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.
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."