After loss to Stanford, where does UCLA football go now?

Paul Perkins (24) reacts late in the second half of UCLA's 31-10 loss to Stanford at the Rose Bowl on Nov. 28, 2014. (Keith Birmingham/Staff)

Paul Perkins (24) reacts late in the second half of UCLA’s 31-10 loss to Stanford at the Rose Bowl on Nov. 28, 2014. (Keith Birmingham/Staff)

To get an accurate measure of how this season went for UCLA, there’s no better person to turn to than Jim Mora himself.

“We’re not trying to be average,” the head coach told his players back during training camp in San Bernardino. “We’re not after good. Nobody in here is going to be satisfied when, at the end of the year, people say, ‘Oh, they’re a good football team.’

“Great. Every single day, everything we do, that’s got to be our focus: great.”

By that standard, UCLA’s third year under Mora was a tremendous disappointment. There’s no masking that after a 31-10 loss to Stanford ended the Bruins’ chance at a Pac-12 Championship, though the team deserves some credit for not letting the season spiral out of control after losses to Utah and Oregon. At midseason, the Bruins were teetering. The way the team looked after ugly wins at Cal and Colorado, a nine-win season looked optimistic.

But in notching impressive wins over Arizona, Washington and USC, UCLA pushed the bar back up. Expectations rose again to a “New Year’s Six” bowl, or even the College Football Playoff.

The Cardinal ended those dreams, shaping into the Bruins’ schematic Kryptonite even in a down season. It was an outcome that should have seen Mora shouldering more blame, something I recall him emphatically doing only once this year. Instead, he again trotted out the line about the team’s youth and inexperience. Never mind the fact that UCLA had already pulled in the No. 12, No. 3 and No. 20 classes in the past three cycles, per Scout.com. Never mind that it had returned 17 starters from last year’s squad.

This wasn’t a team that was good enough to truly threaten for a national title, but it was good enough to at least be the Pac-12 runner-up to Oregon. And the way a surprisingly competitive Pac-12 South had shaken out, the Bruins should have seized a division title that — before the season — seemed like their floor.

No amount of recruiting is going to make up for the fact that UCLA is going to be relying on an unproven quarterback next season. Maybe Jerry Neuheisel, Asiantii Woulard or Aaron Sharp take a significant step forward. Maybe five-star recruit Josh Rosen wins the starting spot right away, but rarely do true freshmen immediately lead their teams to great heights.

There isn’t much at stake left in 2014 besides sending UCLA’s seniors (as well as Brett Hundley, who was honored alongside them on Friday) out on a good note. The Bruins will likely end up in the Alamo, Holiday, or Foster Farms Bowl depending on how the rest of the conference shakes out. The challenge now for the coaching staff is making sure the players can recover from a disappointing end to the regular season, and motivate them for a game none of them wanted to end up in.

» Kevin Hogan wishes he could make a career out of playing UCLA. In three games against the Bruins, he completed 74.2 percent of his passes for an average of 207 yards per game, and four touchdowns against one interception. In 29 other games of significant action, Hogan completed 64.2 percent for 196.7 yards per game, and 41 touchdowns against 22 picks. He has 9.4 yards per pass attempts versus UCLA, and 8.0 versus everyone else.

The main issue was that the Bruins wouldn’t generate pressure with a four-man rush. After producing a season-high six sacks against USC, UCLA couldn’t do anything to break past the the Cardinal’s big offensive line. (Losing outside linebacker Deon Hollins to what looked like an ankle injury didn’t help.) And if nothing else, Stanford knows how to play with a lead. Hogan only threw four passes in the second half, and Stanford finished with a 37:49 to 22:11 edge in time of possession.

“We never got them out of their running game,” said UCLA defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich. “When their running game is a viable threat at all times — when they’re winning games, they don’t mind running on third-and-7. When there’s always a run threat, you’ve got to defend it. When you do that, it slows down your pass rush a little bit. At the same time, we’ve got to bring him down. Got home a few times, just didn’t finish.”

» So much went wrong for UCLA on Friday afternoon, but looking back, there were two plays that could have potentially swung momentum for the Bruins — both of which came near the end of the second quarter.

With the score tied at 7-7, UCLA had a first-and-10 on Stanford’s 24-yard line. Hundley threw incompletions to Eldridge Massington and Paul Perkins. But on third down, he stuck in the pocket a third time just before taking a crushing hit, delivering a sharp pass to Devin Fuller inside the 10. The ball bounced off Fuller’s hands as he dove toward the sideline. It wouldn’t have been an easy catch, but it was one Fuller could have made. UCLA settled for a 42-yard field goal, one that moved Ka’imi Fairbairn to 10-of-21 from 40 yards or farther in his career.

Hundley didn’t throw for another first down until UCLA already trailed by 18 points.

The other was Hogan’s second touchdown pass, a 37-yarder to Devon Cajuste with 41 seconds left in the first half. After already giving up a first-down conversion on second-and-8 at midfield, the Bruins needed to at least hold Stanford to a field goal. Instead, both safety Tahaan Goodman and linebacker Myles Jack badly misplayed what should have been an interception or at least an easy pass breakup — something Jack readily admitted after the game.

UCLA still had a reasonable chance at a comeback until the Cardinal scored another touchdown on its first drive of the second half, but the game felt over after Cajuste’s catch.

  • jameskatt

    Jack, there are a few things I disagree with:

    HYPE: At the beginning of the season, UCLA was NOT good enough to beat Stanford or Oregon. Stanford later only looked beatable because it lost games it should it won. But clearly, Stanford is a much better team and program right before the season started. And clearly, UCLA was being hyped up to untenable results.

    CYCLE: Every program goes through cycles of losing their top quarterback. But that is life. So deal with it. It is up to the program to keep GROOMING AN ASSEMBLY LINE of quarterbacks – and other players. Sure they are “unproven”. But Brett Hundley was also “unproven” yet beat USC his first year. I’d love to see Josh Rosen step in and do what Brett Hundley did. After all, he will get a 6-month headstart at UCLA – essentially red-shirting for half a year – by enrolling early.

    DEFENSE: The defense couldn’t generate pressure because Stanford’s players are simply bigger, stronger and faster than UCLA’s players. It was like looking at men playing teenage boys. Stanford’s men intimidated and beat out any will and aggression from UCLA. UCLA’s strength is in stopping the run. But Stanford’s bigger and stronger players simply blew out the defense.

    STRENGTH, SIZE AND POWER: Stanford clearly has a fantastic strength, conditioning and physical development program for their football players. They have a factory that churns out big boys for football. UCLA clearly does not yet have such a program. Every UCLA player needs to gain 20 to 40 pounds in the first 3 years of being at UCLA – including any redshirt year. We need beef and power to beat both Stanford and Oregon. We are not there yet. This is the weakest aspect of the program. Hopefully the new football facilities for UCLA will allow us to develop big boys and NFL ready players like Stanford does.

    DEVIN FULLER CRUSHED: When Devin Fuller caught a pass, you described the Stanford defender as having “crushed him”, causing Devin to lose the pass. “Crushing” someone means it is impossible for Devin to catch the ball. Arguing otherwise would be nonsense.

    UCLA had no chance of a comeback after they were passed by Stanford. When you are “crushed” and wagged like a rag doll in the mouth of a big dog, the will is not there.

    BIGGER AND STRONGER: UCLA has to get bigger and stronger. No amount of football coaching can teach or accomplish this. It is like no amount of coaching in basketball can teach height or speed. Only by more intensive work at the gym with their strength coach will each player develop into a big boy.

    RECRUITS: UCLA simply cannot stock recruits. Stocking the best recruiting classes does NOTHING to improve UCLA’s current position.

    UCLA has to build each recruit into monsters at the gym. They have to get bigger, faster, quicker, and more powerful. They have to be able to hit their opponent harder tha their opponent hits them.

    GOAL: Each player has to gain 20 to 40 pounds of POWER muscle. I want to see big-boys and men play next year, not teenagers.

    • Laker Rod

      I really think the coaches should really put all ideas of Rosen starting as a true frosh aside. Or maybe the coaches really will do it so they can make up the usual excuses of being a “young” team or they have a “young” QB. True frosh QB’s don’t normally do well and they pick up a lot of bad habits. It happens to redshirt freshmen also. Brett picked up bad habits his first year and never did get rid of them…especially
      with all the pick 6’s he’s thrown.

    • bobbyb

      If you read Jack’s story correctly, he wasn’t saying that Fuller got crushed but rather Hundley got smacked just as he released the ball. You’ve been harping on the same things all season, including injuring the opposition’s quarterback… Let it go

      • WEB_Dupree

        But this blog just wouldn’t be the same without jameskatt’s weekly demands for more injuries to opposing players and more “man beef” among the Bruins.

        • Jethro G Sabbath

          I don’t visit here often but is that the kind of treat I can expect?

          • WEB_Dupree

            I hope you like POWER BEEF! And BEEF POWER!

          • Jethro G Sabbath

            They really have a different way of doing things here. This thread is a perfect example:

            1) Reader A posts a comment

            2) Moderator reads and responds to comment

            3) Reader B chastises moderator for being rude to reader A

            4) Moderator apologizes to reader A

            Would this happen in a million years on Wolf’s blog?

          • WEB_Dupree

            Ha ha, no, never. While I must admit I prefer the down-and-dirty zaniness of Wolf’s blog, Bucket was pretty much right when he compared it to a man throwing firecrackers into a monkey cage. But this blog presents an interesting example of how things can be done differently; kind of like a visit to Canada.

    • Jack Wang

      I meant Hundley took the big hit, not Fuller, but I can see how the pronoun antecedent was unclear. I have clarified the sentence. I don’t think that we really disagree on hype, since I said UCLA was about good enough to be a Pac-12 runner-up to Oregon.

      Size isn’t going to fix being beaten by Stanford’s scheme ever year, and it’s pretty absurd to want every player to gain 20-40 pounds of muscle. You think having Eddie Vanderdoes at 6-3, 325 would have changed the game?

      • Cliff Sakata

        Thanks Jack. Enjoyed your coverage all season.

      • http://amillennialist.blogspot.com Santiago Matamoros

        You think having Eddie Vanderdoes at 6-3, 325 would have changed the game?

        You didn’t understand his point, Jack?

        • Jack Wang

          Eddie is currently listed at 6-3, 305, so I tacked on the suggested 20 pounds. I just don’t see size and conditioning being the problem over scheme. The job Sal Alosi does with the team each offseason is usually very impressive already.

          • jameskatt

            Eddie Vanderdoes at 6-3, 325 would be much stronger and less easily overpowered by a Stanford lineman. He would blast much easier through the offensive line. And he would be closer to NFL-ready.

          • Laker Rod

            How would you expect Vanderdoes to get to 325 lbs which is mainly muscle. The problem with UCLA is that they think every 5 star recruit they get should play and practically start as a true frosh. EV wasted a year as a true frosh. He was not very productive. Got off to a slow start and was not in shape. Same thing with Ellis McCarthy. EM was coming off a knee injury also. EM was like 355 lbs and a lot of it was fat. You can’t put 20 lbs of muscle on with a snap of a finger.

          • http://amillennialist.blogspot.com Santiago Matamoros

            I wasn’t talking about arithmetic, but about your tone toward James. He’s a regular poster and a fervent fan, the kind of people a ‘blog author might want to treat cordially.

          • RepuBruin

            I didn’t think Jack meant that disrespectfully. And he is correct, scheme is the issue, not size. The Bruins have plenty of 300-pounders on both lines. Oregon destroyed Stanford this year and they aren’t known for their size. Size is great, but size without flexibility and quickness will get you beat consistently. Bunche had the size James would like and he was the worst lineman that played this year because he is slow and plodding.

          • Jack Wang

            I didn’t mean that in a rude way, but I can see how the rhetorical question came off as snark. But asking every player to put on 20-40 pounds of pure muscle is still quite a proposition.

  • Darwinian

    Well said, Jack. You’ve really done a great job covering the UCLA program and this piece proves it. Like you I have followed the progress of Ucla based on their performance in their games. And they have been inconsistent, they are still growing as a team but they aren’t there, yet. While they have had great success in certain games, they haven’t proven to me they would be successful against Oregon. Offense needs to open up the playbook, Hundley could have run more in this game Stfu, play action wasn’t fooling anyone. And defense really fell asleep at the wheel, they had no pressure on Hogan. In the end, they failed at being great but they are a really good team, as much as they’d hate to admit it.

  • Mark

    Ucla shoukd just GO HOME. Skip a meaningless bowl invite & start lifting weights & eating better to get ready for next season. I’m really sick & tired of watching this bunch screw around & under achieve.

    • max

      You’re an idiot. A bowl game means extra practices, more exposure for the program, and money for athletics.

      • Mark

        I would disagree with all three of those assertions. The second tire bowls are typically break-even propositions at best. The participating teams are stuck with ticket obligations, and I don’t see Ucla selling out its allotment to any of the bowls Jack mentioned.

        The practices thing is overrated. For example, what’s the point of the offense practicing with Hundley as QB? I don’t think a few extra practices in December 2014 are going to get anyone ready for next season’s opener.

        Any exposure…this cuts both ways. Remember that Holiday Bowl two years ago? I don’t think that kind of exposure helps anyone.

        If Ucla wants to be great, and not just good, it has a chance to make a strong statement by declining to settle for anything short of the playoff or the other top bowls (which this year include Cotton, Fiesta, Peach and Orange.)

  • Brrrrruins

    JamesKatt, I don’t think simply getting bigger is the answer nor is that clearly a problem. How is it that Stanford lost to SC, ASU, etc.– teams we beat, with our supposedly dwarf players? That doesn’t add up.

    • http://amillennialist.blogspot.com Santiago Matamoros

      James is right that UCLA was overpowered by Stanford, but that was more a lack of will than ability.

      Besides the odd regression in the play-calling and scheming on both sides of the ball, the Bruins looked like they thought (again) that they would just show up and win.

      • bruinray97

        I completely agree. This team was just not prepared for this game. It was a very disappointing performance….

  • commentar

    Great analysis Jack. Good constructive criticism for what went wrong. Get used to it. Our basketball season is fast upon us…

  • Dan Wayne

    Brett Hundley is not ready for the NFL, He needs his senior year at UCLA, Just saying.

    GO BRUINS !!!

    • bruinray97

      I honestly think all of those preseason workouts with all of those pros and personal coaches affected his play in a negative way. Brett’s passing game really seems to have regressed this season. Best of luck to him in the NFL.

  • Tommy B Low Us

    Mora is building something. Where do they go for here? I would say on to greatness. The next few years are going to be amazing.

  • 92104bruinfan

    Well, UCLA football hopefully stops feeling sorry for itself after losing to Stanford, gets ready to take care of final exams, and then starts prep for the bowl game to get to 10 wins. Where else is there to go? After 3 years, Mora, Hundley & company have taken a program from mediocrity to a very good 9-10 win, Top 15 level. Not a bad place to be. Making the jump from good to elite is tough and honestly, getting a CFP playoff berth in just 3 years’ time would have been an incredible accomplishment even with all the talent UCLA has. Rarely does that type of leap happen that fast especially in a conference as competitive as the Pac 12. Quite a few very good Oregon, Stanford, and USC teams with national title aspirations fell short over the last several years trying to get through Pac 10/12 conference play. The program, and system will continue to evolve & mature. Most here have followed or watched UCLA football for many years and I’d think most would agree it’s been a long while since there has been this good of a foundation in place. While I’m still disappointed in Friday’s performance, I’m much more concerned about this program being in a position to compete annually for a conference championship and playoff berth. Some years will surely offer better opportunities than others but being in the mix every year is what you want. Go Bruins!

  • Bigjbruin

    Nice write up. I feel it was fair and accurate criticism. Just have a question, Why does coach Mora make excuses for what happened after not reaching expectations he self imposed?

    “We’re not trying to be average,” the head coach told his players back during training camp
    in San Bernardino. “We’re not after good. Nobody in here is going to be
    satisfied when, at the end of the year, people say, ‘Oh, they’re a good
    football team.”

    And this, “We are an extremely young football team. There were six scholarship
    seniors out there [Saturday] and we are really young,” Mora said. “We
    are not there yet physically. [Stanford has] been doing what they’ve
    been doing longer than we’ve been doing what we’ve been doing. They’ve
    been recruiting the types of athletes that fit their profile longer than
    we’ve been recruiting athletes that fit our profile.

    This may very well be true but Pete Carroll and Chip Kelly turned around programs the first or second year of coaching. PC