Jim Mora had a pretty good idea what his team was about. The UCLA Bruins were 3-0, ranked in the top 20 and already had a signature win over a ranked Nebraska squad.
Then came the Oregon State Beavers. An orange and black question mark that outdueled the Bruins in the Rose Bowl. Now, Mora thought, he would really see what his youthful squad had under the helmet and in between the ears.
Like any coach worth their salt, Mora will never concede that a loss is a good thing. However, they can be necessary evils. And in this case, an early loss (to a team now ranked in the top 15, mind you) gave Mora the opportunity to see exactly what his team was made of. It was also the first loss of his collegiate coaching career.
"Very business-like," Mora said. "Very mature. They had a great week of practice. They were very focused. They didn't let it linger. It bothered them to lose. You could tell on Saturday night after the Oregon State game that they were visibly upset and taking it very seriously."
And as a result, the Bruins bounced back with a convincing 42-14 road win at Colorado. Granted, it's not like they pulled a shocker in Autzen. But they jumped on the Buffs early behind three touchdowns from Brett Hundley -- one in the air, two on the ground -- and then pulled away in the second half. The Bruins, as they say, handled their business.
"I thought they came back to practice in the right frame of mind to move on and I thought they showed that in their performance on Saturday night," Mora said. "It was by no means perfect, nor where we want it to be. We'll keep getting better. But for a bunch of young guys that have to learn how to overcome adversity and handle adversity I was impressed."
It could have gone the other way. With five freshman starting on offense, the Bruins could have easily crumbled -- or at the very least struggled. But they didn't. And that's exactly what Mora had hoped to see.
"Our guys weren't riding high on the hog," he said. "They weren't thinking they were all that so it's not like they needed to be brought back down to earth. What [the loss] was was an opportunity to learn how to handle some adversity. Oregon State is a darn good football team. I think people are starting to realize that now. We saw that going in and we knew it was going to be a battle.
"You hate to lose games. You hate to lose them, because we're in it to win games. But sometimes with a younger team there are great lessons to be learned in defeat. And as long as you learn them and you apply them going forward, you're going to be OK. It's when you continue to repeat them that you've got a problem."
So now the Bruins are back in the top 25 and are set to face another team on the road that is reeling -- Cal. The Bears have dropped three straight and are yet to beat an FBS team this season. But Cal also has some talent. Sounds like a trap game, right? Especially with the Bruins going against three-straight South Division opponents following the Cal game. Maybe.
Or the Bruins will show the poise and maturity they showed in bouncing back last week.
"I think [maturity] stems from our approach in general," Mora said. "We have a process. We have some things we really believe in and we're going to stick with them whether we're winning big or losing tough ones. Our kids believe in the process and they've seen it can be successful -- we can be successful -- if we stick to the process."
Once again, Mora will learn something new about his team.