Midseason report: UCLA

The first half of the season has been anything but routine for the UCLA Bruins. Tragedy struck early with the death of wide receiver Nick Pasquale, forcing the Bruins to come together in a way football can’t replicate.

Head coach Jim Mora handled the situation with honor and class, being emotionally available for his players while letting football serve as a necessary distraction, but not a priority. As a result, the Bruins are 5-0 with a marquee road win over Nebraska.

Quarterback Brett Hundley looks more polished than he did last season, a clear indication that he has a fuller understanding of Noel Mazzone’s offense. And the questions in the running game appear to have been cleared up by Jordon James, who despite missing last week has rushed for 463 yards and five touchdowns in four games with an impressive per-carry average of 6.3 yards per handle.

The second half sets up as a tough haul for the Bruins, who have already gone through both bye weeks. They close with seven straight games -- four of them on the road -- including back-to-back road trips starting this week with No. 13 Stanford and then at No. 2 Oregon. A two-game stretch at home vs. Washington and Arizona State will go a long way toward finalizing the league pecking order before they close out the year with a trip to USC.

With a 5-0 mark and a top-10 ranking, the season couldn't have started any better for UCLA on the field. Off the field, Mora has done an admirable job of celebrating the life of a beloved player while giving his team some lessons about character that the players will carry far beyond their college days.

Offensive MVP: Brett Hundley. He looks like a much more efficient quarterback than last season. Hundley is more poised in the pocket, going through all of his progressions and is making better decisions. He’s completing 68.1 percent of his throws with 12 touchdowns to 4 interceptions, and he’s also rushed for 260 yards and three scores.

Defensive MVP: Anthony Barr. As expected, Barr has emerged as a front-runner for the Pac-12’s defensive player of the year. He’s posted 26 tackles in five games with 4 sacks and a league-high 10 tackles for a loss.