Saturday, September 8, 2012
UCLA has a different feeling under Jim Mora
By Peter Yoon
UCLA coach Jim Mora already is seeing results on the field after changing the Bruins' approach.
PASADENA, Calif. -- This time the good vibe felt a little different.
It sounded different and it looked different, too, but mostly the UCLA Bruins' 36-30 upset victory over the No. 16 Nebraska Cornhuskers on Saturday at the Rose Bowl simply felt different.
UCLA has had big wins over ranked opponents over the last decade. They've raised the hopes of their fans, even gotten on some win streaks, but haven't really ever turned a corner.
This time it feels real.
You hear it in the tone of coach Jim Mora's voice, the way he answers certain questions, and the way he runs the program.
These are Mora's Bruins, the product of a man who came from the NFL, knows only how to coach with discipline and accountability, stressing the importance of being a team, and has his team playing with a swagger that hasn't been felt around the Rose Bowl in quite some time.
And this time you get the feeling that they aren't going to go out and lay an egg the next time they take the field, as has happened after so many other high-profile victories for UCLA over the last 10 years.
"All it means is that we're 2-0," Mora said, refusing to add any hyperbole to Saturday's victory because that's truly what the man believes. "It means we beat Nebraska and we're 2-0."
Clearly, it means more than that, but Mora isn't about to come out and say it means the Bruins are on the rise or that they have turned a corner because in his mind, unless they keep winning it really doesn't mean anything.
And the difference between this win and big wins of the past is that Mora has his players believing the same thing.
"We're not satisfied at all," running back Johnathan Franklin said. "We're only 2-0. Tomorrow it's on to our next opponent. We can't get our heads big. We have to stay humble and move on to our next opponent."
These are tired cliches spewed day in and day out by athletes across the country, but they sound different coming out of the mouths of UCLA's coaches and players. The look in their eye when they say things like that makes you believe that they believe what they are saying. And that's because they believe what Mora is telling them.
"We've been feeling that since the day we had the first meeting with Jim Mora," said defensive back Andrew Abbott. "We knew it was a different environment. Just the tone of his voice. He made us believe, quite honestly. He showed us a whole new way about going about playing football and being a team."
The tenets of Mora's Bruins are team first. He is no longer addressing the crowd after games because he wants to be with his team as soon as possible. He's no longer opening the locker room to the media after games because in part because he wants to preserve the sanctity of that environment.
Mora is running the team with the attention to detail and professionalism required to rise to the level of head coach of the Atlanta Falcons and the Seattle Seahawks, and the players have bought in hook, line and sinker.
"Some guys didn't buy in right away," Abbott said. "But [Mora] started saying that if you don't want to work or buy in to what we're preaching, then you've got to go. He wasn't cussing you out, he was being real. That's when guys started saying, 'We've got to get it together.' And that's what we did and it started paying off."
It's paying off with results on the field. UCLA had 653 yards in offense, marking the first time since 1998 the Bruins have surpassed 500 yards in consecutive games. They had 300 yards rushing in consecutive games for the first time since 1991. Franklin had his second consecutive 200-yard rushing game and Brett Hundley had his first career 300-yard passing game.
For the second consecutive week, a defense that struggled in the first half regrouped in the second. The Bruins gave up 24 points and 333 yards in the first half against Nebraska, but only two field goals and 106 yards in the second half. They also recorded a safety, a fumble and an interception in the second half.
Those things don't just happen. Coaches prepares them to be able to respond that way. It happens in meeting rooms and on the practice field long before it happens between the white lines at the Rose Bowl.
"We got a coach from the NFL and we're running things like an NFL program here," defensive lineman Datone Jones said. "We expect a lot of guys to grow up really fast in our program. If you are on the field, you have to be accountable to one another."
It's that attitude that gives off a different vibe. These guys expect to play well because they are confident that they have been prepared to play well. It's still a work in progress with growing pains sure to follow, but an impressive victory over a nationally ranked team still gives you the feeling that UCLA is heading in a different direction.
And this time, because these are Jim Mora's Bruins, you get the feeling it might be for real.