Mora’s Bruins focused on Stanford

Jim
Mora was being coy. He admitted such as he walked out of the Rose Bowl last
Saturday night.

He was just a couple of hours removed from winning the
first crosstown rivalry game he’d been a part of as UCLA’s head
coach.

He spent the week prior downplaying his team’s matchup
with USC and what it meant to be playing the crosstown rivals with the Pac-12
South Division title on the line.

He said the right things leading up to the game, but
the postgame festivities in the UCLA locker room didn’t back up his statements.
Their celebration signaled anything but the Bruins having won “just another
game.”

A full-on dance contest broke out in the
Bruins locker room and Mora was so enamored he didn’t want to leave the party
for his customary postgame session with the media. Mora’s been around a lot of
football but the Bruins locker room was unlike anything he’d ever been a part of
spending the majority of his coaching life in the NFL.

The party’s over with the UCLA seniors having
celebrated the biggest win of their careers. But there could be bigger wins
ahead as long as there isn’t a Trojan hangover.

Any talk of the Trojans in Westwood have been put on
hold. They can talk about it, just not anytime soon. Mora hopes any discussions
of last Saturday’s win are stored away.

“As long as they talk about it after the season, I’m
okay with it,” Mora said. “I don’t want to hear about it this week.”

The rest of this week belongs to Stanford. It’s time
to turn the page. But do the Bruins only want the Cardinal to occupy their time
for one week only?

UCLA finds themselves in a peculiar
position.

They have already locked up a spot in
the conference title game. The Cardinal have not. They need to beat the Bruins
to punch their ticket.

It may be more advantageous for the Bruins to lose on
Saturday. If the Cardinal win, the two teams will meet again the following
Friday in Palo Alto for the conference championship game.

If UCLA wins and Oregon defeats in-state rival Oregon
State, it will set up a rematch of last year’s conference title game in
Eugene.

The
Bruins can host the title game with a win and an Oregon loss.

What’s a Bruin to do?

A
loss pretty much guarantees they won’t have to travel to Eugene to face the
Ducks.

But
stepping off of the gas in the middle of the largest wave of momentum the
program has seen in years could be extremely detrimental.

So detrimental, Mora feverishly dismisses the
notion.

When asked if he’s ever been in a situation where he
wins by losing, Mora thought it was a joke.

“Are you serious,” Mora asked. “No. Are you talking
about thinking about losing a game this Saturday? No, no, no. Come on. Jiminy
Christmas. If I thought that way, I should never be in this
business.”

Pumping the brakes this week will go
against everything Mora has stood for since taking over in Westwood. Not only
that, what type of message would it send to his team to know they were
intentionally ducking the Ducks?  

His first practices during the spring were as intense
and physical as Westwood has ever seen. Not only was he committed to forcing the
Bruins to work hard during fall camp to prepare for the season, but he took them
to San Bernardino to do so. 

The team braved triple-digit temperatures while being
in a desolate environment where they had no one to depend on but themselves. 

Surviving that was a win in itself. Continuing the
momentum without running out of gas – as many assumed they would – has Mora’s
bunch still winning. 

Nine wins later and the Bruins are on the cusp of
their first 10-win season in seven years and just their third in 17 years. 

The decision is to win on Saturday when the Cardinal
come to town, or at least try to. Even if it means it sets them up to travel to
Eugene for the conference championship game. 

“This team’s motivation is to win as many games as
they can,” Mora said.

Mora’s nine wins are the most by a UCLA first-year
head coach since Terry Donahue in 1976. Donahue is iconic in Westwood. If Mora
continues at this rate he’ll be too.

The Mora Way doesn’t include pumping the brakes, even
if it means having to refuel to get to
Eugene.