Jim Mora had a great debut season with the UCLA Bruins in 2012. He found a star at quarterback in Brett Hundley and guided the team back to the Pac 12 Championship game by beating the cross-town rival USC Trojans. The one major blemish on his start at UCLA, however, was a 43-17 thumping they took at the hands of the Cal Bears, which turned out to be one of the few wins Jeff Tedford would get in his final season in Berkeley. This season, Mora has his team dialed in to take care of business against a dangerous Cal team that is stuck in the Pac 12 cellar.
UCLA has never forgotten about their performance against Cal last season because Mora makes sure they remember the lessons they learned from it.
“It’s a memory that needs to be remembered, and I brought it up to myself internally, the staff and the team many times already. What I remember is, I did a poor job getting this team prepared mentally and emotionally to play a football game against a really good team on the road, and we paid dearly for it. They took it to us every way you could. We learned a really, really difficult lesson. But an important lesson. Every week you have to be dialed in to the opponent that you are playing. You have to be mentally and emotionally ready to play. It’s been a constant reminder to me, not just this week, but really through the whole offseason and these first four games. I revisit my approach that week and what I did wrong and try to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
That lesson sunk in quickly for the Bruins who have won nine of their last 12 games since losing in Berkeley last season. They have played with great focus this season and handled their business even under extreme adversity. That should continue as Mora refuses to let his team overlook a Cal team that thumped them last season and whose offense is filled with playmakers that can make huge plays every time they have the football.
On paper, the Bruins have the clear advantage and sit as the front-runners for the Pac 12 South division title. They remain undefeated with a couple of tough road wins under their belt and still have the No. 2 Oregon Ducks and No. 5 Stanford Cardinal looming on their schedule. It would be easy for a team to see 1-4 Cal on the schedule and relax a bit. But don’t expect UCLA to be that kind of team.
Mora has the Bruins on a mission to get back to the Pac 12 title game and finally win one (third time’s the charm, right?). He’s been very open about the lessons he learned about preparation from last year’s loss to Cal and he’s going to use those lesson to get his team prepared to give that thumping right back to Cal on Saturday.