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The Morning After, Part 11: Southern Cal

The UCLA Bruins win their third in a row against Southern Cal and are playing their best football of the season. How do you celebrate? By working out and getting ready for next week.

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Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.

- Winston Churchill

We're the U.C.L.A. Bruins. We're the Optimists, after all. So maybe the bonfire fiasco was the best thing to happen to the Bruins.

In case you missed it, you're not alone. Even the thousands of people who gathered at the base of Janss Steps missed it too.

I was pretty disheartened, but not terribly surprised, to read about what happened on Thursday night at the Beat $c Rally. A small group of students, about 50, decided to stage a sit in on the woodpile that was to fuel the bonfire that evening. The protesters were upset about a U.C. Regents decision this week that allowed for student tuition increases, and the students decided the most productive response was to prevent several thousand of their fellow students - who would also be most directly affected by those tuition hikes - from enjoying part of the evening's festivities.  Never mind that the event was paid for by the Alumni Association and not a penny of student funds went into it. And never mind that athletics plays a huge role in fostering passions among current students that translates into donations back to the University when they become alumni. And never mind that U.C.L.A. can always benefit from a more unified fanbase.

The absence of the bonfire certainly brought light to their issue but I question whether winning that battle will help the protesters win their war.  Judging by the reaction via social media, they did far more harm to themselves by offending most of the very people who should have been their biggest allies while accomplishing nothing to sway the targets of their protests, the Regents and the tuition increases. Both the protesters and the fans at the Rally came out behind in the end.

But the surprise winner from the evening was Coach Mora. He saw an opportunity in that difficulty, and he built something from the situation. No bonfire? No problem. He didn't need a frigging fire and his words lit the Rally ablaze with excitement and enthusiasm that maybe only uclaluv's mom would have found objectionable. When I saw the expressions on the players' faces and the immediate energy on the stage when Mora capped his speech, it looked exactly like what we saw on the stage two years ago at the Rally during Mora's first season, and I told everyone back then that the losing streak was about to end. After seeing that same look, without the bonfire on Thursday, I felt really really good about our chances against $c. Sure enough, the Bruins were the enforcers last night. It began with an injured player defending the logo at midfield. From there, the rest looked easy as our team was dominant on both sides of the ball. Our pass rush was dominant.  We stuffed their run game. Their star receiver had 3 catches. On the other side, our QB threw for 3 TDs and ran for a 4th, and even threw one to them just to get them off to a good start. Our O Line bested their vaunted d line in both the run game and the passing game.

It was enough to get both the biggest $c supporters and the least balanced of ABC broadcasters to despair.

And then when it was done, when it was time to celebrate our best performance and best win of the year, the coach went silent.

Did you watch Mora's post game press conference last night?  I'll post it here in case you missed it.

video from Ed Lewis with Bruin Sports Report (via BSR TV on YouTube)

Just curious...does anyone think the coach looks terribly happy?

We just beat Southern Cal for the third consecutive time, and last night's game wasn't as close as the 18 point margin suggests. Our quarterback broke the all time yardage record held by Cade McNown - who generated his stats over 4 years. U.C.L.A. has won 9 games for the third consecutive time, and that's the first time it's happened in our history. What was once Cheat Pete is now three-peat and there's no doubt who owns LA now.

But Mora didn't look giddy or pleased or satisfied. It took him about 3 seconds to start talking about the next step. And I have to think that's partly because his teams are 0-3 against Stanford, and we get to play them in 6 days.

Lucky for me, I do have time to gloat and bathe in the glory of beating the trogans, and I did some of that last night after the game. But the way Mora rushed to the interview chair, gave quick direct answers, almost totally dismissed the idea of a rivalry game, and then bolted from the chair afterward suggests he has other things on his mind than gloating and bathing in a dominant win over *$c. I understand and appreciate the urgency to get ready for the Cardinal now. Southern Cal is in the past, again, and an opportunity which a few weeks back seemed out of reach, now lies directly ahead.

I don't think many of us question Coach Mora's passion and enthusiasm and motivation or his ability to generate the same in his team, and we can probably include Noel Mazzone and Jeff Ulbrich - who deserves mad props for his defensive game plan last night - in that sentiment, too. I do believe the coaches want this as much as anyone. But it's more than fair to have concerns about whether this staff can X and O enough or develop players enough to not only compete but to outclass the Oregons and Stanfords. And hell, even the Utahs sometimes. Talent and energy is enough to beat Southern Cal these days. But there are a couple schools we haven't reached yet.

Stanford is always a tough matchup for us. They have very good talent. They are always well prepared. They play smart and make very few mistakes. Even with a coach who by comparison makes Mora look absolutely reckless, I would still say that we couldn't match up with them in all 3 of those categories in our previous meetings.

But I think this Bruin team can right now. This is the best roster we've had at U.C.L.A. The team is looking better from a coaching standpoint, especially on defense, the last few weeks. And this team is playing its best and smartest football of the season.

The Bruins will be favored over Stanford next Friday and a win puts us into the Pac-12 Title game, the goal at the beginning of the season. Looking back at the path to this point, it seemed highly unlikely most of the way that we'd be in this position. But how we got here matters far less than the fact that we are here and it shouldn't change the way we look at this opportunity.

I recently read a 3 volume 1,800 page biography on Churchill (by William Manchester and I cannot recommend it enough) and it went into amazing detail of his incredible life. Churchill was a tireless champion for his beliefs, and this necessitated him to change parties several times during his political career, refusing to be a blind follower of one party's dogma. He suffered damaging career setbacks with the disaster at Gallipoli and his shameful opposition to India's independence, but refused to be passive in the face of opposition and failure. He was a nearly lone voice screaming of the dangers of the rising Nazi regime when the rest of the world was accepting and appeasing Hitler. And Churchill absolutely refused to consider surrendering his Island, seeing the dark days of the London Blitz as an opportunity to show and inspire the world that his tiny kingdom could stand up to the world's greatest military power.

I think a lot of the actions here on Bruins Nation would stand up well to the examples of Churchill's life, such as our willingness to be analytical and/or critical of people we previously supported, our enduring opposition to those like the AD and Chancellor who are detrimental to the ideals of U.C.L.A., and our refusal to stay down in the face of failure and to accept anything less than our best.

I think Mora's words on Thursday show someone who sees the opportunity in difficulty, and who will not be satisfied with falling short.  He's already over this victory and after something bigger. Sure, winning the Pac-12 South, and thePac-12 Title, and getting to the CFB Final Four is a difficult road, but it also provides an opportunity for us to do something that we haven't done before.

And being the Optimists that we are, let's look at the difficulty and find the opportunity. We destroyed Troy. Now it's done. It's time to beat Stanford next Friday. The head coach is already working on it.