NCF Nation: Noel Mazzone

UCLA offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone has his own Mazzone-esque way of looking at things. Typically it involves a humorous analogy. And per usual, he didn’t disappoint.

When asked to assess his offense’s performance in the 24-10 loss against Stanford after watching the game film, he offered this:

“Sometimes you take your young kids to the movie and they misbehave,” he said. “They are throwing popcorn on the floor and running around the aisles.”

For those who don’t speak Mazzone, that’s his way of saying things didn’t go according to plan. Chalk it up as another great Mazzoneism.

“That’s a really good defense,” Mazzone said of Stanford. “They play a lot of people tough. They are a veteran group. We didn’t play as well as we wanted to. But it’s part of the process. Part of becoming a good team and a good offense is you’re going to have your moments when a little bit of youth shows through at times. It was a great experience for us. It’s a game we were excited to play and it’s one that will help us grow.”

[+] EnlargeBrett Hundley
Tommy LaPorte/Icon SMIBrett Hundley and the Bruins were stifled by Stanford and face another huge challenge on Saturday against Oregon.
They’ll have to grow fast. Because the Bruins are going on the road for a second straight week -- this time to Oregon to face the No. 3 Ducks, who boast the league’s top scoring defense, allowing just 17.3 points per game. It will be the first time UCLA has faced Oregon in the Jim Mora era.

This was just the sixth loss for UCLA under Mora and the first of the year. Coincidentally, or maybe not, three of them have come from Stanford. Mora said so far he has been pleased with how his team has responded to their first check in the loss column.

“They impressed me immediately last year with their ability to re-focus,” Mora said. “If you want to be a good football team, there has to be a consistency to how you prepare and how you perform and how you handle wins and how you handle losses; how you handle games against opponents like Stanford and Oregon; how you handle games against teams you may be heavily favored against. We’re trying to develop a standard here and our guys have really embraced it. It’s about developing a consistency regardless of what the situation is. That’s what good teams do and that’s what we’re striving to do.”

It’s a given that the Bruins will have to perform better on offense if they hope to top the Ducks. Pre-Stanford, UCLA was averaging 45.8 points per game and 547 total yards (323.6 in the air and 223.4 on the ground). The Stanford game paints a different picture, as the Bruins posted season lows in points (10), total yards (266), passing yards (192) and rushing yards (74).

Plus, UCLA’s already-young offensive line has gotten younger because of some injuries. That doesn’t bode terribly well for quarterback Brett Hundley who has been sacked 65 times since the start of last year -- 10 more than any other quarterback in FBS -- and pressured (hurried or knocked down) 169 times, second only to Washington’s Keith Price.

“We’re young, but it has to be next man up,” Mazzone said. “Every game snap those guys get helps us because it keeps building that experience. It’s a talented group and they did some good things. They just need more experience.”

For Mora, dealing with losses has been a transitional experience moving from the pros to the college game.

“I think you’ve got to be a little bit more gentle with the college kids,” he said. “They are younger. They have a million different things going on in their lives that NFL players don’t have going on. It’s more concentrated on football. It’s a profession. They are professionals getting paid at the next level rather than student-athletes playing for the love of the game at this level.

“What you always want to do is hold yourself and hold them to a higher standard, enforce that standard and hopefully they’ll embrace that philosophy.”

What to watch in the Pac-12: Week 8

October, 17, 2013
A few storylines to keep an eye on this week in the Pac-12:

1. Title game rematch: UCLA and Stanford will face each other for the third time in the last 10 months. Only this time it’s the Bruins who are the higher-ranked team, coming in at No. 9 after Stanford slid to No. 13 following its loss at Utah. Remember all of those side-to-side swing passes that Dennis Erickson and Utah used to keep Stanford off balance? Remember who worked for Erickson at ASU? Yep, Noel Mazzone. And UCLA loves to hit its receivers in the flat. Keep an eye on what happens after the second-half kickoff, as well. The Bruins are outscoring opponents 71-0 in the third quarter this year. Stanford has a 12-game home winning streak -- third longest in the nation -- and is 10-1 at home against ranked opponents since 2009. Stanford hasn’t lost consecutive games since the middle of the 2009 season.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
Allen Kee/ESPN ImagesMarcus Mariota and the Ducks are expected to be one of the top two teams when the BCS standings are released on Sunday.
2. BCS time: The first Harris Poll of the season was released Sunday and featured four Pac-12 teams in the top 25: Oregon (2), UCLA (9), Stanford (12) and Washington (25). The first BCS standings will be released this week -- which comes on the heels of the announced selection committee for the College Football Playoff that starts next year. We’re all expecting Oregon to be in one of the top two spots. Question is, where will UCLA or Stanford land?

3. North vs. South: Two more critical North versus South showdowns this week with UCLA traveling to Stanford and Washington heading to Arizona State. The UCLA-Stanford game takes center stage for obvious reasons. But Washington-ASU has all the makings of a thriller. This is one of those 50-50 games that either team needs to win to show they belong in the upper tier of the Pac-12. The quarterbacks, Keith Price and Taylor Kelly, are obviously the mechanisms that make their teams go. But Washington running back Bishop Sankey (899 yards) has rushed for at least 125 yards in five of six games and ASU gives up almost 170 yards per game on the ground. Look for him to probably break 1,000 for the season by the final whistle. On the flip side, ASU’s Marion Grice already has 15 total touchdowns. He had 19 last year, so look for him to eclipse that mark in the next couple of games.

4. Making up is hard to do: Colorado will face Charleston Southern this week as a makeup for the Sept. 14 game against Fresno State that was canceled because of severe rain and flooding in Colorado. Charleston Southern is a perfect 7-0 on the year and is receiving votes in the Sports Network FCS College Football Poll. The Buffs are looking to get to 3-3 for the first time since 2010. And they are making a change at quarterback with Sefo Liufau stepping in after going 18 of 26 for 169 yards and a touchdown and two interceptions in relief against Arizona State.

5. No. 5? The Cougars are looking for their fifth win for the first time since 2007. Tough draw, however, this week with a trip to Oregon. The Ducks are averaging 56.8 points per game and are second in the country in total offense with 630.5 yards per game.

6. Taking care of the ball: Speaking of Oregon, quarterback Marcus Mariota, the Heisman frontrunner through the first half of the season, continues to impress with turnover-free performances. Though his completion percentage is down from last year, he hasn’t thrown an interception in 165 pass attempts this year -- which extends a streak dating back to last season of 233 attempts. His last interception was against Stanford. During that stretch, he’s completed 100 passes for 1,724 yards and 17 touchdowns. Receivers Josh Huff and Bralon Addison have 27 catches each for a combined 1,054 yards and 11 touchdowns.

7. Rebuilding the brand: Nothing can unite the USC fan base like a win against Notre Dame. Better yet, a win at Notre Dame. The Trojans won their first game of the Ed Orgeron era and look to follow it up against the Irish. Neither team is ranked, but the names carry a lot of weight. This is a game that could re-energize the Trojans moving forward. Marqise Lee and Morgan Breslin have both practiced and it’s looking like both will play. That should be a huge boost after getting running back Silas Redd back last week.

8. Momentum building? What do the Utes do with their big win over Stanford? Do they keep the momentum rolling? They have to go on the road for four of their next six -- including leaving the state for the first time this season when they travel to face Arizona. The Wildcats are still looking for their first conference win, though quarterback B.J. Denker had a strong statistical performance in the loss last week to USC, completing 28 of 44 passes for a career high 363 yards and four touchdowns.

9. Who needs a running game? The Pac-12’s top two passing offenses square off with Oregon State’s trip to Cal. OSU quarterback Sean Mannion has six straight games of 350 passing yards and the Beavers lead the conference with 433.2 passing yards per game and 25 passing touchdowns. Cal averages 371.3 yards in the air -- second in the league, but just 11 passing touchdowns, third worst. The Bears can move it, they just haven’t been able to convert yards into points.

10. No off week: For the second straight week, all 12 schools will be in action. This was supposed to be a bye week for Colorado, but the Charleston Southern game fills the void. Next week Arizona State and Washington State are on bye. It will be the first of two byes in three weeks for the Cougars, who will have opened the year with eight straight games following this week’s matchup with Oregon.

What to watch in the Pac-12: Week 6

October, 3, 2013
A few storylines to keep an eye on in Week 6 in the Pac-12. (Really? Week 6 already?)

    [+] EnlargeBrett Hundley
    AP Photo/Nati HarnikUCLA signal-caller Brett Hundley will lead the Bruins into Utah on Thursday night.
  • 50 for five? Oregon set a school record last week by scoring at least 50 points in four consecutive games. This week it faces a Colorado team that appears to be stronger than last year's but still has some holes on both sides of the ball. Sans De'Anthony Thomas, the Ducks had little trouble negotiating Cal -- and mother nature -- en route to a 55-16 win. Is a fifth straight 50-plus-point game in the cards?

  • Kicking it: Great stat from our friends at the Pac-12 offices: "Entering last weekend's play, Pac-12 teams were 186-of-188 on PATs (.989). However, weather conditions in the Pacific Northwest last weekend wreaked havoc on the kickers as high winds and rain contributed to a combined six missed extra-point attempts in games in Corvallis, Eugene and Seattle. While kickers struggled with extra points last weekend, combining for 38-of 45 (.844), they did have considerable success from further out as they connected on 8-of-9 field-goal attempts (.889)." What's the takeaway? Don't try to understand kickers.
  • Nine in a row: UCLA has both of its bye weeks in the rearview mirror and will play nine consecutive games to close out the season, starting tonight with a trip to Utah. Quarterbacks (and their offensive coordinators) take center stage in this matchup. UCLA's Brett Hundley and Utah's Travis Wilson are both off to fantastic starts. And UCLA offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone was the OC for Dennis Erickson at Arizona State. Erickson is of course now the OC at Utah.
  • Quick starts? There are lots of intriguing storylines in the Washington-Stanford matchup. For starters, it's a pair of top-15 teams, which is always exciting. But the Huskies have outscored opponents 38-0 in the first quarter and are yet to trail in a game this season. Stanford is outscoring teams 37-12 in the first frame. This kicks off the first of three straight games for the Huskies against ranked opponents, who are home to No. 2 Oregon next week and at No. 22 ASU on Oct. 19.
  • Irish x 3: The Sun Devils travel to Arlington, Texas, to take on Notre Dame -- the first of three games between the Irish and Pac-12 teams. Notre Dame will host USC under the lights on Oct. 19 and then close out the season at Stanford on Nov. 30. The Sun Devils are trying to become the first team to beat USC and Notre Dame in consecutive weeks. It has happened only 13 times that a team has played USC and Notre Dame in back-to-back weeks.
  • Raids a'plenty: Washington State travels to Cal in a showdown of the Air Raid vs. the Bear Raid. Cal coach Sonny Dykes, of course, learned his offensive philosophies from working under Washington State coach Mike Leach at Texas Tech and was his GA at Kentucky.
  • Quarterback change? Cal, which has gone with true freshman Jared Goff as its signal-caller this season, released its depth chart this week with an "or" between Goff and redshirt freshman Zach Kline. Dykes said he felt Kline deserved to get some reps, and both quarterbacks took reps with the first team offense this week. Does it mean Goff is out? Not necessarily. Goff said he's fine with the competition -- despite averaging 329.2 yards per game. Goff was 3 of 6 for 11 yards and lost a pair of fumbles in unfavorable weather at Oregon. Kline stepped in, making his collegiate debut, and was 18 of 37 for 165 yards with a touchdown and an interception.
  • Arms race: Half of the Pac-12 quarterbacks rank in the top 25 of Total QBR heading into the week: Marcus Mariota (2), Kevin Hogan (5), Brett Hundley (11), Travis Wilson (16) and Keith Price (21) are all in action this week. Sean Mannion (22) is on bye. Four of those QBs are going head to head with Wilson and Hundley tonight and Hogan and Price on Saturday.
  • Catching on: Per the hard-working folks of Arizona State's media relations office, ASU's Jaelen Strong is off to one of the best starts of any ASU wide receiver in school history. Through his first four games, he has more catches and yards than any other receiver. So far he has 31 catches for 433 yards and two touchdowns. Lenzie Jackson and Jon Mistler had four touchdowns through their first four games, but Strong is way out in front in catches and yards. He faces a Notre Dame defense that gives up 364 yards per game.
  • Taking a breather: Arizona, Oregon State and USC are on a bye this week. The Trojans return to action for the first time without Lane Kiffin when they host Arizona next Thursday. Oregon State travels to Pullman to take on Washington State on Oct. 12.

UCLA and USC are uncomfortably intertwined more than just about any other college football rivalry. They share a city, not just a state. Many of the players know each other, having played together or against each other during their high school careers in Southern California. Many of them cross paths on a regular basis around town.

More often than not, they exchange a fist bump and leave the posturing stares to overzealous fans. And they do chat. So yes, it's likely that during the four days since USC fired Lane Kiffin, the topic has come up and there's been a degree of Bruins curiosity.

[+] EnlargeBrett Hundley
Bruce Thorson/USA TODAY SportsBrett Hundley has accounted for 10 touchdowns this season for UCLA.
Or not.

While UCLA second-year coach Jim Mora has repeatedly expressed sympathy for Kiffin's plight, he also denies that his players give a flip about the goings-on across town.

"We don't worry about that stuff," Mora said. "We don't talk about it. We don't think about it. It's not in our orbit. That's another team. We worry about our team. Our players worry about our team. They couldn't care less what's going on over there. It doesn't matter to us. It's not going to affect us. We don't play them until late November. It doesn't matter to us. It's a nonfactor."

Mora has a point, too. Any focus on USC distracts from the present purpose: His team pays a visit to Utah on Thursday as the No. 12 Bruins open their Pac-12 schedule with a South Division showdown.

It's an interesting matchup with more than a few notable connections.

Start with UCLA’s win in last year’s meeting, with the Bruins bouncing back from a blowout loss to woeful California the week before. At the time, Bruins quarterback Brett Hundley, a redshirt freshman, was beginning to establish himself as a budding star. In the opposite huddle, true freshman quarterback Travis Wilson was making his first career start. Wilson would throw for more yards than Hundley -- 220 versus 183 -- but was far less efficient. And Hundley just killed the Utes defense with his running, accounting for 68 yards on 15 carries.

Hundley's offensive coordinator is Noel Mazzone, who was hired by Mora because of the work he did with Brock Osweiler running an up-tempo, pass-happy spread offense at Arizona State.

This offseason, Utah coach Kyle Whittingham decided he wanted to adopt an up-tempo, pass-happy spread offense. So he hired Mazzone's former boss at Arizona State, Dennis Erickson, who is one of the fathers of the up-tempo, pass-happy spread offense.

Erickson has done wonders with the 6-foot-6, 240-pound Wilson, whom Mora this week compared to the 6-foot-8, 240-pound Osweiler, who is now with the Denver Broncos.

UCLA's offense, very good last year, is putting up ridiculous numbers this season with Hundley in his second year as a starter. It ranks second in the nation in total offense (614 yards per game) and third in scoring (52.7 points per game). Balance? The Bruins are 13th in the nation in rushing (284.3 YPG) and 12th in passing (330 YPG). Efficiency? UCLA leads the nation with an eye-popping 68 percent conversion rate on third down.

Said Whittingham: "They are doing everything right on offense."

Yet perhaps no offense in the nation is as improved as Utah's. Last year, the Utes averaged 324 yards and 26.7 points per game. This year, they are averaging 505 yards and 42 points per game. Utah passed for a conference-worst 190.7 yards per game in 2012. This year it's 286 yards per game. The Utes had 16 touchdown passes all of last season. They have nine through four games this fall.

"Dennis has his handprints all over that," Mora said.

Obviously, the linchpin has been Wilson, whom Whittingham admits has thus far exceeded expectations. Wilson is simply a different player than he was as a true freshman trying to negotiate a Pac-12 schedule.

"I think there are quite a few differences," Whittingham said. "No. 1, his confidence level, his poise level, his command of the offense. He's playing very confidently right now. He's really progressed and matured a lot faster than any of us thought he would. His numbers and Hundley's numbers are almost the exact same."

[+] EnlargeTravis Wilson
Chris Nicoll/USA TODAY SportsUtah QB Travis Wilson has seen improvement this season working with Dennis Erickson.
That is -- perhaps surprisingly -- true. Wilson is third in the Pac-12 and 15th in the nation in passing efficiency, while Hundley is fourth and 16th. Hundley ranks 11th in ESPN's Total QBR, while Wilson is 16th. Hundley is averaging 282.7 yards passing per game with eight TDs and three interceptions, while Wilson is averaging 279.5 YPG with nine TDs and three picks.

Wilson has rushed for 257 yards, Hundley for 157.

"That will be an intriguing matchup, to see how the quarterbacks match up against each other," said Whittingham, making an accurate statement that no one would have said in August.

When you add up all these sparkling numbers, you figure this game won't end up 21-14, with the teams combining for less than 700 yards of offense.

Of course, the defenses will have their say, too. The Bruins have a clear advantage there, yielding 18 points per game compared to 24.2 for the Utes, but it's difficult to truly measure things based on the nonconference schedule.

As always, turnovers will be a key, something that typically starts with quarterback play. But also pay attention to third down. As previously noted, the Bruins are great at converting them on offense, but they also are pretty salty thwarting them on defense (26.7 percent). The Utes convert just 35 percent of their third downs and are at 36.6 percent on third-down defense.

For UCLA, this is the first step toward winning the South Division. Utah, on the other hand, is trying to gain traction in Year 3 in the conference. The previous two years, the Utes started Pac-12 play at a dismal 0-4. Beating the Bruins not only would prevent them from heading toward that early-oh-fer direction again, it would make a strong statement.

As in: The Utes now have a Pac-12 QB, so now they are ready to advance in the conference pecking order.

Bruins' backs solid in opening win

September, 2, 2013
So this is what life without Johnathan Franklin looks like for UCLA: 345 rushing yards and five touchdowns.

“I’ll take that,” said UCLA head coach Jim Mora.

Uh, yeah.

Granted, Nevada’s rush defense wasn’t exactly the ’85 Bears. But for a UCLA team looking to replace its all-time leading rusher in Franklin, its running backs, who accounted for 288 of those yards and three of the touchdowns, performed probably as well as could be expected in their by-committee debut.

“It was a heck of a performance,” Mora said. “The first thing they’ll tell you was the blocking was outstanding.”

As a matter of fact, they did. The backs and quarterback Brett Hundley alike (seven carries, 63 yards, two touchdowns) praised the big fellas up front for helping the Bruins roll up 647 yards of total offense in their 58-20 win over Nevada on Saturday.

Jordon James had distanced himself from the committee during fall camp, and he rewarded his coaches for their confidence with a 21-carry performance for 155 yards and a touchdown.

“He is our No. 1 back,” Mora said. “He’s our starter right now, but we would like to be able to play Steven Manfro (5-32). It was great to see Malcolm [Jones, 2-14-1] in there and Rosie [Roosevelt Davis, 2-30] … but he’s our No. 1 back. But you know how we play offense. We’re going to roll those guys through. We have to. To play the tempo we play at, we’re going to have to use multiple backs. The credit has to start with offensive line and the way they blocked and I think it has to start with the receivers and the way they got down the field and blocked.”

Paul Perkins had UCLA's fifth rushing touchdown, carrying five times for 55 yards.

With the Bruins holding a 17-13 lead at the half, the game plan was keep to pounding away. And the Bruins were consistent with 172 rushing yards in the first half and 173 in the second.

“I was happy with the way they came out in the second half,” said offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone. “The running backs kept believing in the game plan, which was a shocker cause they think I throw too much anyway. It was a good effort by those kids. I was proud of them.”

Obviously, there is much to watch on the film. And the Bruins will have an extra week to clean things up before making the trip to Nebraska for a showdown with the Huskers -- a team UCLA topped last year at the Rose Bowl.

And while the staff had praise for all of the backs, Mora and Mazzone both noted that they liked how James was a more confident runner.

“I thought he was really into it,” Mazzone said. “He’s worked hard to become a one-cut runner. I want him to one-cut and then get north and south for me and he did that a few times. And I have to watch the film, but it looked to me like all of them did a nice job in pass protection.”
LOS ANGELES -- When Jim Mora came on board as UCLA's head coach, there were concerns that it would take him a while to get his recruiting strategy up to speed. After all, a career NFL coach making the jump to a recruiting hotbed like Southern California would need time to develop relationships and slowly chip away at the anchors USC, the rest of the Pac-12, and heck, the whole country, had already put into place.

However, his first recruiting trip wasn't to any of the perennial feeders in Los Angeles or the surrounding areas. It was to Pleasant Grove, Utah, which sits along Interstate-15 between Salt Lake City and Provo and has a population just south of 35,000. His target was a player who had already committed to the Bruins three years earlier.

Xavier Su'a-Filo had just returned from his two-year Mormon mission and was again recruitable. He was -- is -- that important to Mora and his long-term plans.

"He was our first priority," Mora said. "As a father, the first thing I noticed was his family. How tight they were. He was respectful and serious and he asked great questions. He wanted to know as much about us as we wanted to know about him. Everything about him and his family was impressive."

[+] EnlargeXavier Su'a-Filo
Ric Tapia/Icon SMIXavier Su'a-Filo is the anchor of UCLA's offensive line.
After two years away from football, Su'a-Filo jumped right in as a starter and earned first-team all-league honors in 2012, helping the Bruins to a 9-5 record and the Pac-12 South Division title.

"He's special," Mora said. "He was voted last year as a captain. He'll be a captain again. And to think he was voted a captain after not being around for two years. A lot of these guys didn't know him. That's the kind of impact he can make immediately."

As a true freshman in 2009, Su'a-Filo started all 13 games at left tackle for then-coach Rick Neuheisel. He had entered as the No. 3-rated offensive tackle in the country and started more games than any true freshman in UCLA history (non-kicking). He was a second-team freshman All-American and was Pac-10 honorable mention.

Then the deeply religious Su'a-Filo, who by the way is also an Eagle Scout, departed for the South -- living one year in Florida and another in Alabama to serve. He called it an amazing experience -- but also joked that there aren't many 6-5, 315-pound Mormons out there.

"I wanted to spread good tidings, but people wanted to talk to me about football," said the soft-spoken Su'a-Filo. "We would help people move. Do yard work. Work as translators [he learned Spanish for his mission] and just share the message of happiness we have."

While nothing will ever come between Su'a-Filo and his faith, he's happiest on the football field, where he enters 2013 as an All-American candidate at guard. He admits there was an adjustment period after being away from the game for two years.

"I'm not going to lie, it was pretty hard," he said. "Winter was tough. Spring was tough. By the time summer came around, I was getting the hang of it again. Fall camp was good to get back in the grind of football. By about the third or fourth game, I really felt comfortable and felt like I was back to it. I still get nervous before games, no matter what. Not scared, just nervous. Then the first snap hits and it all goes away."

Despite the big smile and soft voice coming from his hulking frame, it's hard to imagine anything making him nervous. One guy who is less nervous when Su'a-Filo is at his best is quarterback Brett Hundley.

"I believe he's one of the best guys I've ever met -- as a man on and off the field," Hundley said. "Everything about him is high character. He's caring, he knows what he's doing and he's a monster on the field. It's a true honor to have that kind of lineman protecting me. It's something special.

"He was playing some left tackle this spring, I didn't see [potential All-American linebacker] Anthony Barr for about two days. No matter who you put on him, he's going to do his best. He's such a competitor. You can put anyone on him and they won't be able to consistently beat him."

Quipped Mora: "Anthony might dispute that. When you put two players of that caliber head-to-head, everyone around them is going to get better."

Su'a-Filo is one of several offensive linemen in the league who could pick up All-American honors in 2013. The group is headlined by Stanford guard David Yankey -- a consensus All-American last season and the Pac-12's Morris Trophy winner. Oregon center Hroniss Grasu is also in that class (how great of an interior line would those three make up?).

"Without question, he's one of the top two or three guards in the country," said UCLA offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone. "He's at that level. He would play for any team in the country. No doubt. If I had four more like him, I'd be on a golf course right now."

Su'a-Filo is looking forward to another year in the offense and spending more time at guard -- where he can pull "and run around chasing linebackers." He recognizes the Bruins had success last year, but also realizes the team isn't where anyone wants it to be.

"We have a lot to learn and I think we need to be angry about how we finished," he said. "Those last three losses will bother me until we get back on the field. ... A lot of people saw us last year and were surprised because we exceeded expectations. But I think we're still not respected. Nationally or in our conference. We want that respect and we're going to have to go take it."
Brett HundleyRick Scuteri/US PresswireBrett Hundley starts the season as UCLA's unquestioned starter and team leader.
LOS ANGELES -- Above the shoulder pads, Brett Hundley insists he's already a better quarterback. He's put his brain through a rigorous offseason training program. He's studied charts and routes with the keen eye of a navigator and watched more film than a Sundance judge.

But it's all in his head. So we won't truly get to see his surge of brain power at work until the Bruins open the season on Aug. 31 against Nevada at the Rose Bowl.

Below the shoulder pads, however, the evidence of hardcore training is far more empirical. Hundley has packed on about 17 pounds of muscle. He started his redshirt freshman season at 210 pounds and now checks in at a thick, yet lean, 227.

"I've still got my speed," Hundley said. "I told them, as long as I'm gaining weight but can still keep my speed and my power, I'm perfectly fine with that."

Head coach Jim Mora happened to run into Hundley during the Bruins spring break a few weeks back. Hundley had just gotten done with a lifting session. But before that, he was running stairs on his own in Santa Monica. The exchange went something like this.
Mora: "You going to relax this afternoon?"

Hundley: "Nope. Me and some of the guys are going to get ready to throw."

That's the kind of answer that gets coaches all giddy.

"It's spring break and he's getting ready for his third workout of the day," Mora said. "You love that commitment from that player at that position. I've seen a lot of QBs in my time. He has a chance to be truly, truly special at this level and the next."

Hundley, who unlike last year entered the spring as the unquestioned starter, is looking to build on an outstanding redshirt freshman campaign. Last season he threw for 3,745 yards and 29 touchdowns to 11 interceptions while completing 66.6 percent of his throws. He was also the team's second leading rusher with 355 yards and nine touchdowns.

That rushing total might seem a low for an athlete of Hundley's caliber. And it is. He actually gained 702 yards from scrimmage -- but was sacked 52 times for minus-347 yards. That's been a major priority for the Bruins this offseason -- and another reason why Hundley has packed on the weight.

"After 52 sacks, no one is going to feel good," he said.

The expectations for Hundley, and the Bruins, will be higher in 2013. As the two-time defending South Division champs, the road to the Pac-12 title game runs through the Bruins. And Hundley knows it. He knows the noise is out there ... the Heisman darkhorse whispers ... the All-American innuendoes ... but he's a walking mute button. He has cast aside all social media. He sticks with his teammates and a really tight-knit circle of friends.

"He doesn't just look the part, he acts the part," Mora said. "He's a leader. He's confident and composed and everyone just responds to him. He's not perfect yet. He has a lot of work to do. But he's so willing to do the work. It's so fun to watch him."

For Hundley, being a better quarterback isn't just about putting up better numbers or being a more efficient player. It's a way of life. That's how he approached the competition last spring and it's how he's approaching the 2013 season.

"Of course I wanted to be the starter, but that wasn't the main goal," Hundley explained. "The main goal was to be the best that I could be. It wasn't about just winning a job. It was about being the best leader. The best teammate. Winning games. Winning national championships. That's what it's all about and that's what's pushing me right now."

Naturally, another year in offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone's scheme should produce a more efficient quarterback. Despite his success, Hundley still took some lumps as a starter. There were games where he didn't trust his protection -- even though it was there. There were games when his wide receivers zigged when he thought they would zag (see Berkeley, University of California). That should all improve in Year No. 2.

"You can just tell he's really feeling comfortable with the little nuances of each play," Mazzone said. "He has all of the base plays down. But now he understands how he can adjust and make changes. Turn a screw here or there."

Receiver Devin Lucien, who was limited to six games last year but is expected to take on a much bigger role in 2013, had high praise for his friend and quarterback.

"The next step for Brett? He's such an amazing quarterback. Winning the Heisman for him would probably be the next step," Lucien said -- half joking, half serious. "Everything about him, you can just see he's so much more comfortable. Him being better makes all of us better."
LOS ANGELES -- Sacks are good.

Sacks allowed are bad.

UCLA’s defense at getting sacks in 2012? Really good.

UCLA’s offense at allowing sacks in 2012? Really bad.

This was the schizophrenic personality of 2012 UCLA football. On one hand, a pressure-based 3-4 scheme installed by new head coach Jim Mora and defensive coordinator Lou Spanos was wildly effective at getting to quarterbacks and blowing up backfields. The Bruins jumped from 112th nationally in sacks in 2011 to eighth last year. They also improved from 87th to 22nd in tackles for a loss.

“Love this defense,” said outside linebacker Anthony Barr -- who provided the Bruins with a league-high 13.5 sacks and 21.5 tackles for a loss, which was second in the Pac-12. “It’s all about pressure and playing fast. It’s so much fun.”

Expect more production with a more-of-the-same approach in Year 2.

“The next step is all 11 playing as one,” Spanos said. “Everyone knows the calls. Everyone understands the big picture. They have a sense of urgency. Each snap, they are playing like it’s their last play. They are making all the calls and communicating much better than they were this time last year.”

Sounds great. Now … about the other side of the ball …

[+] EnlargeBrett Hundley
Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/USA TODAY SportsBrett Hundley and UCLA gave up more sacks per game than all but two FBS teams.
The Bruins stumbled all the way to 118th nationally in sacks allowed per game, from 67th in 2011. Only two schools were worse. Interestingly enough, both were from the Pac-12 -- Colorado and Washington State.

“Only two more spots and we can be the best of the worst,” joked offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone -- who often speaks with tongue in cheek. “That’s terrible. And it’s a combination of things. It’s a young quarterback. It’s a young offensive line. It’s having as many as seven freshmen on the field at once. And I don’t want to take the onus off of me. I need to do better job preparing those guys.

“Part of it is also the way the NCAA records sacks. In the spread, if the quarterback looks to pass but pulls it on a zone read and runs, and he gets tackled behind the line of scrimmage, that’s a sack. But that’s not an excuse. We still had about 20-something too many.”

It all evens out on the bell curve. Four Pac-12 schools were in the top eight nationally in sacks, Stanford (No. 1), Arizona State (No. 2), USC (No. 4) and UCLA. The Bruins faced all three of those opponents in 2012 and didn’t do particularly well when it came to protecting Hundley. He was sacked five times against ASU, five times against USC, seven times in the first meeting with Stanford and three times a week later in the Pac-12 championship game.

The offensive linemen -- young when they started last year but recognizing that they are no longer pups -- know they have to do a better job.

“You can make all of the excuses you want and place the blame wherever. But at the end of the day, it falls on us. Protecting the quarterback is our responsibility,” said guard Xavier Su’a-Filo.

The quarterback, for his part, acknowledges he has to get rid of the ball more quickly.

“That’s one thing that I take on myself,” Hundley said. “I try to help every aspect of this offense and it’s on me to know when to throw the ball and know what to do when I’m pressured. Sometimes you have to say screw it and take off running. That’s something that I’m working hard at this spring. We will be a lot better at that. … That offensive line is coming together really well this spring and they are going to be big and bad. I can’t wait to be behind them.”

And the head coach? Well, he finds the positive from the negative -- something not all head coaches are able to do.

“Brett had the mentality that he didn’t want to ever give up on a play,” Mora said. “I’ve seen that a lot in young quarterbacks. I would rather have that in a quarterback than a guy who gives up on a play too early, a guy that gets happy feet or gets afraid. Brett isn’t afraid. The time clock in his head just needs to say ‘Now it’s time to move out of the pocket. Now it’s time to move out of bounds and get to the next down.’ He’s maturing and he’ll get there. They are all maturing.”

Take 2: Stanford vs. UCLA (take 2)

November, 30, 2012
Pretty straight forward this week. There is a championship game tonight and we make a case for each of the teams.

Ted Miller: The easy answer for what Stanford needs to do to win the Pac-12 championship game over UCLA is to point at the Cardinal's 35-17 win last weekend and type, "You should do that again, Stanford. Only better."

To beat UCLA, Stanford needs to do what it typically does: Run the ball. Stop the run. Sack the opposing QB. Protect the football. Lots of Stepfan Taylor with a little Zach Ertz mixed in.

In last week's game, Stanford outrushed UCLA 221 yards to 73. Its star running back back, Taylor, eclipsed UCLA's star running back, Johnathan Franklin, 142 yards to 65, with Taylor averaging 7.1 yards on his 21 carries compared to Franklin's 3.1 on 21.

The Cardinal sacked UCLA QB Brett Hundley seven times. It won the turnover battle 2-1. It was Stanford by the book, just as coach David Shaw would script it up.

[+] EnlargeStanford's Stepfan Taylor
Jayne Kamin-Oncea/US PRESSWIREStanford's Stepfan Taylor rushed 20 times for 142 yards and two touchdowns against UCLA last week.
The question, however, is if nearly duplicating a game plan will work against a smart UCLA staff that -- I know Bruins fans don't like reading this but I suspect it's true -- probably held some stuff back last week.

I expect UCLA to be more creative and aggressive on both sides of the ball. I suspect you'll see Hundley run the ball a lot more. While Stanford's credo is to be itself, they also need to anticipate some specific scheme wrinkles from the Bruins.

Of course, you mute potential fanciness when you win the battle at the line of scrimmage, which Stanford did on both sides of the ball in Game 1. It was particularly noteworthy that the Cardinal wasn't forced to blitz much to get to Hundley. I wonder what Bruins offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone might do to counter the likelihood his young O-line won't be able to win the battle up front?

So Stanford essentially needs to show up with last week's game plan, but with a page two. Stanford needs to line up and be itself and see if UCLA wasn't itself last week. Stanford needs to anticipate potential counters and be ready to counterpunch if the Bruins application of those counters is successful.

But, really, Stanford should just do what it did last week. Only better.

Kevin Gemmell: Any and all stories about UCLA and their chances of winning tonight have to start with the offensive line play. I'm not exactly breaking news here, but Hundley is going to get sacked. Franklin will take negative plays. That's the nature of playing against one of the best defenses in the country.

But seven sacks (as was the case last week) and nine tackles for a loss (as was the case last week) isn't going to cut it. Neither will 12 penalties for 135 yards. That's the good news for the Bruins heading into tonight's Pac-12 championship game. There is room for improvement -- in both the physical and the mental aspects of the game.

A lot of it is on the offensive line. But not all of it. Hundley needs to do a better job of recognizing where the pressure is coming from and getting rid of the ball quicker than he did last week. He's still a fantastic athlete, but he's still learning to be a complete quarterback -- that includes reading defenses. The Cardinal run a fairly sophisticated, NFL-style 3-4. And when Jason Tarver was the co-defensive coordinator last year, he installed a lot of different strands and stunts. And with their base defense and limited blitzing, they were still able to disrupt UCLA's offense. I'm sure Stanford defensive coordinator Derek Mason watched game film this week and in his best Mr. Burns voice, tapped his fingers together and cooed "exxxxcellent."

To counter this, I'd expect Mazzone to make Hundley more mobile this week -- more designed runs, sprint outs, a couple of boots, etc. Just enough to take some of the pressure off of the offensive line, back the Cardinal up a little bit, create some space for Franklin and buy Hundley a little more time.

I'd also expect a big game out of tight end Joseph Fauria. Just as the Zach Ertz/Levine Toilolo combo is a mismatch for the Cardinal offense, Fauria is Hundley's primary mismatch. He has more touchdowns than any FBS tight end (11) and Hundley is completing 75 percent of his throws with 11 touchdowns and zero picks when he targets a tight end.

And let's not forget whatever cosmic forces may be at work. Just consider the 2012 season: USC was No. 1; Oregon was unstoppable; Washington beat two Top 10s but lost to Washington State; Stanford was supposed to drop off; three of the four new coaches are going to the postseason and a sophomore from Arizona leads the nation in rushing. Apropos of nothing, but it would almost be a fitting bookend to this year if exactly what we all expect to happen -- Stanford winning -- doesn't.
Brett Hundley and Kevin HoganAP Photo, Getty ImagesRedshirt freshmen QBs Brett Hundley and Kevin Hogan have led their schools to the Pac-12 title game.

The most impressive aspect of the two quarterbacks starting in Friday night's Pac-12 championship game isn't that UCLA's Brett Hundley is completing 67.8 percent of his passes or that Stanford's Kevin Hogan is completing 73 percent. It's not their mobility, escape-ability or moxie to extend plays. All of those things are worthy of note. But it's their youth -- more specifically, their success despite that youth -- that has impressed.

Both redshirt freshmen have taken command of their respective teams -- Hundley from preseason camp and Hogan within the past month -- and guided them to the Pac-12 championship game with zero college playing experience prior to 2012.

This is an interesting trend within the conference, and even at a few schools nationally. Oregon's Marcus Mariota, Hogan, Hundley and ASU sophomore Taylor Kelly -- a first-year starter -- all have their teams headed to the postseason and are among the top quarterbacks in the league in efficiency.

"These guys are coming in ready," UCLA offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone said. "A lot of it has to do with the offenses they are playing in in high school. There are all the passing leagues. And the spread offenses usually allow good athletes to succeed quicker."

The similarities between Hogan and Hundley (sounds like a great buddy film) are actually quite striking, statistically or otherwise. Both are mobile athletes. Both have talented, veteran running backs to help shoulder the weight. Both have former NFL quarterbacks coaches directing them.

"Nothing seems to bother them," said Pac-12 Network analyst and former UCLA head coach Rick Neuheisel, who recruited Hundley. "I think what strikes me about Brett is how he handles all situations. There's no nervousness or trepidation. If he misses a pass, it's a one-clap and back to the huddle.

"Kevin Hogan is a very good athlete. Also a lot of maturity. And he's even more dangerous when he gets outside of the pocket."

In the month of November, Hundley has completed 70.9 percent of his throws for 1,044 yards with eight touchdowns and two interceptions. Hogan has completed 72.2 for 809 yards with seven touchdowns and three interceptions.

Of the aforementioned youngsters, Hogan is the only one in a pro-style offense, but it's his athleticism that helped him work his way onto the field before eventually overtaking Josh Nunes on the depth chart. Head coach David Shaw worked out a zone-read option package for Hogan, and the more time he got on the field, the better he looked in practice. Shaw eventually gave him the starting role.

Since getting his first extended playing time at Colorado , he has gone 3-0 as a starter, beaten three ranked teams, won at Autzen and won at the Rose Bowl. Freshmen aren't supposed to do that. They aren't supposed to win their first career road start in Eugene.

For the fourth consecutive week, he'll be starting against a top-25 program. In the Cardinal-Bruins Round 1 matchup -- which Stanford won 35-17 -- Hogan was an efficient 15-of-22 for 160 yards and a touchdown.

And the more work he gets, the more confident Shaw becomes.

"We don't have handcuffs on him anymore," Shaw said. "We can audible. We can change plays. We can give him the full complement.

"The last few weeks, he's been pretty much the same. Not perfect, but gosh, he's so instinctive. When to run, when not to run. When to slide in the pocket and let the ball go. When to throw it with touch and when to throw it hard. He's not playing like a redshirt freshmen. He's playing like a guy beyond his years. We've been able to put more audibles on his plate because he's handled those so well and adjusting the protection and running game checks. Those things have gone so well that we don't worry about what we give him. We've developed comfort in him. Whereas he's stayed the same. We just feel more and more comfortable giving him more as time goes on."

And Hundley has been the model of maturity. Media policies vary from school to school; UCLA players have breakout sessions with the media after games. At first, the horde storms Hundley with cameras in tow. Then the writers. Then the pack thins. And thins. And Hundley is usually the last to leave the media room -- making sure every question has been answered. I know this as fact because twice this season, he and I have closed up the media room.

"It's part of the job of being a quarterback and representing your team, but this is also who I am," Hundley said. "I was raised well. My parents did a great job. This is all a blessing. I'm so happy to be here and feel so blessed to be in the position that I'm in that you can't take any part of this for granted."

And now, here they both are, pushing their respective teams to within one game of the ultimate conference goal -- a date at the Granddaddy.

What to watch in the Pac-12: Week 14

November, 29, 2012
A few storylines to keep an eye on in the Pac-12 this week.

1. No quit: Those who were in the camp that UCLA had nothing to play for last week, I ask you this: Why were Brett Hundley and Johnathan Franklin still in the game in the fourth quarter? Why was UCLA going for it on fourth down? You can say the Bruins were outmuscled, outschemed and, judging by the final score, definitely outplayed. But it wasn't for lack of effort. Because there were a lot of P.O.'d guys in the postgame news conference. And rightfully so.

[+] EnlargeStanford's Kevin Hogan
Richard Mackson/US PRESSWIREKevin Hogan and the Cardinal got the best of the Bruins last week.
2. In the trenches: It was clear that Stanford dominated the point of attack -- on both sides of the ball. The Cardinal were able to stop the run, pressure the quarterback and break off some big runs on offense behind Stepfan Taylor. It will be interesting to see what adjustments Noel Mazzone and UCLA's offense makes this week. Will there be more designed roll outs for Brett Hundley? More pocket movement? Misdirection? Angle blocking? You don't change who you are by the 14th week of the season. But a couple of tweaks will be required to keep this one closer.

3. More blitzing? The Cardinal didn't blitz as much as many thought. In fact, according to the folks at ESPN Stats & Information, the Cardinal sent four or fewer rushers 84.8 percent of the time in the first meeting. That means they were able to get penetration and sacks mostly on the strength of their 3-4 base defense. That opens up a world of possibilities for the rematch. The Bruins now have to find a way to get positive yards against Stanford's base, but also account for the possibility that the Cardinal could send more than they did in Round 1.

4. Youth movement: Both teams are led by redshirt freshmen quarterbacks -- both of whom have had tremendous success at such a young age. Hundley has been as athletic and sensational as advertised (and yes, Rick Neuheisel deserves credit for both recruiting and redshirting Hundley) and Kevin Hogan has given the Cardinal offense a jump-start. He has won all three of his starts, including at Autzen and at the Rose Bowl. Pretty impressive. Hogan and the Cardinal got the better of Hundley and the Bruins the first time around. It's going to be fun watching these two over the next couple of years.

5. Adjustments: When you look at the coaching staffs from both programs, there is a ton of NFL experience. Most of these guys have at least some experience in preparing a team for a quick turnaround to face the same opponent. I wouldn't expect either team to stray too far from what got them here. But I'd expect some new wrinkles from two very good coaching staffs.

6. That other game: Lest we forget that the Oregon State Beavers are also in action this weekend against Nicholls State, a game that was originally scheduled for Sept. 1 before Hurricane Isaac postponed things. I think this is a good thing for the Beavers (except of course, if they lose). It gives them an extra opportunity to go out and play another game -- and Mike Riley said it was good to get on the practice field after their showing against Oregon in the Civil War. Nothing makes a loss go away like a win. And now they get that chance.

Mason builds defensive power at Stanford

November, 28, 2012
Stanford's defensive performance against Oregon on Nov. 17 was a thing of beauty.

In a 17-14 overtime victory, the Cardinal held the Ducks 157.6 yards below their season average, 127 yards below their season rushing average and, most important, 40.5 points below their season scoring average.

The Cardinal was disruptive. It didn't let Oregon's speed get around the edges. It controlled and filled gaps. It forced the zone-blocking Ducks' offensive line backwards. It tackled well, not allowing yards after contact or catch. It didn't let up for 60 minutes, as so many seemingly strong defensive performances against Oregon tend to. And when Oregon busted its one explosion play on the evening, backup safety Devon Carrington made sure it was a 77-yard Marcus Mariota run to the Stanford 15-yard line and not a 92-yard TD scamper that might have changed the game.

[+] EnlargeDerek Mason
AP Photo/Ross D. FranklinStanford defensive coordinator Derek Mason is a finalist for the Broyles Award as the nation's top assistant coach.
The man behind that defense is Stanford coordinator Derek Mason, a finalist for the Broyles Award as the nation's top assistant coach, and a guy who's name is bouncing around as a budding head coaching candidate.

What was the secret to the Cardinal solving the Ducks?

"We worked extremely hard at making sure we were going to be who we were," Mason said.

That's not as simple as it sounds, particularly against the Ducks, but it's something the Stanford players cited after the game as well.

"We took a greater focus on ourselves this time," linebacker Shayne Skov said after the Oregon game. "We didn't try to make too many adaptations to our own system. We were going to do what we do."

Yet what Stanford does has changed through the years. Significantly.

In 2009 -- Jim Harbaugh's third season -- the Cardinal was a plodding unit that ran a 4-3 and gave up 27 points a game. Enter Vic Fangio, who installed a 3-4. That same year, Mason took over the Cardinal secondary.

When Harbaugh and Fangio bolted for the San Francisco 49ers, new coach David Shaw handed the defense to Mason, who shared coordinator duties in 2011 with Jason Tarver, who is now running the Oakland Raiders' defense.

Let's just say Stanford's defense now looks sort of like its own thing, Mason's thing.

Explained Mason, "It's sort of morphed into something that is a little more …" Mason didn't finish the thought -- he started talking about defending spread offenses -- but we will: Funky, unorthodox, flexible. And effective.

Stanford's defense is talented, particularly its front seven, where a handful of guys have a chance to play on Sundays. It's notoriously physical, certainly the Pac-12's most smashmouth unit. And it's sound and disciplined. It doesn't blow a lot of assignments. That's very Stanford-y.

Yet Mason also hasn't been afraid to show some "what the heck is that?" looks to an offense, looks that seem to befuddle even experienced quarterbacks such as USC's Matt Barkley.

The results is this: Stanford is No. 1 in the nation in run defense (71.3 yards per game), sacks (4.42 yards per game) and tackles for a loss (9.25 yards per game). It's also 11th in the nation in scoring defense (16.92 ppg), despite playing a number of the nation's best offenses, something that can't be said for a number of other highly rated defenses. It's eighth in third down defense (29.53 percent).

"It's a containment run defense predicated on making offenses left handed and earning the right to rush the passer," Mason said.

In other words, the Cardinal stops the run, sacks your quarterback and gets off the field.

That's what happened last weekend against UCLA in Stanford's 35-17 win. The Cardinal held the Bruins to 73 yards rushing and recorded seven sacks and nine tackles for a loss.

It was textbook Stanford, which has held eight of 12 opponents below 100 yards rushing this season.

Yet Mason isn't completely believing what he saw in Game 1 with the Bruins. He said he thinks Game 2 on Friday in the Pac-12 championship game will feature a lot more offensive wrinkles from UCLA coordinator Noel Mazzone.

"There are some things they didn't show," Mason said. "It was obvious. I see it as a totally different game."

Mason specifically cited the quarterback run. Redshirt freshman Brett Hundley has rushed for 282 yards and eight TDs this season. His legs are weapons, and the Bruins didn't showcase them last weekend.

While UCLA and Stanford's potential first Rose Bowl since after the 1999 season are the immediate motivations and goals, Mason is aware that his name is bouncing around as a potential head coach. While it's clearly a future goal, he doesn't seem to be in too much of a hurry to race out of Palo Alto in order to chase the first opportunity that comes his way.

"I'm so in love with what is happening here with our players," he said. "I truly believe I am where I'm supposed to be."

Mason seems to like things on the Farm, where he's been growing a West Coast defensive power.

The man, the myth, the Mazzone

November, 28, 2012
On the record, UCLA offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone is not worried about the coaching vacancies that are sprouting up around the Pac-12 and college football. On the record, his only focus is this week's Pac-12 championship game against Stanford.

Off the record, it's the same answer. And that should tell you all you need to know about the man. On the record, off the record, it doesn't matter with him. If he has something on his mind, he'll say it. He won't ask to have the recorders turned off first. When his team plays poorly, he says it. When it plays well, he says it.

He's quick with a joke, serious when he has to be and, despite decades of experience, he's still very much the archetype of a modern football coach.

But it's the moments before kickoff that he gets most excited.

[+] EnlargeNoel Mazzone
Chris Williams/Icon SMIUCLA's offense has shown a marked improvement in Noel Mazzone's first season as coordinator.
"I'm always a little apprehensive," Mazzone said. "It's like Christmas, watching kids opening presents. You've spent all this time going to the mall and doing your shopping and you think you made all the right decisions on what you bought for them, and then you get to go watch them for three and a half hours open the presents you got for them. And all you can do is hope they like it."

This week's gift is another shot at the vaunted Stanford defense -- which played the role of stocking-stuffers in Saturday's 35-17 win over the Bruins. But win or lose, Mazzone's impact on UCLA's offense has been significant.

His credentials are proven and unquestioned. That's why new UCLA head coach Jim Mora sought out Mazzone when he was hired. Knowing him only through casual acquaintances, Mora often talks about the times he was out of coaching and would watch Mazzone's offenses in action. As a defensive-minded coach, he often wondered to himself how he'd attack it.

Mazzone has ties to the ACC, SEC, Big Ten and the NFL. His recruiting responsibilities are Arizona and the southeast United States. It's not shocking that his name has appeared on several lists of potential candidates both within the conference and across the country.

"I've thought about it," Mora said. "Any time you are having success like we're having, and you're having success on the offensive side of the ball like we're having and a young quarterback is having the success that Brett [Hundley] is having, you expect to see your coordinator's name mentioned for jobs. I certainly hope that he and I get a chance to coach together for a very long time."

Mazzone's two most recent stints -- Arizona State and now at UCLA -- have yielded phenomenal results. Consider the Sun Devils of 2009, pre-Mazzone: 90th in total offense (334.4 yards per game) and 91st in scoring average (22.3 points per game). Now, look at Mazzone's first season in 2010: 29th in total offense (425.6) and 28th in scoring average (32.2). Last year: 25th in total offense (445.8) and 28th in scoring offense (33.2).

And the results have been the same in his first season with the Bruins. Last year UCLA ranked 56th in total offense (393) and 88th in scoring offense (23.7). This year the Bruins are up to 21st in total offense (475) and 25th in scoring offense (36). A lot of that obviously has to do with the play of quarterback Hundley and running back Johnathan Franklin. But the Bruins have also done it with one of the youngest offensive lines in the country -- proof positive that the scheme is sound.

Not to mention they are the Pac-12 South champions (sans the asterisk this year) and take a 9-3 record and No. 16 ranking in the BCS standings into Friday night's title game.

"Beyond the Xs and Os and his expertise in that area, he's brought a certain standard of excellence to our offense -- the way we practice, the way we prepare -- and that's translated into how we play," Mora said. "He's got a very calm demeanor and a very confident demeanor, and yet he's always very self-deprecating and I think the players really relate to him. He has a tremendous ability to communicate to them on a level that they understand.

"It's not always what he says, it's how he acts. He doesn't sweat it. He works his butt off. He's smart. But even when it's intense, he doesn't sweat it. He just keeps firing. And I love that about him."

Bruins look for improvement in rematch

November, 27, 2012

Like every coach after a loss, UCLA's Jim Mora walked off the field of the Rose Bowl Saturday night wondering what he could have done differently. Rarely do coaches actually get the chance to put those lamentations into motion.

Just six days after the Stanford Cardinal downed the Bruins, the teams meet again Friday at Stanford Stadium where Mora & Co. will have an opportunity to correct the mistakes of the very-recent past.

"I suppose the fact that we are playing each other, as opposed to playing another opponent, helps both teams in their preparation because there is a knowledge base already in place of your current opponent," Mora said. "In terms of physical challenges, I think it's just making sure you get the right mixture of rest and work so that your players are sharp on Friday night. You have to alter things a little bit, but we don't want to step too far out of our routine."

Performance, however, must be altered. There is no magic mortar for penetrating Stanford's fortified front seven. Mora preached the obvious when talking about what his team needs to do different in Round 2. Protect the quarterback. Run the football. Stop the run.

[+] EnlargeBrett Hundley
AP Photo/Alex GallardoBrett Hundley and the Bruins will have try to limit Stanford's pass rush in Saturday's rematch.
Sounds an awful lot like the philosophy of the team he's facing. Stanford is a team that plays the percentages as well as any team in the country. The offense is decidedly low-risk and they are content to pound away and wear down opponents on offense while taking the occasional, calculated risk downfield. And if it fails, they have no reservations unleashing one of the nation's top-rated defenses to get the ball back.

Saturday night, Mora saw first-hand what the Cardinal are capable of. They sacked quarterback Brett Hundley seven times and limited the Bruins to 334 yards of offense (73 on the ground). On five of UCLA's 14 offensive drives, they went three-and-out. On a sixth, Hundley threw a pick on the third play.

And then there are the self-inflicted wounds. Against the Cardinal, UCLA was flagged 12 times for 135 yards.

"It's hard enough to move the ball against a really good defense anyway, but you can't keep shooting yourself in the foot and think you can run up and down the field against a defense like that," said UCLA offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone. "We're such a rhythm offense. All offenses are rhythm, I suppose, but our tempo goes fast and we have a tendency to play better that way. Then you stop and start back and it's third-and-20. I've got no ideas."

Mazzone isn't talking in hyperbole, either. Look at the play-by-play stat sheet from the game and there are chunks that read like this:

  • 1-10-UCLA 18. False Start.
  • 1-15-UCLA 13, Hundley, Brett sacked.
  • 2-20UCLA 8, Hundley, Brett sacked.
  • 3-22 UCLA 6, Franklin, Johnathan rush for 9 yards.
  • 4-13, UCLA 15, Punt.

It's a repetitive theme. And self-scouting the mistakes -- both mental or otherwise -- will be key in the rematch.

"They were probably doing the same thing," Mora said. "I don't know where you gain an advantage. I think really what it comes down to is the team that executes better and plays the hardest and makes the fewest mistakes will give itself the best chance to win ... Without giving away our game plan, I will say this. We certainly need to do a better job of protecting our quarterback. We gave up seven sacks against a really good front. Regardless of how good they are we have to do a better job there."

Whatever the adjustments, Stanford head coach David Shaw said he's expecting UCLA's best.

"To think that UCLA is going to come up here and roll over for us is completely wrong," Shaw said. "I'm no stranger to their head coach. I know him extremely well. He's a very competitive person and he's going to get his troops fired up and ready to come up here and take it to us so we have to prepare for their best shot and make sure they get our best shot."

PASADENA, Calif. -- The 24-hour rule is not in effect for Stanford or UCLA. Not even close.

“There are no 24-hour rules when you are playing for a championship,” said Stanford linebacker Trent Murphy of the time coaches generally allow a team to savor or sulk following a win or loss.

And across the hallway in the other locker room…

“All we have to do is get better in six days. Plenty of time, right?” UCLA offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone asked, rhetorically, sarcastically.

They better. Because the Stanford Cardinal came into the Rose Bowl and sacked quarterback Brett Hundley seven times, held Doak Walker finalist Johnathan Franklin to just 65 yards on 21 carries and locked up the Pac-12 North Division with a 35-17 win over the Bruins.

“Not this time, no 24 hours,” said Hundley. “It’s an after-the-game-rule. I’m already on to next Friday. There is no 24 hours. This loss, it is what it is, we’ll get better from it.”

The teams will meet again on Friday at Stanford Stadium for the Pac-12 title and a shot at the Rose Bowl on the line.

“It’s going to be hard,” said Stanford head coach David Shaw. “It’s going to be 10 times harder than this game was … Beating Oregon last week didn’t help us win this game. Winning this game is not going to help us win the next game. As I like to say, each game is its own lifetime. It’s its own entity. Every game is different and you have to approach it that way.”

If the Cardinal do what they did Saturday -- and to that point if UCLA does what it did – the Cardinal will be in a BCS game for the third straight season. Running back Stepfan Taylor rushed for 142 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 20 carries (7.1 average) and one of the nation’s best defenses was stifling.

[+] EnlargeStanford's Stepfan Taylor
Jayne Kamin-Oncea/US PRESSWIREStanford's Stepfan Taylor rushed 20 times for 142 yards and two touchdowns against UCLA.
“This will be a tough night to sleep, if you do sleep,” said UCLA defensive coordinator Lou Spanos, whose team surrendered 221 yards on the ground and three rushing touchdowns. “All you can do is start watching film and figuring out how to get better.”

The Stanford defense, however, did what it does best. It pressured the quarterback, got penetration and tallied nine tackles for a loss -- two apiece from A.J. Tarpley and Chase Thomas, who also had a pair of sacks.

“Brett was under a lot of pressure tonight, so we have to do a better job of finding a way to protect Brett,” said UCLA head coach Jim Mora. “I think that it’s a combination -- pressuring with four and then they brought five and six. And sometimes we did not get open. Sometimes he didn’t find the open guy. Sometimes they beat us. I think it was a combination of all those things.”

Offensively, Taylor continued to roll for the Cardinal (10-2, 8-1) -- winners of six straight. It’s the third straight game he’s gone for more than 100 yards and the eighth time this season. He said if the Cardinal stick to what has worked for them all year -- power running behind their vicious defense -- they should be fine.

“We shouldn’t make it difficult,” he said. “We knew if we won this game what the situation would be. We have a mature enough team to understand the situation and that it’s a quick turnaround. We need to get our bodies right and get back on film and watch this to be ready. They did some great things tonight. We have to study what they did and be able to make adjustments.”

The home team showed flashes of why they are the South Division champs. But they also continued a disturbing trend -- excessive penalties. In the previous three games, the Bruins (9-3, 6-3) had committed 13 (Arizona), 12 (Washington State) and 12 (USC) penalties. Saturday they were flagged 12 times for 135 yards. Mora, Mazzone and Hundley all pointed to penalties when reviewing the stat sheet as a top concern.

“Yes, it’s disappointing,” Mora said. “But we have to get over it quickly because we have a game on Friday night.”

One of the intriguing factors about the rematch is that it’s a clean slate for both teams. Each will have the opportunity to self-scout tendencies, mistakes and tells. But at the same time, neither team is going to drastically change what got them to the conference championship.

“Both teams will probably have similar game plans, but it definitely helps to see the team you’re playing in the following week,” said Stanford defensive back Usua Amanam, who scored a touchdown after recovering a UCLA fumble off a kickoff -- a pivotal game-changing play midway through the third quarter. “You kind of know what to look for and you’ll have a feel for them. But the same can be said for UCLA.”

Stanford safety Jordan Richards, who nabbed Stanford’s lone interception, said he’s taking a moment to enjoy the win -- because without it the Cardinal wouldn’t be playing next week. But a moment is long enough.

“Losing next week makes this game irrelevant,” he said. “We’re going to prepare to win like we did this week and try to dominate.”