Jim Mora: UCLA embraces ‘underdog’ mentality

Touted widely as a national title contender, UCLA was favored by 20-plus points against both Virginia and Memphis.

The Bruins escaped Charlottesville with a 28-20 decision, and held off the Tigers 42-35 at the Rose Bowl last weekend. Needless to say, many analysts are rethinking UCLA’s position on the college totem poll. After starting the season ranked No. 7 in the Associated Press poll, the Bruins have dropped to No. 12 — falling behind USC (ranked ninth) for the first time since Oct. 28, 2012.

The problems have been difficult to narrow down. In the season opener against Virginia, UCLA scored three defensive touchdowns and held the Cavaliers to 4.6 yards per play — carrying a stuttering offense to victory. In the home opener against Memphis, the Bruins rolled up 540 yards of offense but allowed 469.

But can an underperforming 2-0 squad now be considered an underdog? Head coach Jim Mora wants it that way.

“I don’t want expectations to become a burden,” he said Tuesday. “Knocking us back on track — no. Maybe just refocusing a little bit. Getting back to the roots of who we are. We’re an underdog. That’s who we are. We like it when people doubt us. That helps inspire us. I’m not saying it should, but it does. …

“I just think we were tight. I think that we let the outside expectations become a little bit of a burden for us.”

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First look: Texas Longhorns

No. 12 UCLA Bruins (2-0) vs. Texas Longhorns (1-1)
Kickoff: 5:15 p.m. PT, AT&T Stadium (Arlington, Texas)
TV: FOX (Gus Johnson, Charles Davis, Molly McGrath)
Radio: 1150 KTLK (Chris Roberts, Matt Stevens, Wayne Cook)

Coach: The defensive coordinator during Florida’s 2006 and 2008 BCS title runs, Charlie Strong coached Louisville for four seasons — finishing his tenure there with a 12-1 campaign. He is one of the few black head coaches in college football. He quickly began cleaning house at Texas, ostensibly to reshape what had become a lax program in the latter years of Mack Brown.

Strong kicked eight Longhorns off the team — including two who were charged with felony sexual assault — and suspended four more. Those still missing include offensive tackles Kennedy Estelle, who started eight games as a sophomore, and Desmond Harrison.

Key players:

QB Tyrone Swoopes, So., 6-4, 243 — 20/31, 176 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT, 7 carries, 7 rushing yards
– Only ever practiced with the second-team offense until starting quarterback David Ash suffered another concussion. The former four-star dual-threat prospect looked capable, but not exceptional in his first start of his career. The team hasn’t trusted him to throw deep often.

RB Johnathan Gray, Jr., 5-11, 215 — 30 carries, 129 yards
– Was on track to be Texas’ first 1,000-yard rusher since 2007 before tearing his Achilles last November. The former five-star recruit insists he hasn’t lost a step after rushing for 1,481 yards and seven scores in the last two seasons. Continue reading

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UCLA safety Randall Goforth questionable to play against Texas

UCLA might be without starting safety Randall Goforth when it faces Texas in Dallas next weekend.

The 5-foot-10 defensive back exited the Bruins’ 42-35 win over Memphis with a shoulder injury during the first half, and did not return. Head coach Jim Mora said Goforth hasn’t been ruled out for Saturday’s 5 p.m. PT kickoff at AT&T Stadium, but would put his status as “questionable” — and leaning toward “doubtful.” Continue reading

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UCLA ranked below USC in AP poll for the first time since 2012

For the first time in almost two years, UCLA is ranked below USC.

The Bruins fell a spot to No. 12 in the Associated Press poll following Saturday’s 42-35 win over Memphis — their second straight closer-than-expected victory over a seemingly inferior opponent. UCLA had started the season at No. 7, and was a trendy pick to make the inaugural four-team College Football Playoff.

Meanwhile, USC rose to No. 9 in Sunday’s poll after upsetting Stanford, 13-10, on the road. This is the first time the Trojans have been ranked above UCLA in the AP poll since Oct. 28, 2012, when they were seven spots ahead at No. 18.

Elsewhere in the Pac-12, Oregon rose a spot to No. 2 — earning 16 first-place votes after a 46-27 blowout of then-No. 7 Michigan State. The Cardinal and Arizona State are ranked 15th and 16th, respectively.

Full Associated Press poll below: Continue reading

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