The Pac-12 held their annual media day this week in Los Angeles. Each program was represented by the head coach along with an offensive and defensive player. The UCLA Bruins sent first year head coach Jim Mora, running back Johnathan Franklin, and free safety Tevin McDonald.
Here is the video of their interview:
Here is the takeaway from the press conference:
1) It’s transition time in Pasadena. Jim Mora enters his first year as a college head coach after plenty of NFL experience. The Bruins traditionally keep it within the family, so the Mora hire is a signal that UCLA is ready to buck the norm if it means returning to the elite of the conference. The roster is not void of talent but there are still big decisions to be made, namely, whether or not senior Kevin Prince is the right fit at quarterback.
Decisions aside, Mora says he enjoys coaching in college, “At this level, you’re dealing with student-athletes that are still developing. You can have a little more influence on them, hopefully, in a positive way.”
2) The word on the street is accountability. McDonald, only a sophomore, made it clear that the biggest difference from 2011 to 2012 would be accountability. The safety said the attribute might have been lacking in years past both on and off the field. There is plenty of good news in this department as far as a McDonald is concerned. The entire starting secondary is back with McDonald being the only non-senior of the bunch. If there is a new attitude of accountability, Mora can depend on the backfield to lead the defensive unit. Coach Mora said that the three main values UCLA will embrace going forward along with accountability is toughness and discipline. The Bruins ranked 90th in turnover margin last year and were 96th against the run. Both virtues are clearly in high demand.
3) Who is the starting quarterback again? There is the saying that if you have two quarterbacks you really have none. What would three quarterbacks equal? Coach Mora found optimism in that neither Prince, fellow senior Richard Brehaut, or redshirt freshman Brett Hundley could establish themselves,
“We’re excited about our quarterback situation. Our initial thought was we would have liked to have made a decision on who our starters were going to be coming out of spring practice and we were looking for someone to jump out of the pack, and that didn’t happen. But when I reflected on it, I realized it didn’t happen because the whole pack elevated.”
How much of Mora’s positive outlook is either coach-speak or genuine is up to the reader. The winner of the quarterback competition will likely go the the gentleman who can take care of the football better than the others. The decision will be made two weeks into summer camp according to the coach.
4) What about that “other” school in Southern California? The 500lb gorilla in the Pac-12 is USC. The Trojans are a projected national championship contender and for those who follow college football, that isn’t exactly news. A two year bowl ban and three year scholarship reduction weren’t nearly enough to derail Troy. Mora’s response to dealing with the Trojans was to worry about his own locker room instead of the one across town. While the Bruins have plenty to worry about within their own ranks, getting shelled year-in and year-out by USC isn’t going to help anything. Mora has to be concerned about how his team stacks up against the Trojans. Recruiting and job security depend on it.
5) Playmakers wanted Offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone uses a more pass-centric offense than the pistol attack Rick Neuheisel employed. Passing or running, the Bruins need to create explosive plays from the skill positions. The quarterback position will likely need help and its up to Mora’s staff to find out who can do just that. Franklin will get the majority of the carries but don’t be surprised to see a heavy dose of freshman Steven Manfro helping out in various formations. Manfro surprised Mora in the spring with his ability to create opportunities running or catching. Defensive tackle Ellis McCarthy is such an impressive athlete that Mora has hinted at giving the true freshman playing time as a starter or a role player.
Last season left much to be desired as the offense and defensive units struggled to either score points or avoid being scored on. UCLA and Mora could be a decent fit if the 2012 recruiting class is any indication. Media day is about expectations and good vibes for a new year. The Mora era is only a month away from the biggest transition of all. Soon the talk will have to walk.