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Spaulding Roundup: "Playing to Our Standard" and Coaching With Class

A quick update to BN Community...There is a new look coming to Bruins Nation (and all SB Nation blogs) and it will be here soon. Some things you can expect are a faster site, a more flexible layout, seamless performance regardless of platform, familiar content in fan posts and fan shots, and the same daily diehard U.C.L.A. loving, Chianti firing analysis and opinion. See N's post last evening for more details. Now, back to more immediate issues...

Jim Mora met with the press after practice yesterday for 7 minutes and 26 seconds longer than the coach of those people across town did. Even though there was very little news to discuss, Mora was professional and engaging and treated everyone with a pleasant demeanor, and when discussing the late Steve Sabol (see below), very sincere and emotional. I can assure you that the mainstream media, which always has a choice as to how they want to convey information, takes these things very seriously. That is why the national media is mocking Lane Kiffin and his program and why the beat reporters for such traditional UCLA hating and baiting outlets like the LA Times have been really quite straight forward and professional in their work lately. Class counts for something.

Of course, so does competence, and getting off to an impressive start this season has people willing to lend some credibility to Coach Mora and U.C.L.A. football thus far. But the Bruins have a significant task ahead of them this Saturday if they want to continue to foster that good will as they open conference play with Oregon State. Mora reiterated the points he made on Monday and Tuesday, praising Oregon State's effort and execution on both sides of the ball.

[On offense] These guys run real run plays. It {Bruins' run defense] has to be good because they're going to pound it. They're not a spread team...they're going to give us some conventional runs...We have to have great gap control, we have to be patient, we have to get good play entry, good leverage on the ball, we have to put our bodies on the ball carrier. Against these backs, arm tackles are not going to do it...It's definitely a point of emphasis for us this week.

Their defense...just as a group. They just play really well together. They're very disciplined. They're sound. They play really hard, they have great effort people don't get in behind their secondary, it's hard to run on them. their linebackers are active. They're a really good looking defense...If you appreciate good defense, it's fun to watch that team play. When you're getting ready to play them, it's not necessarily fun to watch them play.

while saying the Bruins primarily need to be focused and execute their own game plan.

Good practice. Lot of focus on getting ourselves prepared to play a very good opponent...

What's important is that regardless of circumstance just to go out and execute and play hard, play aggressive, and play technique sound, and win.

Like I wrote yesterday, these are the words of a coach who is confident in his roster, and knows his players are better than the opponent's players. The difference this Saturday will be which team plays up to its capability.

Looking ahead to the game this Saturday, Mora was later asked if there was a heightened urgency for the Pac-12 opener, and he did admit there seems to be an extra spark this week.

I think so. You really want to treat every game the same. That should be your message so that you don't have inconsistencies in your play. But I don't think you can deny the fact that conference games are very important, more important. But that's not something we talk to the team about really. We talk to the team about maintaining a consistent level of of preparation and play regardless of who we are playing you know trying to play our standard rather than that of the competition. It's kind of a delicate thing. You don't want to overemphasize games. I think when you overemphasize games you set yourself up for a letdown next week.

Personally, I hope the team is a little extra hyped for this game. One, our team was hyped for Nebraska, and that was a big factor in that game for us. Two, Oregon State is a very good team and we will need our A game. Finally, I hope the players are realizing there is an opportunity here which we haven't seen around Westwood in a long time. Just because we are always saying that U.C.L.A. should be competing for conference championships doesn't mean that we rationally believe that they have been in that conversation for a while. Should and could aren't the same thing. This is different though. The ceiling is higher for this team, and so the stakes are higher, and games mean more now. In theory, it shouldn't be any different. In reality, we know there is a difference. Just look at the tone of the comments around this blog and in the media. This Bruins team is in a different place right now, and I hope we take advantage of the new surroundings and that this team plays to its standard each week, because we finally seem to have placed that standard where it should be.

As expected, there were no updates on injuries, though that may change. The Pac-12 is considering making some form of injury reporting mandatory for the coaches. From Miguel Melendez Inside UCLA:

Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott spoke with reporters at halftime of the USC-Stanford game and said he is mulling over the idea on whether they'll implement a conference-wide mandate for schools to release injury reports.

UCLA coach Jim Mora was asked about Scott's comments.

"I think whatever they ask us to do we'll do," Mora said. "I think teams will conform to that. I think if it's across the board and everyone is held to the same standard with it, I don't have a problem with it at all."

I want to go back to Mora's interview yesterday because there were several comments which struck a chord with me, and not for what Mora said but how he said them. There was a pretty poignant moment in the interview when a reporter asked about the passing of NFL Films founder Steve Sabol. It begins at the 5:32 mark of the video. Mora had been in his usual 100% coach mode up to that point. But with the mention of Mr Sabol, you can clearly see an abrupt change in Mora, hear his tone soften, see his head drop while speaking:

[He was] Very close friends with my family.

He and my dad were extremely close. I was extremely close with him every year at the League meetings. My wife and I would go out to dinner with them. My heart goes out to his family. He's a great man...great man.

Mora went on to discuss the Sabol family's contributions to the development of the NFL, but it was clear this was not the gung ho businesslike coach who was speaking moments before. This was a man who was sad over the loss of a friend, and it was nice to get to see that side of him.

There were some specific comments about Joseph Fauria and Brett Hundley in the interview, and I want to highlight them, too. Not that Mora said anything terribly newsworthy or surprising about either of them, but for the way he spoke about them.

First, Mora was asked about Fauria's struggles blocking along the line of scrimmage last weekend.

You know, he's getting better at it. When you're 6 foot 8, it's going to be hard to get leverage. He works hard at it. It's just about bending his knees and playing low, and constantly reminding himself to get down. Because once he does get under a guy he's got power. We've seen him drive guys off the line of scrimmage. He's got to continually work on just bending and getting low because blocking is so much about leverage. It's hard when you're 6'8".

Next, Mora was prompted about Hundley's passing efficiency, with the unspoken allusion that his most recent game was not nearly as efficient as the first two.

You want to be efficient. The thing we have to do is cut down on errors...We have to make sure were doing a good job of running the right routes, giving good protection, and that he's doing a good job of reading his progressions and making good decisions. After 3 weeks Brett's shown a lot of maturity. He's shown a lot of growth and we can expect him to continue. There's going to be some inconsistencies in his game just because of his age and because of experience but he's getting better every day. You see it out here at practice and then it translates on to the field.

What impresses me most about Mora is the way he delivers messages about his team. As the face of, fans, media, and most importantly, players, will take their cues from him. We have seen a higher level of maturity and discipline from this team, because they know Mora will hold them accountable for being late to a meeting or making mistakes on the field, but at the same time he will support them and will direct his efforts into something positive for the overall improvement of the player and the team. Mora answered both questions honestly but redirected them in a manner that turned them into positive moments. Fauria's height is a disadvantage but he is working hard and getting better. Hundley is maturing and his teammates can help with routes and blocking. He didn't say "Yeah, Joe struggled and he has to get better or we're in trouble" or "Brett made bad decisions and threw 3 picks and we can't do that and win". Look at how he spoke on Monday about Torian White after his false start struggles last Saturday, and again how he spoke briefly but eloquently about the passing of a friend.

Contrast everything Mora has said and done since our last game to what Kiffin has said and done in that same time frame - how he threw his Heisman candidate and brand new starting left tackle under the bus after their last game, and them stormed off in a petulant fit after a single question today.

We are very early in the Jim L Mora era in Westwood, and so many things can change. I am always proud of U.C.L.A. and will always support our teams. But it's been a long time that I have had this much respect for our team and its coach. I am glad we aren't having to try to rationalize or deal with the things that those people across town are right now. Like Lane said, you can tell in 10-15 seconds who's a Bruin. And you can tell in 24 seconds who isn't.

Finally, I tried to avoid any subtle or not-so-subtle Beaver innuendo today, mostly out of respect for my wife. She is an MIT grad and they share the same mascot as Oregon State. So with my hot little Beaver upstairs in mind, I'm going to play it straight and keep things on the up and up today.