At 3-5 overall, 1-4 in the Pac-12, the lofty pre-season goals of winning the conference and contending for a playoff spot are firmly out of reach for the UCLA football team. To salvage what they can of the season, and to even be bowl eligible, the coaching staff and players are preaching a new mantra: going 1-0 each week.
"We’re trying to go 1-0 each week now" tight end Austin Roberts said. "To get a four game win streak, you gotta go 1-0. So you gotta get it started this weekend, work better against a great team like Colorado."
With games remaining against Colorado, Oregon State, USC, and Cal, the Bruins would have to win three more games to gain bowl eligibility; all four to finish the season with a winning record. ESPN’s FPI metric favors the Bruins in only two of those games, at home against Oregon State and on the trip to Berkeley.
"Our goal every week has to stay the same. It’s prepare to win that week, get better that week," head coach Jim Mora said to reporters over the weekend. "And that’s always been our goal, so we just gotta continue to do that."
Mora likes the resiliency of his group, even though no one on the current roster has been in such a hole while being a Bruin.
"This age group’s very resilient, and they kind of just move from moment to moment," Mora said. "I mean of course, you know, they don’t like that we haven’t won as many games as we’d like, but it doesn’t deter them from being enthusiastic about the next opportunity and the next challenge."
The team focused on themselves during the short bye week, working on fundamentals and getting extra rest before getting a head start on Colorado prep with a practice on Saturday.
"Just keep the stress on us, keep working on the things that have cost us games, just keeping the standard high, and just keep playing ball," junior linebacker Kenny Young said.
Since joining the Pac-12 upon conference expansion prior to the 2011 season, the Colorado Buffaloes have only finished in one spot, last place in the South division. They shared the spot with Arizona in 2011, but it’s been all theirs ever since. Until this year.
"They just made steady progress," Mora said. "It’s a testament to him, and his staff, and his players, and their program."
The Buffalos returned 16 starters from a squad that, even though they only won 2 conference games last season, came close in several of their losses, including to UCLA on Halloween at the Rose Bowl.
"Those guys have played a lot of football," offensive coordinator Kennedy Polamalu said. "Experience and playing football—the game of football—when you have continuity together, it ends up turning for you."
Takkarist McKinley’s Star Turn
In August, defensive end Takkarist McKinley boldly stated that he hoped to be the best pass rusher in the country in 2016. After a dominating performance against Utah two weeks ago, where tallied three solo sacks, the standout senior certainly has to be part of that conversation. He’s averaging a sack per game, good for 9th best in the country (tied with some other folks), and has been the breakout star of the UCLA defense.
"This year he’s gotten to play more on the edge, and that’s where he really feels at home," defensive line coach Angus McClure said. "Not only does he have the quickness that he’s always had, but he’s also a lot more physical than he was three years ago."
McKinley has been fighting through a groin injury since fall camp that sidelined him for all of one game and part of another, but the coaching staff can’t keep him off the field. His visible toughness has given him a leadership role with the rest of the team.
"He plays with all heart," McClure said. "And anytime you get the combination of an elite athlete with a big heart, you’re going to get an exceptional player."
Check out more interviews from the weekend from Coach Mora, Tom Bradley, Kennedy Polamalu, Marques Tuiasosopo, Angus McClure, Kenny Young, Austin Roberts, and Bolu Olorunfunmi. Videos are courtesy of Thuc Nhi Nguyen of the LA Daily News.
HC Jim Mora:
OC Kennedy Polamalu:
DC Tom Bradley:
QB Coach Marques Tuiasosopo:
DL Coach Angus McClure:
LB Kenny Young:
TE Austin Roberts:
RB Bolu Olorunfunmi: