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The Morning After, Part 12: UCLA Football v Southern Cal

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U.C.L.A. had one game to win the Pac-12 South and get a chance to win the conference title and play in a major bowl game. The only thing different this year? The annual loss came against the worst team possible.

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Failure isn't fatal. But failure to change might be.  - John Wooden

Here's what I wrote the morning after the loss to Utah last year.

Line wins games.

Just ask Utah Southern Cal.

Oh, and ask our O Line coach, while you're at it. And maybe our DC, too. And definitely the Head Coach. See what they have to say about last night's game.

[disappointing losses, failures by DC and OC and other coaches to game plan or adjust, blah blah, blah...]

And if I'm pointing fingers at the defensive coordinator and the offensive coordinator and the offensive line coach and the kicking coach (if we even have one), then there has to be a giant arrow at the head coach. These assistants are his picks. Their failure or success reflects on him, and they reflected very very poorly last night. For the OC, it's a recurring story. For the O Line coach, it's becoming clear that this is a coaching problem. For all of his incredible recruiting successes, there is very little improvement along his OL on game day. And while this is our DC's first year in the role, it shouldn't be terribly difficult to change his personnel and formation to counter what the offense is doing, especially when it is doing the same thing over and over.

There is no doubt our U.C.L.A. football program is better under Coach Mora than it was under the previous coaches. He certainly appears to be a good man and a good role model for our student athletes, and the culture around the program is better than it has been in years.

But it isn't clear that Mora and his coaching staff are good enough for this program to be elite.

Last night Yesterday afternoon, I saw one team play with desperation and intensity for 60 minutes, one team consistently break tackles and fight for extra yards, one team make tackles at the line of scrimmage, one team consistently pressure the opponent, one team have a game plan that specifically exploited the weaknesses of the opponent, one team that made early and dramatic adjustments when things weren't working, one team that clearly had its players better prepared, better motivated, and better coached.

That team was Utah Southern Cal.

...

I have to amend my line.

Line wins games. And so do coaches.

Sigh.

I have to be honest. I've come to really hate writing this article.

One reason is the difficulty of squeezing it in after a game and before whatever early start Sunday morning has going. Even with the early kickoff yesterday, after that disaster was done, I left to go to my kid's hockey game and got home about 9:30 pm, and now I'm banging away at the keyboard because we just got up at 5:30 am for his next game this morning. There were a lot of short nights again this season.

Some of it is just my own sorrow for all the anguish in the fanbase. People I know in person, or know through the email or Facebook, or just know by their screen names here on Bruins Nation, are all saddened and frustrated and angry about the game and the state of the program. Knowing that we all really have the same ideals at heart, even if we have different ideas how to achieve them, even more than for me personally I want my Bruin family to be happy and joyful as we follow our teams together, and it sucks to see everyone so let down.

Some of it is that my computer has something screwy going on with this particular site, like it's abusing the CPU and turning my cursor into the dreaded spinning color wheel of death. If I'm lucky, I can close Safari and reopen and start fresh. If I'm unlucky (and I have no idea the difference) it's a manual reboot. I need someone with some CS skills to help me out with this sometime, because I spend quite a lot of time on this site and it's driving me nuts.

And some of it is that it's just getting hard to not write the same damn thing week after week. I mean, the football team keeps doing the same thing, and it's really hard to try to find something different or insightful or even interesting to say about it.

But since the team keeps doing the same thing, why can't I? See that Utah article? I don't even have to write anything new. Just change out the opponent, maybe alter the date, add a current picture, Boom. It's uncanny.

Plus, I think this year's Colorado article reads a lot like this. And last year's Stanford article. And the ASU article from 2 years ago. Plenty of other mornings after over the last 3 years have elements of the same theme running through them. And nothing is changing.

And that's the problem right there.

What you see with this staff right now is what you get. A solid recruiting class and renewed reasons for hope and expectations, followed by a season with 8-9 wins with 3-4 unnecessary losses, a close run at the division title but a final collapse with everything on the line, and another season of opportunity lost. How many times have we seen Jim Mora and his team get to this point and then look like they don't belong?

Wash, rinse, repeat. Times three.

Is that good enough for you, Bruins? Because if it's not, then something needs to change.

There are already plenty of suggestions in the post game thread. Some hawks are pushing for the full nuclear option, which sort of like like its real world analogy might have some merits in principle, but also brings a lot of practical messes which makes it a very very risky move, not the least of which is whether anyone trusts the guy holding the launch keys in Morgan Center to use them wisely. Some on the other end are saying that next year will be better when players are healthy and some of this year's key players will have another year of experience and the only thing that needs to change is time and luck, though I think the last four years should suggest why that route doesn't seem so promising either. Others have various permutations in mind and are looking for specific upgrades at certain spots where we have had a consistent pattern of underachievement, but picking which spots and how much underachievement in coaching vs recruiting to balance is tricky.

The next few weeks will be very interesting to watch because Jim Mora is at a crossroads. Beating a Southern Cal team that was undermanned by the mean old NCAA is one thing but he will now realize that losing to an interim coach and a bunch of third stringers and freshman talent that he couldn't recruit to Westwood will burn up any remaining good will from his first three years. Staying loyal to his friends and coaching staff might be a pleasant character trait but it isn't a good head coaching trait and the anchors on his staff will sink him the way they have sunk this team repeatedly. If Mora wants to retain the faith of the fanbase, he'll need to give them something tangible to make them believe that 2016 isn't going to be a repeat of 2015. Or 2014. Or 2013. Or Rick Neuheisel's last game. Remember that one?  A blowout loss to Southern Cal? That game got something to change.

Something has to change next year. Maybe it'll be the writer on Sunday mornings.

Of course, one thing has already changed for next year. We'll have a losing streak against $c game when we play them.

GO BRUINS!