The World According to Mora

Quoting Chinese philosophers and being quite a philosopher himself, UCLA Head Coach Jim Mora is emerging as a unique personality with a distinct world view...

After apologizing for getting "all philosophical," Jim Mora quoted the Chinese general and military strategist, Sun Szu, who famously said, "Opportunities multiply as they are seized," which is exactly what his Bruins are currently going about doing.

After that sour hiccup in Berkeley, the Bruins have apparently flipped the season. While SC was blowing a 15-point lead at Arizona, then chasing Oregon's offense all over the Coliseum floor (to little effect), the Bruins were scoring a walk-off, dog pile victory in Tempe, to be followed by that amazing beat down of Arizona at the Rose Bowl. From the mosh pit back to significance. Of course we've become accustomed to that whiplash, roller-coaster effect, but this one feels like the real thing for the simple reason that the coaching staff and player personnel seem genuinely formidable compared to what we've been looking at for lo these many years… by itself, no great achievement.

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Saturday night it was an Arizona player instead of a Bruin that got wheeled off the field on a gurney, while another Wildcat, quarterback, Matt Scott, had to be helped off the field, head bowed, as though he'd been concussed for the second week in a row, which, as it turns out, he had. How many times in the last decade or so has UCLA found itself playing the role of the abused victim? Talk about the world turning upside down, all in a two-week period. "What's going on down there?"

Not to get "all philosophical" on you, but one concept of "absurdity" is commonly associated with Existentialism. And from my seat in the stands, or in front of my TV, football doesn't always make a lot of sense, especially when two teams of roughly comparable strength meet on game day with something large at stake. The fortunes of these sorts of games often become wildly random considering turnovers, penalties, injuries, straight nerves, glaring mismatches, missed assignments of every conceivable variety, etc.

In my admittedly incomplete understanding, Existentialism is primarily a 20th century philosophy for those of little faith. (That's me.) Supposedly, existence itself provides all the meaning one needs. Since nobody really knows what's happening – which includes, say, believers in Dianetics and those who follow the Tao of Colin Coward. You're responsible for figuring things out for yourself. Or in the words of M. Emmett Walsh in Blood Simple, "In Texas, you're on your own."

But enough of this frivolity.

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Today the Bruins find themselves in rarified air, which may or may not sustain by season's end. Remember, after Cal, the Bruins had once more fallen back into obscurity. At that point, very few expected anything like these last two weeks. I mean, did you seriously expect Brett Hundley to lead a near-perfect, last=minute, Elway-like, game-winning drive on the road; or expect Johnathan Franklin to slide through ASU's defensive front for those last precious eight yards when the Bruins were looking to center the field for their kicker: or for Ka'imi Fairbairn to banish all thoughts of failure and reward Mora for sticking with him, then crushing that short, last-second field goal straight between the uprights? (It looked as if it would've been good from 50). Think how nervous you felt just watching him coolly going about his job. And how many of us were expecting anything like 66-10?

You often hear people say: "I want to see an exciting, well-fought game going down to the final quarter, even the last minute, the last play." You can have it. Those thrill junkies likely don't have a team in the game. I'd rather see something like UCLA/Colorado in 1980, the Bruins doing a Chip Kelly, 56-0 number in the first half, four touchdowns in each quarter. For me, there's nothing like watching a great beat down on a beautiful fall afternoon.

Where Hundley had previously been inconsistent throwing downfield, on Saturday night he was throwing accurate lasers all over the place… one of them, to Joseph Fauria, from the right hash mark, across field, to the left sideline, not to mention a few other perfect touch passes; and Johnathan Franklin breaking Gaston Green's lifetime rushing record just three and half minutes into the game; and Jerry Johnson and Steven Manfro looking like the weapons they could be, and actually were, in spring and preseason. (Sorry, I should never refer to practice performances since they're basically meaningless, right?); and the entire Bruin defense for making Arizona's vaunted offense almost disappear. (Yeah, I'm sure Scott wasn't feeling perky on Saturday night… but I'm just sayin'.)

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For a brief moment, immediately following the Cal loss, I questioned whether my eyes had registered the truth (whatever that is) concerning Mora. How could UCLA lose to a team featuring Zach Maynard! I've decided that episode was just another "absurdity," not an illusion, and that these things happen as a matter of course and must be swallowed no matter how hard they are going down. (However, it would have helped having a decent secondary that day.) Anyway, let me close with a few recent "Mora-isms" that really struck me:

• "Every time you win a game and you keep yourself in the hunt, the next one gets bigger."

• "I don't believe in trap games. I think that's a term that the media and the fans use. Coaches don't use it. It's just getting onto the next game. I've never heard that word used with a team. I've never heard a coach use it with a team. I would never expect to hear a coach use it with a team, nor will I ever use it with a team."

• "Football games are chaotic. It's crazy down there. And you're competing against eleven other players who are highly skilled and have a scheme that they run designed to beat your scheme and so… sometimes it just comes together." Or flies apart?

• "Once you let temperature, environment, and the psyche of another team bother you, you've got issues. So we don't address it. It doesn't matter to us. It's not in our orbit. We don't care. We'll worry about the UCLA Bruins."

Of course, all this admiration could be off the table if the Bruins lose up in the Palouse. But I doubt the unthinkable would be caused by lack of focus, discipline, preparation, not doing your job, or any extraneous factors surrounding the game. My only fear is of a catastrophic failure of the secondary, which would then become one more "absurdity" in a long line of such things we've had to face and move past.

But, like you, I seriously doubt the Bruins lose this game upon which most of the fun and the challengers of the SC game almost entirely depend.


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