LOS ANGELES — This is what football coaches call a short week, but it must have seemed like a month to UCLA coach Jim Mora. The same questions, the same answers and the same uncertainty about Friday’s rematch with Stanford — he has heard it all and said it all.
Can the Bruins do it? Can they beat a team that defeated them by 18 points six days earlier? Can they fix everything that went wrong in the first game and beat the Cardinal for the Pac-12 conference championship?
Mora doesn’t know, but as he has said repeatedly this week, it’s going to be interesting.
There isn’t a lot of time. It has been a cram session — nothing college kids aren’t used to — and UCLA’s ability to make adjustments will be decisive in reversing the outcome of a game the Cardinal dominated.
So will Mora’s task of convincing his players they can pull this off.
“Convincing comes in the process, in the work, in the days you put in leading to this matchup, which for us started with our first spring practice about 240 days ago,” he said Wednesday. “I don’t think it’s anything you can say to them. I think they have to believe it, feel it, based on the work they’ve done and the success they’ve had.”
Mora’s first season in Westwood produced a 9-3 record and a 6-3 mark in the Pac-12, including a victory over crosstown rival USC. But the Bruins followed up with a 35-17 flop against Stanford last Saturday, and it’s that game that will serve as a backdrop to Friday’s rematch at Stanford Stadium in Palo Alto, Calif.
The Cardinal (10-2, 8-1 in the conference) out-rushed UCLA, 221 to 73 yards, sacked Bruins quarterback Brett Hundley seven times and had nine tackles for losses. The Bruins were also penalized 12 times for 135 yards.
It’s a game UCLA would like to forget, if it didn’t take place so recently.
“One of the things about being a young man like these guys are is that you get over things quick,” Mora said. “I haven’t seen confidence be a problem with us just because we’ve had some success this year. In the two games we lost previously, we’ve been able to come back and get a good win — not necessarily an easy win but a good win. That’s given them confidence going forward. I think they’ll be amped up and ready to go.”
Mora hasn’t offered much insight into how he plans to change things, but it’s safe to assume he’ll throw a few new looks at Stanford. And he’ll insist on better execution on offense and defense.
“You can’t revamp your entire offensive or defensive scheme in a week,” he said. “There’s things that you do as a team and you do them repetitively, and that’s why you become pretty good at them. But at the same time, you’ve got to have wrinkles for every opponent, whether you do them offensively or defensively. That’s got to be our approach, and I’m sure it will be their approach as well. But it comes down to us playing to our maximum potential.”
That’s something the Bruins didn’t do the first time. They didn’t block well, didn’t protect Hundley and made too many mistakes. Running back Jonathan Franklin was held to 65 yards rushing by a Stanford defense that leads the nation in sacks and tackles for loss.
It doesn’t mean the Cardinal expect another smackdown. As Stanford coach David Shaw said this week: “The obvious (concern) is fighting complacency. To think UCLA is going to come up here and roll over for us is completely wrong. I’m no stranger to their head coach. He’s extremely competitive, and he’s going to get his team fired up and ready to play.”
That will help. As for the short week, Mora said he actually likes it. There’s less time to dwell on the negative aspects of last Saturday’s defeat, making it easier for his players to stay focused as they build toward Friday. A win puts the Bruins in their first Rose Bowl since 1999, and that should be reason enough to improve their performance.
So he insists there’s no reason to be worried about facing Stanford so soon after being handed a tough loss. It’s over; the Bruins are ready to move on.
“I sometimes think too much is made of it,” Mora said. “I’ve said this all week and I really believe it, it’s all about going out and playing with intensity and focus and executing, trying to out-execute your opponent.
“I think the best way to approach it typically is that your opponent is kind of a nameless, faceless object over there, and you’re trying to do your best on every play to beat that person.”
They didn’t do it the first time. If they can do it the second time, it will be enough.