bled Blue and Gold for UCLA at every step of the way.
So, with that said, let's get to the bits and pieces of news floating around the UCLA-iverse at the beginning of this work week. Here's the Bruin Bites for this Monday morning:
- With the immediate reaction, WWL's Peter Yoon has a round-up of UCLA football notes, including quotes from Coach Mora's telephone press conference following the Holiday Bowl announcement, which as some very telling bits that show how disappointed Coach Mora and this group of guys are for not winning the Pac-12 title on Friday night.
- In case you missed it, Jim Mora got robbed for Pac-12 Coach of the Year by Stanford's David Shaw. Now, don't get wrong: Shaw deserves praise for leading Stanford to a 11-2 record, the Pac-12 title, and a Rose Bowl birth, but you can't be too surprised that the Trees dominated, given what Shaw was handled by his predecessor. Mora, on the other hand, took a team that went 6-8 the previous year, got slaughtered 50-0 by their cross-town rival, and was playing in garbage bowl games and turned them into a nationally relevant power that came within a whisker of winning the conference and playing in the Rose Bowl. Naturally, the Bruins' players thought it was weak.
- For the reaction from the Texas side of the announcement, check out Josh Friemel's immediate five thoughts on UCLA from the Baylor POV on the Dallas Morning News' website. Once again, as Josh points out, the Bruins will face a dynamic offense, with a featured running back that can make things happen. I suspect Coach Spanos' will have something up his sleeve to slow the Bears down: ask Stepfan Taylor after this past Friday, or Matt Scott and his Mildcats, or Matt "Unfinished Business" Barkley about how UCLA handles high-flying offenses.
- Turning to Ben Howland's dumpster fire joke program, interesting factual tidbit: the last time SDSU beat UCLA was December 7, 1940. Yes, the last time the Aztecs dropped the Bruins, Pearl Harbor was another naval base on the opposite side of the globe that very few Americans knew even existed. Seventy-f**king-two years. Just when you think Ben Howland can't possible set any other low-lights during his tenure, he finds a new one.
- So, December is here and Shabazz Muhammad is eligible to play for UCLA. When he committed, if you were taking bets on who would be the best, most-accomplished basketball player for UCLA on December 3, 2012, odds are most people would be putting their money on Shabazz Muhammad, or for the more adventurous: Josh Smith, Kyle Anderson, or the long-odds-man Norman Powell. If you put your money down on Markel Walker, the 6'1" senior wing for Cori Close's #19-ranked Lady Bruins, you could retire young. Walker grabbed her third Pac-12 player-of-the-week award this past week, after averaging 22.0 points, 9 rebounds, 4.5 assists, and 5 steals per game while taking on #5-ranked Notre Dame (in a 76-64 loss) and Princeton (65-52 win). Oh, and Markel is second in the conference in scoring. Maybe it's time to let Cori Close take over the men's team too.
Alright folks, those are your Bruin Bites to start the work week with. Let's gear up for the Holiday Bowl and an absolute must-win end-of-the-year game for Coach Jim Mora and the UCLA Bruins football team. Fire away with your thoughts, takes, and additions in the comments thread.