UCLA: Johnathan Franklin

Jim Mora focused on lessons learned

March, 5, 2013
Jim MoraKirby Lee/Image of Sport/USA TODAY SportsDespite a disappointing end to his first season at UCLA, Jim Mora is optimistic about Year 2.
Jim Mora has made a career -- and a pretty darn good one at that -- capitalizing on teachable moments.

On Dec. 27 of last year, the Baylor Bears provided his UCLA squad -- a group still in its infancy when learning to deal with success -- with a slew of teachable moments. There were 49 to be exact, if you're keeping track at home.

Mora's UCLA team -- which climbed as high as 16 in the BCS standings in his first year at the helm -- was throttled by the Bears 49-26 in the Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl in San Diego. After a 9-2 start, the Bruins closed out the year with back-to-back losses to Stanford and then the Holiday Bowl defeat. As always, Mora didn't pass on the opportunity to teach.

And to learn.

"It taught me that we need to get bigger, faster and stronger," Mora said. "They were a bigger and faster and more physical team than us on that night. Their players looked a little bit different than our players. Though we've done good things and come a long way, we're not where we need to be. Baylor was the best team we played all year. They were the biggest, most physical, athletically gifted team that we played all year and they took it to us pretty good. It was good for us. It was not fun. We would have liked to have a different outcome. But it showed us where we are as a team ...

"That put things right back in perspective for us. It was very humbling. We all realize we have a long way to go. We feel like we are headed in the right direction. But for all the good things we did, we're nowhere close to where we want to be or where we will be."

With the three-game skid, it's easy to overlook what Mora accomplished in Year 1. Like the fact that he and his staff took a first-year starter at quarterback and molded him into one of the most exciting players in the country. Like the fact that they took a running back/fullback at the bottom of the depth chart and turned him into one of the preeminent defenders in the nation. Like the fact that they beat USC, won the Pac-12 South Division sans the asterisk and grabbed a major chunk of the Los Angeles recruiting market.

He'll look to continue that success when the Bruins open spring camp on April 2. He doesn't expect any hangover from the way the season ended. In fact, he noted that his players are already "bigger, stronger, faster and more flexible" than they were heading into spring camp last year. A full year in the system should work wonders in Year 2.

Of great interest will be the continued maturation of quarterback Brett Hundley -- the aforementioned exciting player -- and linebacker Anthony Barr -- the aforementioned preeminent defensive player. Mora said he expects big things from both in 2013.

Barr's move to linebacker was the single most significant position switch in the conference last season. With only about a month to learn the position, Barr tallied a league-high 13.5 sacks and 21.5 tackles for a loss. A leading candidate for defensive player of the year, Barr opted to bypass the NFL until 2014 so he could gain more seasoning at the position.

"I think if he continues to progress, he'll be a top 5 pick," Mora said. "Talk about an impact player, and he's still so new at the position. He didn't go through spring at outside linebacker so he's been an linebacker for less than a year. The education of Anthony Barr as an outside linebacker started in August in San Bernardino. If he can come anywhere close to duplicating the acceleration of the position -- learning the position like he did last year and the improvements he made -- he's going to be scary."

And then there is Hundley, the wildly athletic quarterback who will be asked to do more with the offense now that the school's all-time leading rusher -- Johnathan Franklin -- is gone. So is his favorite red zone target, hybrid tight end Joe Fauria. Hundley was very solid in his first year, completing 66.5 percent of his throws for 3,740 yards and 29 touchdowns. But he was also sacked 52 times. Part of that was a young offensive line. Part of that was Hundley. As his understanding of the offense increases, Mora said he expects better decision-making from Hundley.

"He's so gifted and sometimes he needs to know when to trust himself and trust [offensive coordinator] Noel [Mazzone] and sometimes he just needs to let it fly," Mora said. "Everything he was seeing last year, he was essentially seeing for the first time. The first time he picks up the ball at our first spring practice, without having taken a snap from center in a competitive situation between the bowl game and now he will be a much, much better football player because he's been able to absorb all of the lessons from last year."

Grades: Baylor 49, UCLA 26

December, 27, 2012

SAN DIEGO, Calif. -- In a game that was supposed to feature lots of offense, only one team lived up to its end of the bargain. Baylor routed UCLA, 49-26, Thursday night in the Holiday Bowl at Qualcomm Stadium. Here's how the Bruins graded out:

Brett Hundley's 51.1 completion percentage was his lowest of the season. He passed for 329 yards and three touchdowns but had trouble making decisions. It didn't help that he was under pressure all game. The Bruins' depleted offensive line gave up six sacks against a defense that was barely averaging one per game this season.

Johnathan Franklin had only 34 yards on 14 carries, his lowest total of the season. The Bruins, behind a makeshift offensive line, rushed for only 35 yards as a team -- also the fewest for UCLA this season. The Bruins averaged only 1.2 yards per carry against a Baylor defense that had been giving up 190 yards per game and 4.74 per carry.

UCLA's secondary was burned for a couple of long plays early, which set the tone of the game as receivers Tevin Reese and Terrance Williams outran the coverage. The Bruins tightened, however, and Baylor quarterback Nick Florence completed only 10 of 13 passes for 188 yards and two touchdowns. Reese and Williams had each had two catches for 68 yards and UCLA sacked Florence only twice.

Missed tackles plagued UCLA's defense for the entire game as the Bears rushed for 306 yards -- 46 more than any other team against UCLA this season. Lache Seastrunk had 138 yards and a touchdown in 16 carries. Glasco Martin added 98 yards and three touchdowns in 21 carries, providing a potent 1-2 punch UCLA couldn't stop.

A 51-yard kickoff return by Steven Manfro was easily UCLA's biggest play of the game. The second longest was a 43-yard punt return by Shaq Evans. Jeff Locke had two punts of 50 yards or more and put three inside the 20. Kicker Ka'imi Fairbairn had field goals of 30 and 40 yards.

Play calling and decisions on whether to go for it or kick field goals were questionable throughout the game, but the real issue was preparation. With nearly a month between games, the Bruins had no schematic answers for Baylor's potent offense and could not come up with an offensive plan to exploit one of the worst defenses in the nation.

Franklin, Barr named team MVPs

December, 2, 2012
UCLA Bruins running back Johnathan Franklin and linebacker Anthony Barr were named team MVPs at the annual awards banquet Sunday night.

Franklin is fifth in the nation with 1,700 yards rushing and this season became the school's all-time leader in career rushing and also set the school single-season mark for rushing yards. Barr currently leads the nation with 13.5 sacks.

Quarterback Brett Hundley was named rookie of the year and center Jake Brendel, defensive lineman Datone Jones and kicker Ka'imi Fairbairn were named most improved.

A complete list of the team award winners:

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Despite loss, Bruins are a step ahead

November, 30, 2012
UCLA came up short in its bid for the Rose Bowl on Friday night, but the Bruins this season served notice that they intend on being a contender for the "Granddaddy of Them All" for years to come.

Thanks to a coach, a captain, a camp and a quarterback, UCLA is a program on the rise.

The Bruins battled one of the nation's top teams to the bitter end before falling to No. 8 Stanford, 27-24, Friday in the Pac-12 championship game at Stanford Stadium, and in the process gained some credibility as a program that is on the road to relevance.

The beginning of that journey came when Jim Mora took over as coach just about a year ago. It got a boost when captain Johnathan Franklin decided to come back for his senior season, took a turn in the right direction during a grueling training camp in San Bernardino and nearly reached the finish line thanks to the better-than-expected performance of quarterback Brett Hundley.

That road has included many twists, turns, detours and bumps, but the Bruins have weathered it all and have escaped the clutches of mediocrity far sooner than anyone could have imagined.

This is the comeback team of the year in the conference and maybe in the country, coming within three points of a BCS bowl a year after its coach was fired and the Bruins became the first team to finish a season 6-8.

It's a young and raw group that had not experienced much success over the past few seasons, and it was led by a coach in his first year at the college level. It's a team hardly anybody believed could reach these heights this year, but they used the doubts as motivation and all they have done is win nine games for only the second time since 1998, defeated USC for only the second time since that same year and, more important, gained some national respect.

It's easily UCLA's best season in more than a decade, the seeds of which were planted one day last December when Mora, already hired by UCLA but refraining from coaching until after the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, told the team in no uncertain terms that he would demand dedication to getting better.

The Bruins have had a time-honored tradition of ditching a practice each year, and they continued it while preparing for their bowl game last season. When Mora caught word, he derided the tradition and vowed it would end on his watch.

It was the first step in Mora's plan to get UCLA back on track. A culture of mediocrity had permeated Westwood over the last decade, and Mora's No. 1 goal was to purge that. He instilled a sense of discipline and accountability during spring practice and then came up with the idea of taking his team to San Bernardino for training camp.

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Grades: Stanford 27, UCLA 24

November, 30, 2012
The rematch was much closer, but the result was the same.

Six days after their regular-season finale, the Stanford Cardinal clinched the Pac-12 title and a spot in the Rose Bowl with a gut-wrenching, 27-24, victory over the UCLA Bruins in the Pac-12 championship game on Friday night at Stanford Stadium.

UCLA kicker Ka'imi Fairbairn missed a 52-yard field-goal attempt with 34 seconds remaining, and Stanford, which defeated UCLA 35-17 last Saturday, took home the trophy.

Here’s how the Bruins graded out:

Downfield passing clearly wasn't part of the game plan. Brett Hundley had a season-low 179 yards passing and for the first time this season did not have a touchdown pass. He completed 26-of-34 passes, but his second-quarter interception changed the game.

Johnathan Franklin shredded the nation's No. 1 rushing defense for 201 yards and two touchdowns. UCLA's 282 yards rushing were 85 more than any team had gained against Stanford this season. The Cardinal was giving up only 71.3 yards per game this season. UCLA averaged 7.8 yards per carry against a Stanford defense that was allowing only 2.36.

The Bruins limited Kevin Hogan to 170 yards passing, but they also gave up some big pass plays at crucial times. The most notable was when Drew Terrell got behind the UCLA defense for a 26-yard touchdown pass that tied the score at 24-24 early in the fourth quarter.

Stanford gained 170 yards on the ground, but the Cardinal was unable to break the big runs that had hurt UCLA on Saturday. Stepfan Taylor, who had 142 yards a week ago, had only 76 on Friday. Hogan, Stanford's QB, made a couple of key runs, including a 2-yard touchdown and a critical 13-yard run on third down late.

Fairbairn made a 31-yard field goal, but he missed a 52-yarder in the final minute that could have sent the game to overtime. Punter Jeff Locke averaged 44.8 yards but put only one inside the 20. Stanford's kick returners had a big game, averaging 27.6 yard on returns and Terrell also had an 18-yard punt return.

The UCLA games plans on both sides of the ball displayed the adjustments necessary to avoid the blowout loss from last week. The Bruins were able to run the ball effectively against the top-rated rushing defense and also found a way to limit a strong Stanford running game. Penalties were down (eight for 68 yards), but they cropped up at inopportune times.

First look at Pac-12 Championship Game: UCLA at Stanford

November, 25, 2012
LOS ANGELES -- The Pac-12 Championship Game will be the tail end of the closest thing college football may get to a doubleheader.

It’s the second tilt of a home-and-home series in back-to-back weeks.

The UCLA Bruins and Stanford Cardinal will meet Friday at Stanford Stadium in the second annual conference title game, giving fans coaches and players a serious case of deja vu.

The game will take place less than a week after Stanford (10-2, 8-1) earned a spot in the title game with a convincing 35-17 victory over UCLA (9-3, 6-3), which had clinched its spot in the championship game a week earlier.

“It’s a really interesting scenario playing a team twice in a row, really within six days,” UCLA coach Jim Mora said. “I can’t recall ever being in this situation before.

“I don’t know how to play it. It’s unique. It’s new. It’s a whole, new experience for me and it’s interesting. It’ll be fun to see how it all plays out.”

Mora certainly hopes it plays out differently than Saturday’s game. Stanford dominated all facets of the game, especially on the ground. The Cardinal outrushed the Bruins 221 yards to 73 -- representing the second-most running yards against UCLA this season and the second-fewest gained by the Bruins.

Mora said he was uncertain whether being on the losing end of such a game would be beneficial as the teams prepare for a rematch. On one hand, he said, he’ll be able to break down exactly how Stanford played the game and how the Cardinal were able to dominate. On the other, Stanford will be able to see UCLA’s weak spots and try to exploit them more aggressively.

“I think it cancels each other out,” Mora said. “I don’t know. I’ve never been in this before, so I don’t know what the advantages or disadvantages are.”

One thing Mora knows for sure is that it will be tough sledding once again. Stanford now boasts the No. 1 rushing defense in the country and the Cardinal also are tops the nation in sacks and tackles for a loss.

The Cardinal feature a stout front seven and they were on full display Saturday when they sacked UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley a season-high seven times and had nine tackles for a loss.

And the Cardinal rushing attack carved up UCLA. Stepfan Taylor had 142 yards rushing and averaged 7.2 yards per carry Saturday, taking advantage of a large, strong offensive line that pushed around UCLA’s front seven most of the game.

It’ll take a quick study to figure out how to slow down Stanford, but Mora said some familiarity might help. He likened it to his days as an NFL coach, when teams would play division rivals twice a year.

“You become very familiar with those teams,” he said. “And you’ll see patterns. You’ll see certain plays that they only run against you. Or certain coverages that they only run against you or that they tweak to play against you. So I think there are some similarities in that respect. But this six-day window makes it really interesting.”

Mora said he expects some changes in the schemes from both teams as they prepare for the rematch but that neither team will want to get too drastic with changes. After all, both squads earned a spot in the championship game doing things a certain way, so it’s unlikely either will want to stray too far from what has brought success.

Plus, with fewer to prepare, there may not be the luxury of time to add in too much.

“There are a couple of tweaks we can make that hopefully will help us,” Mora said. “Along the same lines, they are going to make a couple of tweaks, as well, so it’s a game of cat and mouse.”

Grades: Stanford 35, UCLA 17

November, 24, 2012
PASADENA, Calif. -- Stanford clinched the Pac-12 North Division with a 35-17 victory over UCLA on Saturday at the Rose Bowl. It sets up a rematch with the Bruins Friday in Palo Alto, Calif., in the second annual Pac-12 championship game. Here’s how the Bruins graded out:

Brett Hundley completed 20 of 38 passes for 261 yards and a touchdown, giving him at least one touchdown in every game this season. Receivers Shaquelle Evans and Joseph Fauria had four catches each and Hundley connected with eight different players, but the receivers dropped more passes than you’d like to see and the line gave up seven sacks.

Johnathan Franklin had 65 yards rushing, his second-lowest total this season, and the Bruins tied their season low with 73 yards rushing as a team. They averaged only 2.2 yards per carry, which was to be expected against a Stanford defense that was No. 2 in the nation against the run coming into the game.

The Bruins limited Kevin Hogan to 160 yards passing, the second-lowest passing total against the Bruins this season. They did not give up a pass play longer than 25 yards, they sacked Hogan twice and only two Stanford receivers had more than two catches. A defensive holding call nullified a Jordan Zumwalt interception and the Bruins didn’t get an interception for only the second time this season.

Stanford pounded the UCLA defense for 221 yards on the ground -- the second-highest rushing total against UCLA this season. Stepfan Taylor had 142 yards and two touchdowns and averaged 7.1 yards per carry as the UCLA front seven continually missed tackles. Linebacker Eric Kendricks had 15 tackles and Anthony Barr added a career-high nine, but it was a bad day overall against the run.

Kicker Ka'imi Fairbairn made a career-long 48-yard field goal and Jeff Locke averaged 45 yards on six punts, including one for 58 yards. Hundley also had a nice pooch punt that landed inside the Stanford 15. The Bruins also recovered a fumbled snap on a punt. Still, a fumbled kickoff return pretty much sealed UCLA’s fate when Stanford returned it for a touchdown and a 35-10 lead.

UCLA seemed to play with fire and emotion until the end, which is a good sign. The Bruins broke out the L.A. Night uniforms for added inspiration, but there really isn’t much you can do to prepare for a team that is playing for some high stakes when you are not. Penalties (10 for 115 yards) were again an issue.

Jim Mora loving the college experience

November, 17, 2012

PASADENA, Calif. -- At the podium, flanked by digital recorders and with dozens of cameras and eyes staring up at him, UCLA head coach Jim Mora is a cool customer. He’s a veteran coach with decades of experience from his time in the NFL. Despite the significance and magnitude of the moment, he wasn’t going to get wide-eyed … or at least let on that he was.

“It’s very special,” Mora said of his team’s 38-28 win over rival USC -- a game that locked up the Pac-12 South for the Bruins. “I don’t want to minimize it, but I also believe as the head football coach it’s important to keep an even keel as much as possible.”

Fast forward to about an hour and a half later -- this time flanked by his family outside the front gates of the Rose Bowl. Out of his Gatorade-soaked coaching gear and into a suit, he took a quiet moment under a dark and drizzly Southern California sky to soak in his first victory in the 82nd meeting of the two schools. No cameras, and only one digital recorder.

“It’s pure, it’s just pure emotion and it comes off of the kids,” Mora said. “They are so genuine and I just try to absorb it. In the locker room after the game, the way they were just dancing around and acting and the enthusiasm is so raw. It’s just awesome. They are so passionate because their time is limited. They are doing it because they love to do it. They aren’t getting paid yet. I just love the college game. I love the pageantry. I loved that both teams were in their home uniforms. I thought that was so awesome. I just got a kick out of watching their student body and our student body. It was just really, really cool.”

Mora’s hiring was met with a tepid response, at best. He was hard. And his players knew it. He had an NFL mentality that had been fostered since he first started in The League in 1985. When it was announced the team was going to spend part of preseason camp in San Bernardino in August, eyes rolled -- along with sweat beads.

[+] EnlargeJim Mora
Jeff Gross/Getty ImagesJim Mora was rewarded Friday with a one-year contract extension after a season in which UCLA posted its first victory against USC since 2006.
“It wasn’t always easy,” said UCLA tight end Joseph Fauria. “There were up and downs. It was his idea to put us in San Bernardino in 120-degree weather. I didn’t like him the whole time. It was like ‘what are you doing to us?’ But we trusted him, because he’s our head coach. We didn’t have to like it. We just had to trust him. He’s been through it with us and he loves it here and I love him for being here and he’s going to keep doing it here.”

And Saturday night Mora helped orchestrate a defense that forced three USC turnovers en route to the win -- UCLA’s first over the Trojans since 2006. It’s a far cry from last year’s 50-0 stomping the now No. 17 Bruins (9-2, 6-2) suffered at the hands of the Trojans -- who had won 12 of the past 13 contests. Mora declined to comment on the “monopoly” that USC had held over Los Angeles football for more than a decade. Ever the head coach in front of the cameras, he continually stressed that this is just one win.

“I’ll just go back to following the routine,” Mora said.

“But this isn’t routine,” quipped a Los Angeles columnist in the news conference, hoping to get Mora to open up a bit more.

“Well, it is for me,” said Mora. “I’m 1-0 [in the rivalry].”

That drew a laugh.

Behind 171 rushing yards and two touchdowns from UCLA running back Johnathan Franklin and a 22-of-30 performance from redshirt freshman quarterback Brett Hundley, the Bruins jumped on USC 24-0 in the first half. UCLA forced a pair of turnovers and turned both into touchdowns. The Bruins scored three touchdowns and a field goal on their first four possessions.

But the No. 18 Trojans (7-4, 5-4) battled back behind a pair of Matt Barkley touchdowns. He finished 20-of-38 for 301 yards with three scores and two interceptions. He was knocked out late in the fourth quarter and the extent of his injury wasn’t immediately known. He did talk to reporters briefly after the game, but his throwing arm (believed to be the source of the injury) was covered by a jacket.

Marqise Lee was his usual, outstanding self, catching nine balls for 158 yards with a touchdown.

The Trojans cut it to a field goal with 7:22 left in the game, but a 29-yard touchdown run from Franklin iced the game, sparked a Gatorade bath and propelled the Bruins into the conference title game for the second straight year. This time, there are no asterisks.

“It’s all coach,” said Hundley. “From Day 1, we bought into him. Yeah, it was hard. But it’s supposed to be hard. Look where we are now.”

And look at where Mora is. He’s 3-0 against the three other new head coaches in the conference -- Rich Rodriguez, Todd Graham and Mike Leach -- and whether he wants to admit it, there is a sense that things are going to be changing in L.A. for the years to come.

“He gives the same message every day,” said UCLA offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone. “He’s tough. But he’s fair, and they love him. There is some tough love involved. But as a head coach, he’s off the charts.”

Grades: UCLA 38, USC 28

November, 17, 2012
PASADENA, Calif. -- The UCLA Bruins jumped out to a 24-0 lead in their crosstown rivalry game against the USC Trojans on Saturday before hanging on to win 38-28. It is UCLA's first win over USC since 2006 and the Bruins' second victory since 1998, with the last three wins in the rivalry coming at the Rose Bowl.

With the win, the Bruins (9-2, 6-2) will play in the Pac-12 Championship Game for the second year in a row with a berth in the Rose Bowl on the line. UCLA has not played in the Rose Bowl Game since 1999.

Here's how the Bruins graded out after their biggest win in the Jim Mora era:


Brett Hundley completed 22 of 30 passes for 234 yards and one touchdown and rushed for two touchdowns. He began the game with 10 consecutive completions and showcased how much confidence he had and that the team had in him when he hit Shaquelle Evans for a 21-yard strike on fourth-and-14 at the USC 30-yard line in the first quarter. Evans finished with eight receptions and 114 yards as UCLA shredded USC's pass defense.


Johnathan Franklin had 171 yards rushing on 29 carries and two touchdowns as UCLA's passing game set up the Bruins' running attack. Franklin put the finishing touches on UCLA's win with a 29-yard touchdown run that gave UCLA a 38-28 lead with 4:02 left. The Bruins finished with 172 rushing yards and four rushing touchdowns, with Hundley showing his scrambling ability by eluding USC's pass rush and scrambling for a couple of first downs.


The talk heading into the game was that UCLA's secondary was no match for USC's potent passing attack. UCLA had made strides this season, but Matt Barkley was going to carve up the Bruins by playing catch with Marqise Lee and Robert Woods. Nothing could be further from the truth. UCLA cornerback Aaron Hester picked off Barkley on the first play of the game and UCLA linebacker Eric Kendricks intercepted Barkley in the fourth quarter, while UCLA's pass rush pressured Barkley into poor decisions all day.


The one player on USC's team who had a game above his season average was Curtis McNeal, who finished with 161 yards on 21 carries. With 33 of those yards coming on a run in the first quarter, UCLA was more than fine with that output. As a team, USC finished with 172 yards, and Silas Redd had only three carries for eight yards.


UCLA put the exclamation point on the win when Sheldon Price blocked a Andre Heidari field goal attempt in the fourth quarter. Earlier in the game, UCLA blocked a USC punt that led to a touchdown. In addition to pressuring every field goal try and punt, it neutralized Lee and Woods in the return game. The tandem combined for only 29 yards on four returns.


Whenever a new coach, and certainly one with little college football experience, takes over a major program, there will be plenty of questions. In his first year at UCLA, Jim Mora has answered most questions and proved he is the right person to finish what Rick Neuheisel promised but couldn't quite deliver -- ending the football monopoly in Los Angeles.

Halftime: UCLA 24, USC 14

November, 17, 2012
PASADENA, Calif. -- Just when it looked like the UCLA Bruins were going to pull away, Matt Barkley and the USC Trojans brushed off a horrific start and trail 24-14 at halftime.

The Bruins jumped out to a 24-0 lead, capitalizing on a Barkley interception on the first offensive play of the game and a Marqise Lee fumble.

A very efficient first half from quarterback Brett Hundley (16-of-19, 141 yards, one passing touchdown, one rushing) and the powerful running of Johnathan Franklin had the Bruins in the driver’s seat.

But after UCLA scored on its fourth straight possession, Barkley finally got USC on the board with 5:58 left in the half on a 33-yard touchdown to Nelson Agholor. The Trojans defense finally got a stop and Barkley hit Randall Telfer on a 2-yard touchdown pass.

Barkley is 9-of-15 for 135 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. UCLA gets the ball to start the second half.


November, 16, 2012
The USC Trojans (No. 18 BCS, No. 21 AP) and UCLA Bruins (No. 17 BCS, No. 17 AP) haven't matched up in a game that meant this much in a long time.

The winner of Saturday's 12 p.m. PT game at the Rose Bowl will secure the Pac-12 South title and earn a trip to the conference championship to compete for a bid to another game at the Rose Bowl.

Here are 10 things to watch in the winner-take-all matchup:

1. Mora vs. Kiffin. Long-term, the most important takeaway from this game will be who takes the upper hand between the two coaches who seem destined for a nice rivalry. Jim Mora and Lane Kiffin have the perfect mix of similarities and differences to make things interesting -- coaching bloodlines, NFL failures and recruiting successes, plus their opposite personalities. Mora is engaging and exciting as a speaker; Kiffin is, at his best, mildly entertaining. But who's a better coach? Perhaps we'll find out on Saturday.

2. More Marqise Lee. Lee hasn't lost any of his luster over the past couple of weeks, as he continues to be probably the second-hottest player in the country, behind only Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M. The whole defense thing from last week didn't work out, and Lee said he won't be playing there this week, but even so, he should be able to exploit a weak UCLA secondary. Lee is just 14 catches, 86 yards and four touchdowns away from breaking the Pac-12 single-season marks in all three categories.

3. Strength vs. weakness. If this isn't a recipe for abject disaster, what is? UCLA's biggest weakness is its secondary, and specifically, at corner. USC's biggest strength is its receivers, the top pass-catching duo in the nation. If the Bruins single-cover Lee with Sheldon Price or Aaron Hester at any point, they'll essentially be inviting the Trojans to score a touchdown. If they double- or triple-cover him, they'll be inviting Kiffin to re-explore throwing the ball to Robert Woods, which has never worked out too poorly for USC.

4. Hundley and Franklin. USC has Lee and Matt Barkley. UCLA has Brett Hundley and Johnathan Franklin, and the Bruins' duo isn't far off in terms of overall excitement and ability to explode for dynamic plays. It'll be particularly interesting to see how the Trojans try to stop Franklin, who has reinvented himself this season as an outside runner after running mostly between the tackles in the old Bruins scheme. As for Hundley, he's a dual-threat quarterback who has been more effective as a passer than a runner, and he makes his living passing short to backs and tight ends. In fact, only one of the Bruins' top four receivers is an actual wide receiver, and only four of Hundley's 24 touchdown passes have gone to an actual receiver, not counting newly healthy running back/receiver Damien Thigpen.

5. The offensive lines. No, they won't be battling directly against one another, but the Trojans' and Bruins' lines will collectively determine a lot of what happens at the Rose Bowl. UCLA's offensive line is particularly young and hasn't kept Hundley off the ground, but the Trojans' linemen probably would've been on the hook for more sacks if Kiffin didn't call so many three-step drops because of them. Who will step up to the occasion? If there's an indicator, maybe it's that USC starts a fifth-year senior at center in Khaled Holmes, and UCLA starts a redshirt freshman, Jake Brendel.

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Anthony Barr defensive player of the week

November, 12, 2012
LOS ANGELES -- UCLA Bruins linebacker Anthony Barr has been named the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week after a standout performance Saturday against the Washington State Cougars.

Barr tied a career high with eight tackles and had a career-best 2.5 sacks in UCLA's 44-36 victory in Pullman, Wash. He also blocked a punt and recorded a safety. Barr now has 11 sacks and ranks second in the Pac-12 and sixth in the nation in the category. His 17 tackles for a loss also ranks second in the Pac-12 and sixth in the country.

Barr, a junior who switched from a hybrid receiver/running back position to linebacker this season, is the second consecutive UCLA player to earn the conference defensive player of the week honor, following linebacker Eric Kendricks. (Running back Johnathan Franklin has been named offensive player of the week twice.)

The conference offensive player of the week this week was running back Ka'Deem Carey of the Arizona Wildcats, who set a conference record with 366 yards rushing against the Colorado Buffaloes. Kicker Trevor Romaine of the Oregon State Beavers was named special-teams player of the week after kicking three field goals and two extra points in a 27-23 loss to the Stanford Cardinal.

For Bruins, nothing else matters

November, 12, 2012
LOS ANGELES -- For the UCLA Bruins, this is the only game that matters.

All season, UCLA coaches and players have spewed the tired cliche that the next opponent is the only one that counts. This week, you finally believe them.

The Bruins and the USC Trojans will play the next chapter in one of the country’s most heated and storied college football rivalries Saturday at noon in a game that will decide the Pac-12 South champion ... and just how far UCLA has come as a football program.

UCLA is enjoying one of its most successful seasons in the past 15 years and is well on the way to putting years of mediocrity in the rearview mirror. But unless the Bruins can end USC’s run of city domination, nobody will believe UCLA football has turned any kind of corner.

UCLA (No. 17 BCS, No. 17 AP) is ranked ahead of USC (No. 18 BCS, No. 21 AP) in the national polls and BCS standings. The Bruins (8-2, 5-2 Pac-12) have a better record than the Trojans (7-3, 5-3) and are a half-game ahead of USC in the conference standings. Even so, until the Bruins can find a way to defeat USC in a game with postseason implications on the line, UCLA will remain the pesky, little, kid brother to the national powerhouse across town.

“It would definitely validate that UCLA is an elite program,” safety Andrew Abbott said. “Where we’re going in the future. Where this team is about to go. Where we’ve been. This would be a big win for us.”

The old saying around UCLA is that for any season to be a success, it has to include a win over USC. If that’s the case, there haven’t been very many successful seasons as of late. USC has won five in a row against UCLA and 12 of the past 13.

Last year, the Bruins had a chance to win the outright Pac-12 South title in their game against USC, and then-coach Rick Neuheisel pointed to that achievement as evidence that UCLA had closed the gap between the schools.

UCLA then flopped in historic fashion with a 50-0 loss that was the largest margin of victory in the rivalry in 81 years. Neuheisel was served walking papers a couple of days later, and UCLA remained a long way from joining the college football elite.

“That’s in the past, but until we change it, until we do something about it, it’s going to be stuck in people’s minds,” safety Dalton Hilliard said. “This is just another opportunity for us to hopefully get that whole debacle out of their minds and hopefully another opportunity for us to prove to ourselves and the nation that we are a different team.”

The players say this is a different team. First-year coach Jim Mora has instilled a new, no-nonsense attitude among the team and a new way of thinking in the locker room. Players are no longer thinking about the results of the game, only the process of executing plays. Each game carries equal importance, and that attitude has put UCLA in a position it has not reached in quite some time.

The Bruins have posted eight regular-season wins for only the second time in 14 seasons and have a legitimate shot at an upper-tier bowl game for the first time since 2005. A win Saturday would keep the Bruins in the picture for their first Rose Bowl appearance since 1998. That’s the kind of thing that would be program-changing.

“It’s a feeling I’ve never felt before,” Abbott said. “The implications of this game. What we can achieve if we can win this game. What it means for UCLA in the future is special.”

The key to reaching those plateaus, of course, is remaining true to the mantra that every game is the same. That will be more difficult this week because the stakes involved will attract a national spotlight on a game that always receives plenty of local attention.

Quarterback Brett Hundley, prepping to take snaps in the UCLA-USC game for the first time, said people started talking to him about this game at the beginning of the year. It’s the game everyone always wants to talk about, he said, and they all want to know if this is finally the year UCLA beats USC.

But Hundley said that every game is important and that the stakes in Saturday’s game would not be nearly as high if the Bruins hadn’t used the one-game-at-a-time mentality to win eight of their 10 games this season.

“I honestly believe there has been a lot riding on every game,” he said. “Every game means something. This game means a lot, but all the other previous games have built up to make it so this game means a lot.”

For the first time in recent memory, Bruins fans have some reason for hope. UCLA has a better 10-game record than USC for the first time since 2001. The Bruins are ranked higher than the Trojans, marking the first time in 12 seasons the teams will meet with UCLA positioned higher in the poll.

Also, the Bruins are playing at home, where even some of the best USC teams over the past decade have struggled. These Bruins, with their record and quality of victories, have shown they are for real, though most are withholding their final verdict until after the USC result is in.

“Whoever wins, that’s all you’re going to hear about all year,” running back Johnathan Franklin said. “That’s when the flags are going to come out, and whoever wins, everyone is going to be wearing their T-shirts. It’s for the city. It’s for bragging rights. It’s for everything.”

That "everything" includes the idea that UCLA is, indeed, a program ready to join the nation’s elite again. To do that, UCLA must defeat USC.

Nothing else matters.

UCLA-Washington State grades

November, 11, 2012
The UCLA Bruins took a big lead, then hung on for a 44-36 victory over the Washington State Cougars in a Pac-12 game on Saturday night in Pullman, Wash.

The Bruins (8-2, 5-2) remained in control of the Pac-12 South Division race with a division-deciding game against the USC Trojans (7-3, 4-3) coming up next week.

Here’s how the Bruins graded out after taking a 44-14 lead late in the third quarter, only to let Washington State climb right back to within one score:

Brett Hundley completed 18 of 21 passes for 261 yards and three touchdowns. He began the game with 11 consecutive completions. Joseph Fauria and Jordan Payton had nice games at receiver. The offensive line had a bit of an off night in pass protection, giving up four sacks.

Johnathan Franklin had 66 yards rushing, his second lowest total this season. The Bruins had a season-low 73 yards rushing as a team and averaged a paltry 1.9 yards per carry. It was only the second time this season the Bruins failed to crack 100 yards rushing (95 against the Oregon State Beavers).

Washington State passed for 457 yards and five touchdowns, both of which were season highs against UCLA. Receivers routinely got deep against the UCLA secondary and the Cougars had two 100-yard receivers. Still, six sacks and a late interception by Andrew Abbott saved the grade.

Yes, the Bruins gave up only 67 yards on the ground, but that is more than double what Washington State has averaged this season. Running back Teondray Caldwell averaged 6.2 yards per carry. Linebackers Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks had nice games and combined for 23 tackles.

The Bruins had two blocked field goals, two blocked punts and recovered a fumble on a kickoff. Sheldon Price returned Datone Jones’ blocked field goal for a touchdown and the kickoff fumble recovery led to a UCLA touchdown. Jeff Locke punted four times, three inside the 20, including one inside the five.

After a slow start, the staff got the team turned in the right direction. But the Bruins weren’t able to muster the killer instinct and let the Cougars back in the game after taking a 30-point lead with four minutes left in the third quarter. Penalties (12 for 126 yards) continued to be an issue.

Rapid Reaction: UCLA 44, Washington State 36

November, 10, 2012

The UCLA Bruins completed the road portion of its regular-season schedule with a 44-36 victory over the Washington State Cougars on Saturday night in Pullman, Wash.

The Bruins (8-2, 5-2) remained in control of the Pac-12 South race, as they reached eight wins for the first time since 2005 and only the third time since 1998 -- the year of their last Rose Bowl appearance.

They will end the regular season with a 4-1 record on the road, marking the most road wins for UCLA since 2002 and equaling the fewest road losses in the last 19 seasons.

It was over when: UCLA recovered an onside kick with 1:25 to play. Washington State turned a 30-point deficit into a one-score game with a late touchdown and two-point conversion, but couldn’t recover the kick.

UCLA had opened a 44-14 lead with four minutes to play in the third quarter, but couldn’t muster much offense after that and the Cougars made a fourth-quarter run. The hole was too deep to dig out of, though, as the Bruins had scored three touchdowns and a safety during a span of just more than two minutes in the second quarter, turning a 7-7 tie into a 30-7 lead.

A 16-yard screen pass from Brett Hundley to Johnathan Franklin for a touchdown with 8:57 left in the first half started the scoring spree, then Stan McKay forced a fumble on the ensuing kickoff and Fabian Moreau recovered at the Washington State 24.

Four plays later, Brett Hundley hit Joseph Fauria for a 9-yard touchdown and a 21-7 UCLA lead. Two plays after that, Anthony Barr delivered a sack for a safety. Kenneth Walker then returned the free kick 40 yards and Hundley followed with a 31-yard completion to Fauria and a 10-yard touchdown pass to Devin Fuller for a 30-7 UCLA lead with 6:40 left in the second quarter.

Game ball goes to: Anthony Barr. The junior outside linebacker had a career-high eight tackles, four of them for a loss. He also had three sacks, recorded a safety and blocked a punt.

Key stat: Washington State passed for 457 yards -- the most surrendered by the Bruins this season. Most of that came after Cougars starting quarterback Jeff Tuel left with an injury. That’s when Connor Halliday passed for 330 yards and five touchdowns. And it must be noted Wazzu was without leading receiver Marquess Wilson, who quit the team. That all doesn’t bode well going into next week’s tilt against the USC TrojansMatt Barkley, Marqise Lee and Robert Woods.

What it means: Next week’s game against USC will be for the Pac-12 South Division title and a spot in the Pac-12 title game. The Bruins (8-2, 5-2 Pac-12) are a half-game ahead of the Trojans (7-3, 5-3) and the tiebreaker would be the head-to-head matchup, so a game that is big every year will carry conference title and postseason implications.



B. Hundley1047510417
P. Perkins774415.72
B. Hundley371463.92
J. Payton2441717.43
D. Fuller181096.10