Mora Leads UCLA to Glory

The Bruins -- coaches and players -- saved their best game of the season for the crosstown rivals, 35-14...

It was a glorious night at the Los Angeles Coliseum.

With the blue Gatorade flowing over Jim Mora, and those beautiful Bruin blue uniforms spreading across the field as time expired, all was right with the world.

UCLA beat USC, 35-14, Saturday night, and held on to city bragging rights and the righteous knowledge that the good guys beat the bad guys for a second straight year.

As Mora said in the post-game interview, it was probably the biggest win in Mora's two years.

The Bruins hadn't put together a complete game all season, a game in which the coaching, playing and execution were all at an elite level for a vast portion of the 60 minutes.

It's fitting – and glorious – that UCLA saved that excellent performance for the USC game. It almost feels like it was done intentionally – that the UCLA coaches were sandbagging most of the season just to put one over on USC.

If that's the case it's completely worth it.

While the players are due a huge amount of credit for the win, you have to unequivocally give a massive amount of credit to the UCLA coaching staff. UCLA completely out-coached USC. It was one of the best coached games by a UCLA staff in 15 years.

It was truly a thing of beauty.

Let's get some of the fun facts out of the way:

-- The win makes Mora the winningest coach in UCLA history in his first two seasons, with 18 wins in two years, eclipsing Tommy Prothro (17 in 1965 and 1966).

-- It marks only the second time in UCLA history that a UCLA coach has beaten a ranked USC team in each of his first two seasons (also Tommy Prothro in 1965 and 1966).

-- It was the first time UCLA has beaten USC at that dark and dank Coliseum since 1997.

-- It's the first time UCLA has beaten USC in two straight years since 1998.

-- It was the biggest margin of victory for UCLA in the rivalry since 1970 (45-20).

-- Ed Ogeron is 0-1 against UCLA as USC's head coach. Even though, Pat, we are absolutely convinced that Orgeron is an excellent coach and the man perfect for the permanent head coaching job.

It's glorious that quarterback Brett Hundley saved up his best game of the season for USC. His passing numbers are a bit modest, 18 for 27 for 208 yards, but remember – don't be a stat scout. It was easily his best, most mistake-free, precise performance of the season. He threw perhaps one bad ball (the one he shorted to Shaquelle Evans), but was deadly accurate in UCLA's short, quick passing game. And his 80 yards rushing were critical for the win, and crushing to USC's defense. He is truly a magician when he takes off running, able to hop and juke his way to daylight and find that first-down marker or that goal line.

It helps when the game plan and the playcalling exploit Hundley's strengths. He is good at the short timing patterns, as we've seen at times, and saw in the first series of the second half against Arizona State last week. For almost the entire USC game, UCLA Offensive Coordinator Noel Mazzone called the game like that ASU series, consisting of short throws at an up-tempo pace. USC is a very good pass-rushing defense, which they showed in UCLA's first possession, but Mazzone quickly downshifted into the up-tempo, short-passing offense that completely countered USC's pressure. With USC dedicating so many players to the pass rush, UCLA's receivers were able to catch the ball underneath and get in one-on-one situations. So the Trojans had to adjust, back off from the pressure, and that then gave Hundley time to calmly execute more pass plays down the field. Hundley has had an issue getting jittery with an aggressive pass rush, but the short, underneath and quick out routes got him in a rhythm and gave him confidence in his young, patchwork offensive line, and he was clearly in his best groove of the season. It was an excellent game plan coupled with excellent playcalling, that vastly minimized Hundley's weaknesses and played to his strengths.

You have to cite some specific playcalls that were, well, glorious. After UCLA went to its heavy formation on a fourth-and-three and was stopped, you would have thought that it was time to use the heavy look as a decoy, which Mazzone then did later in the game. He bootlegged Hundley for a touchdown out of it, beautifully. UCLA actually utilized a real read option, and Hundley read it and executed it well, pulling it back and running for a sizeable gain. Defensive end Eddie Vanderdoes running the ball and plowing for a touchdown was particularly sweet, and had to be for him since he was once a verbal commitment to USC.

It, of course, makes you wonder what the offense – and Hundley – might have been like all season if the fast-paced version that utilizes the short-passing game had been featured like this. But no matter. When you do it so effectively against USC it practically makes up for any previous playcalling transgressions.

And you now have the blueprint for success with Hundley as your quarterback next season.

If we're giving out offensive game balls to the UCLA offensive coaching staff and Hundley, the UCLA offensive line deservedly gets one also. After Caleb Benenoch was ejected in the first quarter for throwing a punch, and Ben Wysocki replaced him at right tackle, there couldn't have been one Bruin fan anywhere on the globe who though the offensive line would put in the performance it did. They made the USC defensive line, the one that had shut down so many rushing attacks this season and seemed like a wave of red hitting opposing quarterbacks, unrecognizable. It was almost as if UCLA's offensive line had dealt with so much injury and adversity, losing another offensive lineman was nothing. Heck, plug in Aramide Olaniyan and they'll do fine. Wysocki held his own against star USC defensive lineman Leonard Williams, and UCLA true freshman left guard Scott Quessenberry timed it well to have the best game of his freshman season. Quessenberry had the lead block on so many plays that sprung many ballcarriers. USC had two sacks, but almost never got close enough to sniff Hundley most of the night. How is that possible, really? UCLA was playing three guys on the offensive line that, truly, didn't belong there this season, going up against the USC defensive line that was 24th in the country with 33 sacks on the season and wreaked havoc on the offensive lines of the Pac-12. It was a little miraculous, but it was also due to that exceptional game plan – not allowing USC enough time to get to the quarterback and creating lanes for Hundley to tuck and run.

A standout performance came from tailback Paul Perkins, who was greatly effective catching the ball out of the backfield on swing passes, getting three receptions for 79 yards, leading UCLA receivers.

On the other side of the ball, UCLA's defense put in a great performance as a unit, limiting USC's offense to just 314 yards. It, most importantly, got stops when it needed to, and kept USC to just 7 points in the second half. USC was able to run the ball fairly well, as you expected going into the game, but its 140 rushing yards wasn't back-breaking. UCLA Defensive Coordinator Lou Spanos conceived of a good game plan that contained and absorbed, for the most part, USC's running game, and didn't allow USC's passing game to get behind his defense. He also conceived of some new blitz packages that we don't think we've seen all season, and USC didn't appear to have seen on tape. Spanos also was aggressive in calling for the extra pressure, and it paid off early, keeping USC quarterback Cody Kessler from starting off in any kind of rhythm. When USC adjusted, and compensated for Spanos' blitzes, picking them up more effectively, he counter-adjusted and dropped more defenders into coverage. Spanos especially gets a huge amount of credit for being able to make up for missing his starting cornerback, Fabian Moreau – when his defense is going up against two highly potent receivers in USC's Marqise Lee and Nelson Agholor.

Anthony Barr, of course, had a big game, and made some big plays -- and perhaps the biggest of the game when, in pure Barr fashion, in the fourth quarter he dipped around the offensive tackle and poked the ball out of the hand of Kessler for a fumble. He was clearly getting held all night, but still had a huge impact on the game, especially after USC lost its starting tackle, Aundrey Walker.

The defensive star of the game, though, was defensive lineman Cassius Marsh, who might have saved the performance of his career for his last regular season game – against the dreaded crosstown rival. Marsh, on consecutive plays, blew up USC's offensive line for two sacks. He beautifully sniffed out a screen and blew it up. He held up his blocker a couple of times and contained USC's ballcarrier, and he recovered the fumble Barr caused. For a player who had had some questionable moments at UCLA, it was particularly satisfying to see him go out in his career like this.

Special teams played a huge role in the game, for a second straight week. Not only did USC's punter set up UCLA with a short field a couple of times with some shanks, Ishmael Adams, again, gave the UCLA offense a short field with some uncanny returns.

We don't want this to go to his head, but he has a pretty developed sense of humility, so we can safely say the star of the game was Mora. Yeah, we've heard that it's not about Xs and Os, but Jimmys and Joes, but it's also about leadership, character and the spirit of your head coach. You haven't seen too often when players and coaches are lining up in the last seconds of the game to get a personal hug from the head coach. You haven't seen too many times when a coach is doused with Gatorade and then he does a "Jump! Jump!" like he's in a Kris Kross video. The personality that comes out from Mora, like in the post-game, on-field interview, when he is as excited as a kid himself and tells the interviewer politely that he just wants to go celebrate with his players and the fans, is so genuine and infectious. You had to think there were so many parents – those of recruits and not – who turned to their kid while sitting on the sofa in their living room watching Mora in that interview and said, "I'd like you to play for a guy like that."

Nothing against Hundley, but it's clear who the true savior of UCLA football is now.


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