LOS ANGELES — UCLA’s 2013 football season ended much the way it began: With an excitement and buzz about the program that had rarely been seen in Westwood since the 90’s.
Head coach Jim Mora led the Bruins to their first 10-win season since 2005 and he’ll now be around to try for more than 10 wins. So will quarterback Brett Hundley.
Here’s a look back at the highs and lows of the 2013 season and what to expect moving forward.
Winning for Pacman
It’s impossible to look at this season and not remember the heart-wrenching tragedy that occurred in Week Two when walk-on receiver Nick Pasquale was struck by a car and killed while walking home in his San Clemente neighborhood.
The following day when Jim Mora addressed the media, his emotion boiled over when a local television cameraman was on his phone during the press conference.
"Hey, shut up!" Mora exclaimed, before lecturing him on the subject of disrespect. Mora got up and angrily left the J.D. Morgan Center Press Room, fully establishing himself as the protective patriarch of his team and players.
Only a week after Pasquale, or "Pacman" as he was called, passed, the Bruins faced Nebraska on the road. ‘Husker nation showed immense class when they joined the Bruins in mourning and honored Pasquale in several ways. A thrilling second-half comeback led the Bruins over the Cornhuskers and Mora looked square in the camera and emphatically told the Pasquale family, "We did this for your son."
There was not a dry eye in Lincoln Memorial Stadium.
Unbeaten through the first five games, UCLA traveled up north to face what has become its kryptonite: Stanford. It was a forgettable performance followed by another equally forgettable performance the next week against then-No. 2 Oregon.
But what those two games did do was fire up Mora even more so than usual. It also exposed the dire situation at running back as injuries decimated the Bruins’ running game. And two weeks later, college football would be in for a huge surprise when UCLA found it’s new running back.
On a patch of grass outside of a Tucson hotel offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone devised a plan to fix the running game troubles. The Jumbo Package, a short-yardage package comprised of mostly linebackers and defensive linemen, shocked Arizona and worked perfectly. But linebacker Myles Jack broke off for some long runs, including one impressive touchdown run.
A four-touchdown performance the following week against Washington sealed Jack’s status as one of the top freshmen in the game. Jack finished the season with seven touchdowns and was named Pac-12 Offensive and Defensive Player of the Year – the first time anyone has ever won both awards – and was also named an All-American.
USC, Sun Bowl and beyond
For the second year in a row, UCLA beat USC in the Crosstown Showdown. A reinvigorated Trojans team desperately trying to save the interim head coach were no match for Hundley, Jack and company. In the bowels of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum underneath the banners of former Trojans greats, UCLA chanted, "We are the mighty Bruins, forever more."
While forever is debatable, for the foreseeable future, the Bruins are mighty.
"We're going to do big things around here so let's have some fun and do it!" – Brett Hundley announcing he is returning for 2014 #8Clap
UCLA finished ranked No. 16 in the AP Poll, ending the season in the rankings for the first time since 2005.
Mora signed a contract extension and spurned his alma mater, Washington, and Texas. Hundley announced Monday morning that he will delay NFL money to stay at UCLA for one more season to help Mora turn UCLA into more than just a Pac-12 contender – they-re turning it into a national player.
"There’s been uncertainty out there with head coaches – there-s never been uncertainty here with coaches. And there-s been uncertainty with (Hundley)," Mora said. "I think it motivates you because it gives you this drive, like the pieces are coming together. Let’s go after it.
"Let’s go. We want to get back on the field right now."