LOS ANGELES — At this point in the season, it’s unclear whether UCLA is gaining ground in building a national contender or taking a step back as its season progress.
A 42-14 loss at then-No. 3 Oregon that saw the Bruins’ top-10 offense shut out in the second half was the lowest point for the program in head coach Jim Mora’s tenure. For the Bruins of old, two straight losses to powerhouse teams like Stanford and Oregon might have warranted only a mere shrug of the shoulders, but this is Mora’s team now and he isn’t building toward mediocrity.
“It’s time for UCLA to turn the frickin’ page and be something different and win those games,” he said as he slammed his fist on the podium after the loss in Eugene Saturday. “It showed me how close we are and how far away. We’re not after being close — to heck with being close — losers can be close. The coulda’, the woulda’ the shoulda’, we don’t want that crap. I’m tired of that.”
The loss dropped the Bruins down to No. 20 in the BCS rankings and has them firmly on the outside looking in regarding Pac-12 Championship Game scenarios. Now that the team has sat down and dissected the film, it’s still difficult to process what happened at Autzen Stadium.
“It kind of just fell apart a little bit,” said linebacker Anthony Barr.
Barr himself said he didn’t have a reason for why the team suddenly collapsed in the second half. Defensively, new packages may have been a little too much too soon.
But ultimately, it came down to a failure to execute in all facets.
“We installed some new defenses so we weren’t able to practice those for multiple days and that makes it tough,” Barr said. “I think it was just little details. It wasn’t one play or one person, just a collective group — offensive, defense and special teams.”
It wasn’t that the offense was too fast. Barr quickly put that notion to rest.
“It was slower than what we practiced against and how we prepared for it,” Barr said. “They had a couple series where they were going pretty fast but most of those series ended up in stops.”
The offense has been wildly inconsistent over the past three games. Against Stanford, the Bruins managed only a single touchdown. At Oregon, they were held to just 219 rushing yards and Hundley passed for only 64.
“We need to be able to play all 60 minutes and play it efficiently,” Hundley said. “Just understanding sort of where you’re at in the game and not taking a lull.”
Running back Jordon James, who rushed for over 100 yards in each of the Bruins’ first three games, has missed the last three because of an ankle injury, and there has been significant shuffling on the offensive line. UCLA started three true freshman on the line and has now had 18 true freshman play throughout the season — the most in the nation.
At 5-2 and 2-2 in the Pac-12, they’re tied for second in the Pac-12 South with Arizona and behind Arizona State (5-2, 3-1). Winning out is a must if they want a shot at either of the teams they lost to in the North.
And winning out is a must if they want to prove themselves as players on the national scene.
“Playing hard is not enough,” Mora said. “We’re not there yet. We will get there. We weren’t satisfied being 14-14 at the half — there’s no moral victories in sports. Not when you’re trying to be a champion.”