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Spaulding Roundup: Dreading Utah, New Facilities, Thigpen’s Return & Other UCLA Football Notes

News and notes from UCLA football program as the Bruins prepare for Utah while using the bye week to adjust being back to school.


School is back in session and with that Bruins are back to their regular season "morning schedule." This means as Mora explained in his post-practice presser today (video and more observations below) Bruins are practicing early in the morning starting around 7 AM and then coming back after classes for meetings around 4:30 PM. Good thing the Bruins are off this weekend because it is giving them an opportunity to get into rhythm balancing classes and practices.

Now, before getting into Mora's comments from today I want to mesh together a post and comment that has gone up in this community in last date. Let's start with Bryan's post in which he explains why the upcoming Utah game is an "inflection point" for our Bruins. Like Brian I am more than concerned about this game. Why?

I think it is because of this from tasser:

I try not to get too attached to coaches, given the nature of the business...but this Mora guy...if he wins some big games, on top of what he's done already...I just might cross over from big respect into mancrush territory.

I am not where tasser is wrt to Mora. After the Ben Howland saga (who we all developed a "man-crush" on during his glorious early years in Westwood, I decided that I will never get emotionally attached to a head coach). That said, I am rooting hard for Mora to succeed in a monstrous way this season and beyond, so that I can finally serve up crow from myself for being skeptical about his hire when he came to Westwood (you can look up the posts during the day he was announced).

Now, now - it's a little different situation than TRA who is floundering away with our dead basketball program. Unlike TRA Mora came into Westwood with a strategy, which included a plan to hire tenacious, world-class recruiters with deep ties to Southern California, a ferocity to attack the recruiting trail in our own back yard (securing commitments such as Ellis McCarthy within weeks of arrival in Westwood), hiring blue chip assistants such as Noel Mazzone, and of course striking all the right notes in a dynamic way (instead of just trotting out stale, cut and pasted lines about how he won some high school championship in Indiana).

From our early coverage it's obvious that we not only gave Mora a fair-shake from the get-go, but the community here by and large rallied behind his effort to get this program going again, despite total lack of vision from an incompetent athletic director (by all accounts it's Mora who is now unquestioned boss of this football program, even though Chianti is just figurehead who is just there to take shamelessly take credit and figure out a way to pad his salary).

Anyway - sorry got off track there. But I wanted to get out here is that I am dreading about Utah game because I am fearful about getting my heart crushed. Because, it's happened so many times, year after year, not just in last two decades by dating back to Donahue era.

I want to eat that crow desperately by having a UCLA team this year that will put together a regular season of 10 or more wins (with a total demolition of Southern Cal) and be in position to play in a BCS Bowl Game. I know that this team has the talent to get it done. But this is exactly the kind of game we have laid huge egg in past years. And I am concerned after what I saw in the opening drives against New Mexico State and the first halves of the first two games that a slow start is going to put us in a very rough spot in a tough venue against a well coached program next week. I really hope I am wrong here.

So, on that note here are Mora's comments from today:

As mentioned above Mora talked about the team being in "morning schedule" back again and he is glad that we have a bye week so that the players(especially freshmen) has a chance to get adjusted with the start of the school season.

Mora than also talked about the plan for new facilities (announced today) with the reporters. The points that stood out to me:

  • Mora said that he has a long "wish list" in terms of specifics he is expecting from this facility.
  • He said that he expects this to be "one of the "top facilities" in the country that will "accentuate" UCLA's natural advantages which includes it's unparalleled combination of beautiful settings and academics (dramatic contrast from the sorry comments our joke of an AD made to press few weeks ago).
  • Mora also poignantly said that we are only going to get "one shot" at getting this right, suggesting that folks who are in charge of getting this project done will have to look into the future and envision what kind of technologies that will be available in 5 years and beyond. In other words a stale redesigned building under glass will not do.
  • Mora's comments on how facilities are important to recruiting were interesting. While he acknowledged that it s "huge in recruiting" he also said in the case of UCLA facilities and aesthetics are add-ons for a program that already enjoys special advantages because of our academics and location. He was polite in saying that while the facilities are now "functional" it is time to "upgrade.
  • Interestingly Mora also said while this upgrade is important there was no need for UCLA to go "too overboard" which I agree with because at some point we have to keep ourselves in check as a community to acknowledge that while facilities upgrade are supremely important there is no need to get obscene about it like what we have seen from certain places in the country.
  • He had a pretty funny back and forth with Foster saying that the press-room would be call the "Chris Foster Press Room."

Mora also talked about the Barr hit on poor New Mexico State QB from this past weekend.  Apparently he got an explanation from the conference officials, which he is fine with. But I liked his take on it.

"Rather than penalizing Anthony Barr for no one blocking him and him hitting the quarterback, we probably should block Anthony Barr. He's a pretty good player."

Lolz True.

Mora told press that UCLA will release Christian Morris as soon as it is practicable. He emphasized that there is no reason to turn it into a "conflict" and wanted him to "happy." Pretty different from a certain coach from another program.

I will end with some good news. Damien Thigpen may be getting set to return for Utah game. From Foster in the LA Times:

Thigpen has spent the last three weeks in full contact during practice, preparing for his return.

"It was a gradual thing," Thigpen said. "There was no one day, no one moment, where I felt ready. Coming into training camp, I had my doubts. As the days went by, I kept faith and kept progressing."

Coach Jim Mora said Thigpen would be eased into the backfield rotation against Utah.

"Ideally, it would be good to get him three, four, five carries, so he can get hit, jump up off the turf and go back to the huddle," Mora said. "It will give him confidence."

Thigpen told Foster and others at Spaulding that he is still "explosive" despite his press and that he can still run with the same cutting and slashing style.

Hopefully Damien has a nice and smooth return within the flow of our offense as I think he was a crucial part of last year's prolific offense. I think Bruins would have been playing in the Rose Bowl (and emerged as champions) if he didn't go down against Southern Cal. Here is Damien having the same impact this season - leading to yours truly enjoying the aforementioned TASTY pile of crow.