In my previous article on the UCLA Bruins, I recapped why Jim Mora and the team were driven to success this season. From Mora being replaced by Pete Carroll at Seattle, to a cold welcome in Los Angeles by the USC Trojans, the Bruins came into this season willing to exhaust all options to even the playing field with all Pac-12 opponents.
One of the more pressing issues for UCLA throughout the past few years, was the lack of pressure to install a winning attitude. It appeared as though former head coach Rick Neuheisel was complacent in playing safe football, and looked at big wins (such as UCLA’s 34-12 rout in Austin, in 2010 over the No.7 ranked Longhorns) as “fluke accidents”.
Unfortunately, this lack of a winning culture led to Neuheisel’s firing, the acquisition of Mora, and a 2012 season that quite frankly, nobody in the Pac-12 was expecting from the Bruins.
One of the basic commandments of sports, from any sector is: “Don’t underestimate, that which you do not know.” Most Pac-12 junkies – myself included – violated this, in underestimating how hungry the Bruins were.
Typically, a team will have a solid win early in the season, then slowly show fatigue and taper off. With a big 36-30 win against the No.16-ranked Nebraska Cornhuskers on September 8th, and a blatant 66-10 dismantle of the No.22-ranked Arizona Wildcats on November 3rd, it’s pretty obvious that UCLA isn’t slowing momentum anytime soon.
So what happened to this team which transformed them from Pac-12 doormats, to strong contenders? I’m just going to assume that Mora’s five-year, $12 million-dollar contract was packaged with some attractive incentives, and that his 24-year career in the National Football League proved to be a strength, as he knows how to bring out the potential in young players.
These young players I am referring to, are the 25 freshmen (seven alone, who started against Utah), Mora and the Bruins have been circulating into play this season. I believe that when a team has low expectations, more leverage is given for that team to think outside the box, and Mora’s usage of young guns reflects that he has a lot of faith in his team from 2012, forward.
Bruins’ QB Brett Hundley is a freshmen who has put up stellar numbers for UCLA, with 2,478-yards passing, for 21 TD’s, and eight interceptions, as well as, six rushing TD’s, for 283-yards. In a “QB Conference”, those numbers are definitely not to be taken lightly by any opponent.
Other freshmen who are making the grade, are Kicker Ka’imi Fairbairn, who is 11 of 16 on FG’s, and has made 38 of 41 PAT attempts, totaling 71 points. Of course freshmen Torian White, Jake Brendel, and Simon Goins have done amazing jobs on the offensive line, which has allowed the Bruins to lead the Pac-12 South, and average 37 points per game.
When a team feels an exorbitant amount of pressure to improve, it usually doesn’t happen over night, but it does happen when young players step up, dismiss the title “freshmen”, and adopt a play-maker mantra – all of which UCLA has done this season.