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Pregame Guesses: Houston Cougars Edition

Pat Travers "Boom Boom" (via TKTurboX)

(This week’s video – as all the videos do, I guess – ages me a bit. It’s But since the video of the team coming out of the tunnel doing that cool little "boom chant" was marked "private" by whoever thought that a team yelling "boom" was classified information, I thought I’d go with Pat Travers Band performing "Boom Boom – Out Go the Lights. That fact that most of you are too young to remember Pat Travers gives me a momentary pause, but screw it. If you youngsters with your rap and your hip hop and your Justin Bieber and Taylor Swift want more current songs, you can start your own blog and write your own Pregame Guesses column. I’m going with Pat Travers. Boom!!!)

When last we met, I wrote:

"And with Jim Mora on the sidelines, I at least feel like we’re in the game again. We may not beat Nebraska tomorrow, but I’m sure we’re going to compete with Nebraska tomorrow. We’re still a young team trying to get better, we’re going to make mistakes. We could win by ten or lose by twenty. But either way, we’ll succeed on Coach Wooden’s terms at the very least and regardless of the final score the Huskers will know they were in a tough football game."

Well, I’m pretty sure that Nebraska knows they were in a tough football game last Saturday.

UCLA’s performance against Nebraska last Saturday pretty much exceeded all of my expectations. It wasn’t a perfect performance, and I wasn’t expecting one. But it was an impressive one in almost all phases of the game.

In some ways, the Nebraska game (and to a lesser extent the Rice game) has left me with a quandary. On one hand, I’m tempted to go all rah-rah, anoint Jim Mora the savior and show up tomorrow covered in True Blue body paint. On the other hand, I’ve let myself get caught up in the momentum of a big win before, only to have reality eventually slap me in the face and remind me of what I knew all along.

I’ll add to the admission: I’m a natural skeptic, so there is a real part of me that wants to say "It’s only been two games people, let’s dial down planning for the parade down Westwood Boulevard until we’ve got a slightly bigger sample size." So there is a battle going on inside me – a battle between the guy who thinks "there is no way we’re not going to lose three or four games this year because that’s what happens to teams with a freshman quarterback and three freshmen starting on the offensive line once conference season starts" and the guy who looks at the upcoming games and the early season performances of the teams left on our schedule and says "Holy moly, we could be unbeaten going into the USC/Stanford ‘homestand’ that closes out the regular season."

The battle rages on even as I write this post. Just as I was about to write "it may be true, we might still lose three or four games this season but one of those losses won't come against Houston" a little voice inside me said "Achilles, dude, Houston throws 70 times a game. Our secondary is a bit thin, this could turn into a shootout and then anything could happen." Now, I really don’t believe we’ll lose to Houston at home this week. I think we’re better than them and they are dealing with the loss of fourteenth-year-senior Case Keenum and throwing 70 times a game doesn’t mean you’re completing 70 passes a game and well I just don’t believe for a second that we’re going to lose to Houston.

Still, there is that nerve in me that doesn’t quite believe what I’m seeing. Some of you have that same nerve. Maybe you’re not worrying about the Houston game and are sure that we’ll be unbeaten when SC travels across town. But that nerve is there – it’s the nerve that has you worrying that Cal will fire Jeff Tedford and hire Noel Mazzone. It’s the nerve that has you convinced Brett Hundley is going pro after his sophomore year. It’s that nerve that convinces you that, just when things are going so well, the other cleat is going to drop.

And it’s going to drop.

It always does.

The trick, the secret to success in fact, is what you do when things go south.

You want to know what’s steadying that nerve in me? You want to know why I’m getting ready to dive head first into the deep end of Bruin fandom and just stop and smell the (ahem) Roses?

You want to know why, finally, I believe that when eventually when things get sort of hot a few stray sparks won’t burn the whole season down.

Jim Mora.

The guy is just really steady. He’s really focused. He understands that something at some point is going to go wrong this year. It happens to every team, every year. He’s just not worrying about it.

Mora is not one of those UCLA coaches whose constantly referencing John Wooden. I mean, he’ll express his admiration if asked and he’s let it be known he’s got a file somewhere of Wooden stuff, but he doesn’t just talk about Wooden like some others did, converting real words of wisdom into empty clichés. That said, there is a Wooden maxim that seems to really sums up Mora at this point.

"A failure to prepare is preparing to fail."

See, I’d been trying to find the word that defines More to me. I thought about "intense," but he’s not intense in the Nick Saban sense of the word. Saban always looks like his head is about to explode, Scanners style. It’s not "emotional" in a rah rah sort of way; he might be able to motivate his team, but he doesn’t seem like he’s the sort of coach to rely on the big halftime speech to turn things around for the final two quarters.

To me, Mora mostly seems matter of fact. How’s Brett Hundley’s ankle coach? "He’s fine." He’s fine? "He’s good." What does it mean to beat Nebraska, Coach Mora? "It means we’re 2-0." It’s funny, because UCLA fans are so starved for success, that we’re dying to have Mora get all excited because we’re excited. We’re craving some reassurance, some validation that what we’re seeing it not only really happening, but that it means something in the long run.

And Mora must know we want it. Sure, we think it’s great when he runs off the field after beating Nebraska instead of addressing the student section and joining in the celebration. We think it’s great because we think "that’s what real coaches do." But, admit it: If Mora had raced over to the student section and grabbed the mic and told us how "this was only the beginning and hootie hoo boom yah" – we’d have put the ensuing video front and center on this blog. It would have gotten a billion hits. We’d have emailed the link to our friends and posted it on Facebook.

Instead, we got "It means we’re 2-0."

Which is why I decided the word that defines Mora for me is "prepared." He’s hinted at that, too. I forget which post practice video it was (or I’d link it) but he said something about how practice is about putting the team in different situations and forcing them to think, to react, so that when something like that happens in a game, they are ready. That, by the way, is exactly how you are supposed to practice. The coach of the Croatian junior national basketball team once told me that all basketball practice consisted of was fatiguing the team with drills and then letting them play five on five so they get used to performing with tired legs at the end of the game. That, my friends, preparation personified.

So, Mora just focuses on preparation, on detail, and expects the team to be ready for what comes next. So, when the inevitable bad bounce ends up with the other team recovering a fumble or when a tipped passed turns into a pick six the other way – the team will be ready, they’ll endure adversity and bounce back. Will they win every game? I’m not that ready to commit. But they’ll continue to compete, continue to be prepared, and as I said last week, that’s all I can ask.

With that, here are your Pregame Guesses, Houston Cougars edition:

  1. True or False: The combined number of attempted passes by both teams Saturday will exceed 100.
  2. Within 10, how many yards will Johnathan Franklin rush for on Saturday?
  3. Who will lead the Bruins in tackles against Houston?