UCLA: Sheldon Price

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.


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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Bruins hope to stay on top after resounding win

November, 4, 2012
Jim Mora Andrew Fielding/US PresswireJim Mora and his coaching staff had to be pleased after UCLA's 66-10 win over Arizona on Saturday.

LOS ANGELES -- The catbird seat offers a pretty darn nice view.

It has been a while since the UCLA Bruins sat there, so you'll have to forgive them if it all seems so new, but there they are in the driver's seat for a spot in the Pac-12 conference title game and possibly the Rose Bowl.

And after a resounding 66-10 victory over Arizona on Saturday night at the Rose Bowl, those thoughts suddenly don't seem so farfetched.

These Bruins are for real, with control of their own destiny for the rest of this season -- a far cry from last season's mediocre Bruins, who advanced to the Pac-12 title game only after an unlikely confluence of events in the final weeks of the season and then only because USC was ineligible for postseason play.

This year, if the Bruins get there, it will be no fluke.

"It's awesome because last year you were thinking about, 'This team has to win and that team has to lose,'" tight end Joseph Fauria said. "None of that anymore. It's all us. We knew that last week and now it's even more so. These last three games are a playoff. We have to win out to get to the championship game. It's in our reach, it's in our grasp and we're excited for the challenge."

UCLA (7-2, 4-2 Pac-12) is a half game ahead of USC (6-3, 4-3) in the Pac-12 South Division standings. The Bruins play at Washington State (2-7, 0-6) on Saturday and then have their crosstown showdown with the Trojans on Nov. 17 in a game that is shaping up to be for the division crown.

The Bruins have their best record through nine games since starting 8-1 in 2005 and have reached seven wins in the regular season for the first time since 2006.

They entered the BCS standings this week at No. 18, one spot ahead of USC. They are No. 17 in the Associated Press rankings, four spots ahead of the Trojans. It is the first time in 10 years that UCLA has been ranked ahead of its crosstown rival, so it's no wonder the feeling is a bit unfamiliar.

"This team is not familiar with this success since I've been here," said senior cornerback Andrew Abbott, a captain. "The good thing is that no one knows what it feels like so we're just going along and seeing what it feels like."

Playing the way they did Saturday feels pretty good. The 66 points were the most UCLA had scored since 1997. An inconsistent UCLA defense held a high-powered Arizona offense to a season-low 257 yards and the game was a rout from the beginning as UCLA raced to a 28-0 lead and led 42-3 at halftime.

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Upon further review: Utah rewind

October, 14, 2012
LOS ANGELES -- Brett Hundley had a career-high 15 rushing attempts during the UCLA Bruins' 21-14 victory over Utah on Saturday, a surprising number considering how the first one went.

On the first play of the game from scrimmage, Hundley took off and fell awkwardly as he got caught in between a dive and a slide after a one-yard gain. The next play, he threw a quick pass out of bounds and then called an unusual timeout.

It turned out he tweaked his knee and needed a minute to recover.

"It just didn't feel right for a second," Hundley said. "It just felt weird at the moment so I was like, oh, snap, so I called a timeout to get back into it. It felt really fine after that. They just checked it out and I did a couple of drop backs and a couple of plants and they threw me back in there."

Hundley went on to match his career high with 68 yards rushing, including three runs of 12 or more yards. He had 32 yards in four carries during a 14-play, 66-yard scoring drove in the third quarter that put UCLA up, 21-7.

"He made a major step in my mind in terms of demonstrating his mobility as a quarterback," coach Jim Mora said. "Those of us that have been at practice have seen it a lot, but he just tucked it and ran when he saw an opportunity to do that."

Hundley has been touted as a dual-threat quarterback since his arrival and raised the expectations sky high when he took his first collegiate snap and ran 72 yards for a touchdown in the season opener against Rice.

He has dealt with a sore ankle since Week 2 against Nebraska and had only 51 yards in 44 carries the last four games before breaking out against Utah.

"They did a good job out there and covered our receivers," Hundley said. "If nothing is there, I'm just going to take off running and using the legs. When things are there, I'm going to take off and if the throws are there, I'm going to throw the ball. It felt really comfortable though."

His ability to run certainly won't feel comfortable for opposing defensive coordinators, though.

"I know how tough it is when you have to defend a quarterback that is effective throwing the ball and running it himself," Mora said. "We want to encourage him to do that when it's appropriate, but it's got to be the right time. (Saturday) I think he did it at the right times."

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Abbott a valuable tone-setter for Bruins

October, 14, 2012
Andrew AbbottJason O. Watson/Getty ImagesAndrew Abbott has intercepted passes on the first defensive series the past two games for UCLA.

Quarterbacks opposing the UCLA Bruins might want to start thinking twice about throwing in the direction of Andrew Abbott during the first drive of the game.

For two consecutive weeks, Abbott, a senior safety, has intercepted a pass during UCLA's first defensive series, continuing a remarkable rise from walk-on to starter to captain. Last season, he was UCLA's most improved player, this year, he might be the most valuable on defense.

He's second on the team with three interceptions, second in passes defended with five and sixth in tackles with 25.

"He is a special player," defensive coordinator Lou Spanos said. "He studies the game. He's passionate. He plays hard and, of course, he makes plays. Week in and week out there is always Andrew doing something in the run game or the passing game."

These days, Abbott hasn't been wasting much time making those plays. Last week against California, he intercepted a Zach Maynard pass on the fourth play of the game and UCLA turned it into a touchdown. Saturday against Utah, the Utes drove into UCLA territory on their first possession, but Abbott picked off a tipped Travis Wilson pass at the UCLA 31. Once again, it led to a UCLA touchdown and sparked the 21-14 UCLA victory.

"As a leader it's good to set the tone like that," Abbott said. "These younger guys look at you and they follow you, and if you are off, you kind of feel like they'll be off. That was kind of my mentality that guys will just follow me if I get going."

Not all of Abbott's heroics come early in games. Earlier this season, with UCLA clinging to a 29-27 lead against Nebraska, he intercepted a pass with 3:07 to play and set up the victory-sealing score in a 36-30 upset over the Cornhuskers. Last season he had an interception with 2:01 to play that preserved a 28-25 victory over Washington State.

"He's one of our captains and every one respects him," coach Jim Mora said. "They respect him in the locker room and they respect him on the field. And he comes up with plays when you need them."

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Instant Analysis: UCLA 21, Utah 14

October, 13, 2012
PASADENA, Calif. -- The UCLA Bruins turned in a stout defensive performance, holding the Utah Utes without an offensive touchdown until late in the fourth quarter and won, 21-14, Saturday in a Pac-12 Conference game at the Rose Bowl.

Utah, which scored on a fourth-and-goal pass with 3:18 to play, had only 75 yards rushing as a team and had no runs longer than nine yards. Utah's other score came when the Utes recovered a muffed punt in the end zone. UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley passed for 183 yards and a touchdown and rushed for 68 yards and a touchdown.

A quick recap:

It was over when: Linebacker Eric Kendricks stopped Utah quarterback Travis Johnson for a three-yard gain on fourth and eight from the UCLA 35-yard line with 11:51 to go in the third quarter. The Bruins took over on downs and marched 66 yards in 14 plays, using 5:47 of clock in a drive capped by a Johnathan Franklin's three-yard touchdown run that gave UCLA a 21-7 lead. It was too much to overcome for a Utah offense that had only 191 total yards at the time and hadn't been inside the UCLA 30.

Game ball goes to: Andrew Abbott had an interception that ended Utah's first drive and set the defensive tone for the game. He also made a key tackle on a fourth-and-eight play in the first half and then had a tackle for a five-yard loss on a third-and-eight.

Key stat: UCLA had only seven penalties for 43 yards. The Bruins entered this week leading the nation in penalties (53) and yards penalized (519). Last week, the Bruins has 12 penalties for 99 yards, and many were of the drive-killing/drive-extending variety. Against Utah, only a delay-of-game penalty on fourth down noticeably affected a UCLA drive and only one of the penalties came against the Bruins' defense -- none against cornerbacks Aaron Hester and Sheldon Price, who had been racking them up the last few weeks.

What it means: The Bruins (5-2, 2-2 Pac-12) are back on track after a blowout loss to California last week and will go into their bye week able to breathe a sigh of relief. It would have been a long two weeks if UCLA had taken a two-game losing streak into the off week, especially knowing that the toughest games of the season are still to come with Arizona State, Arizona, USC and Stanford coming in the next five games.

Bruins hope they've learned their lesson

October, 11, 2012
LOS ANGELES -- Just when it seems as if the UCLA Bruins are on the road to respectability, something like last Saturday happens.

UCLA's 43-17 loss at California derailed what had been a promising start to the season and the Bruins (4-2, 1-2 Pac-12) reached the midway point with doubt and pessimism beginning to creep back into the vernacular of those who follow the program.

It's a case of the same-old-Bruins blues, a feeling among fans who are just waiting for the season to spiral out of control because that seems to be the modus operandi for UCLA football.

The only cure would be to start winning again and that possibility begins with a nationally televised game against the Utah Utes on Saturday at noon at the Rose Bowl.

"We don't have a choice but to bounce back," said safety Andrew Abbott, a team captain. "There's no sitting around feeling sorry for ourselves or questioning ourselves. The resolve is there. Our coaches don't allow anything else and the players won't allow anything else. That's always good to have this common denominator of the team not wilting and not giving in to what people are saying."

What people were saying early on about the Bruins was that this was a team on the rise. They won their first three games, including an impressive victory over Nebraska, and moved to No. 19 in the national rankings.

Even a loss to Oregon State didn't seem so bad as the Beavers rose into the national top 10, but the blowout loss at California, which had won only one game before playing UCLA, served as a slap back to reality for UCLA.

"I wasn't expecting us to go out there like that," offensive lineman Jeff Baca said. "But to be honest, it doesn't matter if you lose by one or you lose by whatever we lost by. It's extremely important to bounce back. To get on a nice little win streak here would be great."

A victory over Utah (2-3, 0-2) probably won't do much in terms of getting UCLA back into the national spotlight, but it could go a long way toward restoring faith in the team and new coach Jim Mora. Bruins fans have seen too often over the last few seasons these hot starts with big wins and high hopes only to have the balloon deflate more quickly than it filled.

UCLA started 4-1 in 2006 and then lost four in a row. In 2007, the Bruins started 4-1 again and then lost six of their last eight. The 2008 season started with a marquee victory over Tennessee, but ended with a 4-8 record. In 2009, the Bruins followed a 3-0 start with a five-game losing streak. In 2010, a Week 4 victory at Texas was supposed to push the Bruins over the hill, but they finished 4-8 that season.

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Bruins search for answers after tough loss

October, 9, 2012
LOS ANGELES -- A loss such as the UCLA Bruins' 43-17 beatdown by California last week tends to create a lot of questions.

What went wrong? How can it be fixed? Does there need to be a change in personnel?

The answers to the first two are generally found by a review of the game film. It's the third one that requires a little deeper thought.

The general consensus is that UCLA's biggest breakdowns came on the offensive line and in the secondary, and coach Jim Mora said those are the two most difficult positions in which to make personnel changes.

"Positions that depend on real cohesiveness like the offensive line or the secondary is pretty difficult," Mora said. "Probably the offensive line is the most difficult. The other positions you can kind of plug guys in and get through it. Offensive line is tough."

For that reason, the Bruins will stick with their offensive line for Saturday's game against Utah, even though the Bruins gave up five sacks and left tackle Torian White was pulled during the game against Cal.

The line includes three freshmen and a sophomore and offensive line coach Adrian Klemm says he wants to keep his young line intact to see if it can continue to develop. He said he won't make any rash decisions based on one poor showing.

"These guys are who we are rolling with," Klemm said. "This is it. We let them know that no one is going to save you. We're one deep. You better get it right or you are going to embarrass yourself."

The fact that the Bruins have very few other linemen with any experience is clearly a factor because replacing the current linemen with inexperienced players would be akin to starting over.

Greg Capella, one of the few reserves who has experience, has missed the last three games because of a concussion. Alberto Cid and Brett Downey also have experience, but the coaching staff said it's too early to disrupt the developing chemistry.

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Five things to watch: UCLA at California

October, 5, 2012
The UCLA Bruins (4-1, 1-1 Pac-12) will play at California (1-4, 0-2) Saturday at 7 p.m. in a game that will be televised by the Pac-12 Networks. It will be the 83rd meeting between the teams and though UCLA holds a 50-31-1 record in the long-standing rivalry, the Bruins are looking to end a losing streak more than a decade long in Berkeley. Here are a few keys to the game:

1. Pomp and circumstance

California’s Memorial Stadium got a makeover last season and no team in the conference is happier than UCLA to see the old place go. The Bruins have not won there since 1998, a string of six consecutive losses. However, the Golden Bears have conveniently scheduled a ceremony for Saturday during which the stadium will be rededicated to Californians who have lost their lives in war. Cal also will conduct a special card stunt for the fans, and this also happens to be homecoming weekend in Berkeley. Put it all together and this will be by far the most difficult road environment the Bruins have faced all season; they will have to block out all of the distractions in order to succeed.

2. Sack exchange

UCLA’s sack masters, Anthony Barr, Damien Holmes and Datone Jones, could be in for a big day against a California team that has given up 25 sacks, more than any other team in the nation. Barr has six sacks this season, Holmes has four and Jones has two among his team-leading nine tackles for a loss. Holmes had three of his sacks last week after switching to outside linebacker and will again start outside Saturday, so it could be a big day of pass rushing for the Bruins, who are tied for sixth in the nation with 17 sacks.

3. Picking their spots

UCLA enters the game tied for second in the nation with nine interceptions. Sheldon Price is tied for the national lead with four interceptions and Stan McKay has had one in each of the past two games. Cal quarterback Zach Maynard is susceptible to bad passing stretches. He has had five passes intercepted this season and is ninth in the conference and No. 94 in the nation with a 121.82 passer rating. UCLA safety Tevin McDonald will be licking his chops. McDonald had a school-record three interceptions last season against Maynard, who had four passes intercepted in the 31-14 UCLA victory last season.

4. The long run

UCLA enters the game No. 4 in the nation in total offense with 558.4 yards per game and No. 13 in rushing offense with 243.4. That bodes well for Johnathan Franklin and the UCLA rushing attack, which will go up against a California defense that is giving up 174.8 yards per game on the ground to rank last in the Pac-12. Franklin is third in the nation with 697 yards rushing. The Golden Bears have been particularly vulnerable to big gains, having given up 28 runs of 10 yards or more this season. That list includes runs of 62, 55, 49 and 33 yards.

5. They’ve got skills

Despite California’s 1-4 record, the Golden Bears are loaded at the skill positions on offense. Receiver Keenan Allen, an all-Pac-12 selection last season, is among the best in the country at his position and also returns punts and has a 39-yard run for a touchdown on a reverse. Fellow receiver Bryce Treggs was one of the top receiver recruits in the nation last season. Running backs Isi Sofele and C.J. Anderson pack a one-two punch on the ground and are averaging 5.46 yards per carry. Sophomore speedster Brendan Bigelow has not been used much (only 10 carries), but he showed what he can do with touchdown runs of 81 and 59 yards against Ohio State, so he is someone to watch.

UCLA must overcome adversity for the first time

September, 22, 2012
PASADENA, Calif. -- You can call it a letdown or a wake-up call or maybe even an inevitable slip-up by a still-growing team.

But if the UCLA Bruins are to rebound from their 27-20 upset loss to the Oregon State Beavers in a Pac-12 opener Saturday at the Rose Bowl, it had better become a learning experience.

[+] EnlargeOregon State Beavers defense
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesAfter averaging 180 yards rushing, Johnathan Franklin was held to just 45 by the Beavers. His Heisman Trophy hopes will be influenced by how well he and the Bruins respond in Colorado.
The Bruins had been flying high this week, creating national buzz with their 3-0 start. Talk of the Heisman Trophy and being the best team in L.A. had been swirling around Westwood as the Bruins reached No. 19 in the Associated Press poll.

The loss Saturday puts a halt to all of that, takes the luster off the Bruins and most certainly will draw some UCLA naysayers out of the woodwork.

The way the Bruins respond next week at Colorado will tell us more about the team than any of its first four games.

"It’ll be a huge test to see how we can respond," safety Tevin McDonald said. "All the doubters will come back."

History suggests those doubters have good reason to come back. The last time the Bruins started 3-0 was 2009; they lost to Stanford in their Pac-12 opener that season and went on to lose five in a row after that.

But this is not the 2009 team, the Bruins insist. Saturday’s loss was the result of Beavers team that simply played better, had a better game plan and executed better than UCLA. The Beavers have now defeated 11 ranked teams since 2005.

"I don’t feel that vibe from this team," said cornerback Sheldon Price, a senior who started on that 2009 team. "This team is hungry and we want to continue to get better every day. I don’t feel like there are any letdowns. We just let one slip away today."

The proof will come over the next week. UCLA is a young team that starts five freshman, including quarterback Brett Hundley. This is the first time they will face a practice week following a loss. Not only that, the bubble will have burst on the Bruins, who had become somewhat of a national darling after putting up the No. 2 offense in the nation.

Running back Johnathan Franklin had been getting some ink as a Heisman candidate after leading the nation with 541 yards rushing through three games, but his campaign took a hit Saturday after he registered only 45 yards rushing.

That kind of adversity has the coaching staff very focused on the upcoming week.

"I’m kind of anxious to see how they handle it," said offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone. "These guys didn’t know any better. They thought, ‘Oh, this is fun,’ but life isn’t always like that. There’s always going to be adversity in your life, I don’t care what you’re doing. Sometimes that’s what kind of makes the mettle of the man. This will be interesting to see how they react."

The reaction will start Monday in the film room and continue on the practice field through next week. UCLA will face in Boulder a Buffaloes team filled with confidence after winning its first game of the season -- a 35-34 come-from-behind thriller at Washington State.

The Bruins also must deal with the start of classes this week and a new practice schedule that will have the team on the field at 7 a.m. every day.

"We're asking a lot from our young men," coach Jim Mora said. "All indications from me being around these guys is that they'll respond."

The Bruins have a 24-hour rule in which they are allowed wallow over a loss. (The converse is true after victories.) Offensive lineman Xavier Su'a-Filo said players need to embrace their emotions. They need to let it hurt, he said, and they need to use that as fuel to avoid feeling it again.

And, he said, the Bruins need to use this loss as an opportunity to show their character.

"I think it’s perfect for us," Su'a-Filo said. "Unfortunately we didn’t win. That’s terrible and it doesn’t feel good to lose, ever, but I think it’s important to mature as a team and demonstrate what kind of team we are."

The coaches and the captains will be looking for accountability. In the film room, they want to hear players taking responsibility for their mistakes instead of farming out blame. On the practice field, they will be looking for hard work and attention to the details -- a lack of which might have contributed to this loss.

And they will be looking for the type of focus that helped UCLA get off to that fast start and the type of resolve that ensures the Bruins shut out the talk that these are the same old Bruins who weren't able to handle a little success and are destined to repeat that 2009 losing streak.

"We’re obviously going to get the doubters, but we can’t listen to the noise ... like we didn't listen to it the last couple of weeks," safety Andrew Abbott said. "We aren’t hitting the panic button in no way, shape or fashion. We know we’re a great team, but we know we also have a lot of work to do. We just have to bounce back."

Exactly how they do will speak volumes about what we can expect from this team.

Surging Bruins begin road back to Pac-12 title game

September, 20, 2012
LOS ANGELES -- It's time for Pac-12 play to start for the No. 19 UCLA Bruins, which means it's time for UCLA to begin its defense of the Pac-12 South Division crown.

What's that? You forgot about UCLA winning the Pac-12 South last season?

Well, you aren't the only one. Bruins' safety Tevin McDonald, generally one of the coolest customers on the team, cracked a smile and shook his head when reminded that the Bruins were beginning defense of their crown when they face Oregon State Saturday at the Rose Bowl.

Receiver Joseph Fauria, asked if he felt like the team had a target on its back, let out a hearty, sarcastic laugh.

"I guess you could say that," Fauria said. "I forgot about it because we’re a totally different team and I forgot about it because we got in the back door."

Actually, they got in through the back door and then needed to open a secret trap door.

In one of the biggest upsets in the conference last season, Utah lost to Colorado in the final week of the regular season, giving UCLA second place in the conference by virtue of a tie breaker over Arizona State.

Then, as the second-place team, UCLA was awarded the South Division crown and a spot in the Pac-12 title game because USC, which finished ahead of the Bruins in the standings and defeated UCLA, 50-0, was under sanctions and ineligible for the division title.

With a convoluted route like that, it's no wonder it has slipped the minds of the players.

"We all knew the rules of how you could get into the championship last year," McDonald said. "So, yeah, it kind of feels like we are champs, but we're also still hungry to have a better season than we did last year."

So far, they are off on the right foot. The Bruins (3-0) have created a bit of a buzz on the national college football scene with their hot start. They moved into the national rankings for the first time in four years and will be looking to get to 4-0 for the first time since 2005, when they started 8-0 with Maurice Jones-Drew at running back.

They are currently ahead of USC (2-1, 0-1 Pac-12) in the standings, have a Heisman candidate in running back Johnathan Franklin and a freshman quarterback in Brett Hundley who has statistical numbers equal to or better than those of projected first-round draft pick Matt Barkley at USC.

In other words, they are playing like a team that could actually earn a berth in the conference championship game without any asterisk, but the hot start won't add up to much if UCLA can't keep it going in conference play.

The Bruins have struggled to do that in recent years. Since 1998, the last time UCLA won the conference title, the Bruins have won more than five conference games only once. From 2008-2010, UCLA averaged 2.7 conference victories and finished eighth, eighth and ninth in the standings.

Coach Jim Mora is only in his first season and while he preaches a philosophy of looking at each game the same way he acknowledged that there was a little bit more urgency with going into conference play after three non-conference games.

"I don’t think you can deny the fact that conference games are very important," Mora said. "But that’s not something we talk to the team about. We talk to the team about maintaining a consistent level of preparation and play regardless of who we are playing."

Mora, who spent 25 years in the NFL before landing at UCLA, likened the feeling of a conference game to playing a division rival in the NFL.

"I guess what makes them maybe more intense is that there is familiarity," Mora said. "You develop some rivalries. I’m excited to play these guys. I’m excited to see what it’s like to play in a Pac-12 game."

He should be, because for a UCLA program that is trying to take the next step toward national credibility, winning conference games is a big step. The Bruins don't get a whole lot of respect for playing in the 2011 conference title game because of the way they got in. This year, they hope to gain back some of that respect and doing so starts with the first conference game on Saturday.

"With the Pac-12 opener, you want to try and make a statement," cornerback Sheldon Price said. "All everybody knows is UCLA being soft so we have to continue to show that we aren’t that same team anymore."

It's not often that you hear players talking about not wanting to be the same team they were when they won a division crown, but that just tells you that the Bruins aren't exactly bragging to their buddies about the title.

"I guess we are still are technically the champs of last year and you can’t deny the fact that we played in the first Pac-12 championship game ever," Fauria said. "But we aren’t the same team as we were last year. We have a different offense, a different defense and a different mindset.

"I guess we have that in the past, but we’re not really looking back, we’re looking forward rather than into the past and we're trying to get to the second Pac-12 championship game."

Presumably through the front door this time.

UCLA defense loses shutout, but pitches complete game

September, 16, 2012
PASADENA, Calif. -- After riding shotgun to the offense through the first two weeks of the season, the UCLA Bruins' defense took the lead role Saturday during a 37-6 victory over Houston.

And it came at just the right time, as UCLA's offense was out of synch for much of the game and needed a helping hand.

The Bruins held a high-octane Houston offense scoreless until a broken play late in the fourth quarter and had five interceptions against Cougars quarterback David Piland, who a week earlier had set an NCAA record for pass attempts without an interception.

Houston, which had nearly 700 yards in offense a week earlier, had only 388 against the Bruins. UCLA, which entered the game ranked No. 100 in the nation against the run, held Houston to -1 yards rushing in the first half Saturday, and one yard rushing through three quarters.

Piland broke an 86-yard touchdown run against a second-string UCLA defense with 4:54 to play, ending the shutout and bringing the Cougars' rushing total to 139 yards, but all in all it was an impressive defensive effort.

"We played outstanding defense tonight," coach Jim Mora said. "Except for one play, we played as good as I’ve seen a team play defense. We got after the passer, we covered well, we tackled well, we stopped the run, we did a lot of good things defensively. We had six takeaways, so that was pretty good."

The Bruins had gotten off to slow starts defensively in each of their first two games. They allowed 24 first-half points to Rice and Nebraska before making adjustments and shutting out Rice in the second half and holding Nebraska to two second-half field goals.

Saturday against Houston, the mindset was to start fast on defense. Linebacker Eric Kendricks obliged by scooping up a fumble on the second play of the game and running it 23 yards for a touchdown.

"We challenged them to play a complete game and as you could see on the field tonight, they played a complete game," defensive coordinator Lou Spanos said. "We still have to finish strong at the end of the game, but the players responded to the challenge and we’re making strides."

Turnovers keyed the breakout defensive game. Cornerback Sheldon Price tied a school record with three interceptions and the Bruins forced six turnovers for the game. Houston had only four turnovers in its first two games.

Mora said the Bruins used a man-to-man coverage scheme after playing mostly zone in the first two games and that seemed to cause problems for Houston, but the biggest difference, according to linebacker Jordan Zumwalt, was the mindset of the team from the opening kick.

"It was time for the defense to step up," Zumwalt said.

The Bruins' defense dominated the time-of-possession battle, 41:14-18:46, keeping the high-powered Houston offense off the field by limiting the Cougars to six of 20 third downs (30 percent). The Bruins had six tackles for a loss, including three by Datone Jones.

"The guys did a nice job on third downs," Spanos said. "The most important thing for a defense is getting the ball to our offense. Our guys know what our goals are and our objectives are and they responded well."

The only blemish on the day for the defense was Piland's 86-yard run at the end that spoiled the shutout.

"We wanted that shutout so bad, but you know it happens," Zumwalt said. "And since we didn't get it, it gives us something to strive for next week."

UCLA football team has raised its standards

September, 16, 2012

Chris Williams/Icon SMI

PASADENA, Calif. -- This one simply didn't satisfy, which speaks volumes about the current standards of UCLA football.

The Bruins blasted Houston 37-6 on Saturday night at the Rose Bowl, and yet the players and coaches came away feeling as if they didn't play a complete game.

UCLA rolled up 567 yards in offense, more than in any game last season, and yet the Bruins walked away talking about missed opportunities. UCLA limited a high-octane Houston offense to six points and left the game disappointed that it wasn't a shutout.

Last season around this time, the Bruins put on happy faces and came away with "happy to get any win" attitudes after scratching out a 27-17 victory over San Jose State. This year, a 31-point win, which was more lopsided than all but one UCLA victory last season, simply didn't satisfy.

"It’s says we’re raising [the standards]," coach Jim Mora said. "And every week we’re going to try and raise them higher and I don’t think you should ever be satisfied until the end of the year when you are a champion. And until we are the champion, we won’t be satisfied."

Every team sets the bar at winning a conference title, but the difference is that this year's Bruins truly believe they can do it. That's why a 31-point victory over a team that lost to first-year FBS program Texas State left an empty feeling.

The Bruins had five turnovers in the game and committed eight penalties for 62 yards. Those are the numbers they will remember more than the 567 yards, which happen to be a season low by nearly 100 yards.

Running back Johnathan Franklin had 110 yards rushing and 58 more receiving, and yet it's a testament to how high the expectations are now that it's referred to as only 110 yards rushing. Franklin had 214 and 217 yards in his first two games.

"I think the standard for a team starts with individuals," Franklin said. "For me, I could have done a lot better. Made better reads, ran harder. So we all have to get better and we have to correct the mistakes."

Reminded that his team had just scored more points than it had in all but one game last season -- a 45-6 victory over hapless Colorado -- Franklin just shook it off.

"We’re just not satisfied because we understand how good we can be," Franklin said. "God willing, we’ll maximize our potential and reach that, but we all understand the talent we have, the skill we have and how good this coaching staff is."

Defensively, the Bruins were brilliant. A unit that had not yet put together a complete game, finally did. Houston, one of the most prolific offenses of the past few years, came in to the game averaging 509.5 yards in offense, but had only 388 Saturday.

UCLA had given up 24 first-half points in each of its first two games, but had a shutout going until Houston quarterback David Piland broke an 86-yard touchdown run against a mostly second-string UCLA defense with 4:54 to play. Still, nobody left content.

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Grades: UCLA 37, Houston 6

September, 15, 2012
PASADENA, Calif. -- The No. 22 UCLA Bruins weren't at their peak form, but were good enough to hold off the struggling Houston Cougars, 37-6, Saturday night at the Rose Bowl. Here's how we have them grading out:

The passing game had its moments but seemed a bit out of sync most of the game. Brett Hundley completed 27 of 42 passes for 320 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions but didn't see open receivers several times. Pass protection had some breakdowns and rceivers Devin Lucien and Joseph Fauria each fumbled after catches.

It certainly wasn't up to the standards of the first two games, which is a surprise coming against a defense that came in to the game ranked No. 111 in the nation against the run. Still, Heisman contender Johnathan Franklin had 110 yards in 25 carries and the Bruins rushed for 247 yards.

The Bruins absolutely baffled one of the nation's leading passing offenses, holding quarterback David Piland to 260 yards and also pulling down five interceptions. Sheldon Price had three of those interceptions, including one in the end zone. Piland was averaging 395.5 yards passing before this game and had only one pass intercepted in 121 attempts.

Granted, Houston doesn't really run the ball that much, but the Bruins had their best game of the season up front. They held Houston to 139 yards rushing and that total was in the negative numbers until early in the fourth quarter. Not bad for a UCLA defense that was ranked No. 100 in the nation against the run before the game.

Kicker Ka'imi Fairbairn overcame a shaky early season and made field goals of 35, 23 and 33 yards. Jeff Locke was up to his usual standards with four of five punts inside the 20, including two inside the 10. Damien Thigpen had a 55-yard kickoff return to open the second half and set up a UCLA touchdown.

Excellent game plan on defense for the most complete game of the season on that side of the ball. Noel Mazzone's offensive play calling certainly did enough to get the job done. Still, the team appeared to be having somewhat of a letdown game, especially after a quick score made it seem as if it would be an easy victory.

Imagining how UCLA's season might go

August, 3, 2012
The preseason positional reviews are in and camp is set to begin, so with a little time to kill, how about a prediction on UCLA's upcoming season?

Preseason predictions by nature are pretty silly because nobody knows how a season is going to unfold, what players are going to emerge as stars and which won’t live up to their preseason accolades. Everyone loves a prediction, however, so predict we must.

But how about taking the silliness factor up a notch and not only project who will win each of UCLA’s games, but how? That’s right, fictional game recaps before the games happen. As if giving you just a score wasn’t enough of an inane endeavor, we present the following dreamed-up version of how UCLA's season might go:

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B. Hundley392271315522
P. Perkins25115756.39
B. Hundley1596444.110
J. Payton6795414.27
D. Fuller594477.61