Stanford 56, UCLA 35: Jim Mora

UCLA head coach Jim Mora talked about the Bruins’ 56-35 loss at Stanford on Thursday, the fifth straight game he’s lost to the Cardinal. He showed little of the fire he did two years ago, after a loss at Oregon.

Asked on Thursday what UCLA needs to do to improve, he said: “Everywhere. We’ve got to continue to recruit good players and coach them up. They’ve got to continue to play well, and not hurt ourselves with penalties and missed tackles. Just, everything.”

Asked about how a team can fix “everything” at midseason, he said: “Well, every week’s a new game. That’s the great thing about sports. Every week you get another opportunity to go out there and play again, to perform. … You do the same do you do when you win, when you lose. There’s no difference (in self-evaluation).”

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What to watch: No. 18 UCLA at No. 15 Stanford

For the first time this season, No. 18 UCLA is the underdog.

This is not without good reason. For all that he has accomplished with the Bruins, Jim Mora has thumped repeatedly into the same stubborn wall: Stanford. The fourth-year head coach has lost to the Cardinal four times in three years: by 18 and three points in 2012, when they played back to back in the regular-season finale and the Pac-12 Championship; by 14 points in 2013; and, perhaps most excruciatingly, by 21 points a year ago, a game that cost UCLA a division title.

Today at 7:30 p.m. in Stanford Stadium, Mora gets his fifth crack at breaking the spell. He’ll have to do it against a 15th-ranked Stanford team that looks like the Pac-12 North favorite, and with a defense that has struggled in the wake of three major injuries.

When UCLA has the ball

Stanford’s defense lost essentially its entire starting defensive line and secondary from last year. That turnover means that this is not as dominant a unit as it has been in years past, though it still ranks among the Pac-12’s best.

UCLA (4-1, 1-1 Pac-12) will need to establish itself up front. The Bruins’ offensive line underperformed in a loss against Arizona State almost two weeks ago, but this is a veteran unit that should fare better against Cardinal’s trademark physicality than it has in the past. Continue reading

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Five questions: San Jose Mercury News’ Jon Wilner on Stanford

UCLA is limping a bit after a deflating loss to Arizona State nearly two weeks ago, a game that exposed some of the flaws on what is still a talented team. The No. 18 Bruins now need to try and bounce back against 15th-ranked Stanford, the opponent that has given them more trouble than anyone else in the past three years. How do David Shaw and company look this year after a relatively down 2014 campaign? The Bay Area News Group‘s Jon Wilner answered five questions about the Cardinal.

1. Kevin Hogan’s pass efficiency has improved notably compared to what he did in his first three seasons. What are the biggest differences in how he’s played this year?

He’s a fifth-year senior who has mastered the offense, has a veteran line — the left side is as good as it gets in the Pac-12 — and playmakers at running back and tight end (and, to a lesser extent, receiver). Stanford is asking him to do more. He was a game manager as a freshman and sophomore, and last year they had neither the talent nor the scheme. It’s all coming together. He’s also at peace emotionally — last year was difficult for him with his father dying of cancer during the season.

2. Stanford is scoring touchdowns on two-thirds of red-zone trips, compared to 57.5 percent over the past three years. Is this due more to improvements in coaching/playcalling or personnel?

Both. The line is better. There are fewer penalties, fewer turnovers, fewer missed blocks. And the coaches have a better idea how to use the talent, particularly Remound Wright, the short-yardage specialist, and Austin Hooper, one of the top tight ends in the country. But let’s also remember that UCF is winless and Oregon State and Arizona are weak defensively. It’s not like Stanford has put up big numbers against a series of stout defenses. Then again, I’m not sure UCLA qualifies as stout given the injuries.

3. The Cardinal’s streak of six straight 1,000-yard rushers ended last season, but Christian McCaffrey is on pace to join that club. How does he compare to past running backs of the Harbaugh/Shaw eras? Continue reading

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