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. Continue reading

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UCLA suffers fourth straight loss to Stanford under Jim Mora

Brett Hundley and the rest of the UCLA football team walks off the Rose Bowl field after the Bruins’ 31-10 loss to Stanford on Friday, Nov. 28, 2014.

» On the cusp of the Pac-12 title game, UCLA’s big dreams came crashing down again in another loss to Stanford.
» Eric Kendricks left the Rose Bowl for the last time as UCLA’s all-time leader in tackles, plus notes on the Stanford touchdown that put the game out of reach.
» The Cardinal had struggled on offense most of this season, but Kevin Hogan thoroughly outplayed Brett Hundley.

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Five things to watch: No. 8/9 UCLA vs. Stanford

With a spot in the Pac-12 Championship on the line, UCLA will try to get its first win against Stanford since 2008. A few things to watch, plus a score prediction …

How will Stanford’s offense fare without Ty Montgomery? First guess is not well. Quarterback Kevin Hogan is the quintessential game manager, one that was more than sufficient for the Cardinal when it had a powerful run game to lean on. Stanford is on track to finish with a 1,000-yard rusher for the first time since 2007; losing its most explosive player to a shoulder injury is only going to limit the offense even further.

Montgomery was Hogan’s most reliable target, and the recipient of more than a quarter of the team’s total receptions. At 6-foot-2, 220 pounds, he would have been a load to bring down once he got into the secondary.

Can UCLA’s defense maintain pressure? Hogan only threw at least 20 passes in seven games last season. This year, he’s already hit that mark in nine games, at topped 30 passes in three straight games in October. Not coincidentally, Stanford lost two of those games, beating only lowly Washington State. Continue reading

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Stanford’s Ty Montgomery to miss UCLA game with shoulder injury

UCLA’s defense will have one less concern this Friday, as Stanford receiver Ty Montgomery has been ruled out with a shoulder injury.

The 6-foot-2, 220-pound wideout and kick returner produced a season-low 87 all-purpose yards against the Bruins last season, but is a dynamic player who is hard to bring down in the open field. The senior leads his team with 61 catches this season (for 604 yards and three touchdowns), which accounts for 28.5 percent of the Cardinal’s reception total. He also has 429 yards on 17 kickoff returns.

Montgomery’s absence will rob an unremarkable Stanford offense of its biggest playmaker. Without a powerful lead back to lean on, quarterback Kevin Hogan has not been able to progress beyond his game-manager role. After averaging 8.9 yards per pass attempt last season — good for 13th in the country — the redshirt junior has dipped to 7.6.

UCLA’s pass rush has picked significantly this month, getting a season-high six sacks against USC. Combined with an improving secondary, the Bruins are now allowing just 6.3 yards per pass attempt — good for second in the conference and 25th nationally. However, defensive backs Ishmael Adams and Priest Willis are questionable with ankle and head injuries.

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VIDEO: Offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone scouts Stanford defense

The biggest worry for UCLA this Friday is Stanford’s defense — by far the toughest on the Bruins’ schedule. The Cardinal have no obvious holes on that side of the ball, ranking third nationally in opponent yards per pass attempt (5.4) and 15th in yards per carry (3.18).

Asked what in particular is challenging about the Stanford defense, UCLA offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone quipped: “What isn’t challenging about the Stanford defense?”

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After Oregon’s loss, is UCLA the new Pac-12 favorite?

Nearly four months ago, UCLA was listed as an early favorite almost through its entire 2014 schedule. The exception? Mighty Oregon, just a year removed from four straight BCS bowls, and an early three-point favorite.

My, how things have changed.

UCLA stumbled out of the gate, collecting three uneven wins before stomping on then-No. 15 Arizona State last Thursday. The Bruins still have question marks, but they’re on the upswing, and back in the hearts and minds of at least a few national pundits. One ESPN analyst has them in the San Francisco Bowl, but another picked the Fiesta Bowl. CBS Sports has slotted UCLA back into the Sugar Bowl, as the No. 4 seed in a national semifinal against Alabama.

The No. 2 Ducks, meanwhile, might have cost themselves national title hopes with their 31-24 loss at home last night to Arizona — the most surprising undefeated team left in the country. (Earlier this week, Yahoo! Sports’ Pat Forde wrote this of the Wildcats: “Chances of being unbeaten by Halloween: zero.”) Continue reading

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Pac-12 links: Arizona State’s Chip Sarafin comes out as gay

» Arizona State offensive lineman Chip Sarafin came out on Wednesday, becoming first openly gay active player in Division I football.

» Redshirt freshman Anu Solomon is trying to win Arizona’s starting quarterback — something that would require beating out transfers from USC, LSU and Texas.

» The Ice Bucket Challenge has helped raise $2.3 million for the national ALS association since July 29, and UCLA coach Jim Mora accepted a challenge to join yesterday:

» Washington State crossed the Idaho border for training camp, but wildfires forced the Cougars back to Pullman. Continue reading

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