In a career that has spanned nearly three decades, there aren't many firsts left for UCLA coach Jim Mora. Hopefully the first he experienced last week will be the last of its kind.
Coping with the death of wide receiver Nick Pasquale, Mora said he did his best to prepare his team for the trip to Nebraska while also doing everything he possibly could for the emotional health of his players.
"It was very unique. I've never been in that situation before. I'm hopeful I'll never be in it again, and I wouldn't wish it on anybody," Mora said. "I just tried to do the best I could to balance being their coach, a sounding board for them, someone they could come and talk to and get prepared for Nebraska while coping with the contrasting emotions that they felt. It was nothing I would ever wish for anybody. But I will say this. The people, to me, that are really impressive in this is the Pasquale family. They are the ones who are really feeling the pain. They have been a pillar of strength."
The team attended Pasquale's memorial service in San Clemente on Sunday, which serves as an important step in the healing process.
"It was a beautiful ceremony," Mora said. "I think it helped our players to be there. They are still dealing with their emotions. But I think they are handling things very, very well, and this morning they seemed very focused on the task at hand, which is preparing for New Mexico State University."
After falling behind 21-3 in Lincoln, the Bruins erupted for 38 unanswered points en route to a 41-21 victory over No. 23 Nebraska. Despite the early deficit, Mora said no one was panicked at halftime. And he made zero adjustments to the game plan.
"I think what happened is we were extremely tight," Mora said. "I think our kids all wanted to do so well, and I think we were pressing. We weren't playing like we typically play, which is loose and fast with a lot of passion. I think there was something that was holding us back. We were able to put together a nice drive at the end of the first half and score a touchdown, and we kind of relaxed at that point.
"We went in at halftime, and there was a really good feeling in the locker room amongst our players. I think they recognized the fact that we weren't playing like we typically play. I'm not talking about execution. I'm talking about our mindset. We settled down, and we relaxed, and we put a smile on our face and we went out and played. There were no adjustments in terms of Xs and Os. It was just a mindset."
With a signature road win under their belts, the No. 13 Bruins return home this week to face a slumping Aggies squad that gives up a lot of points (47.3) and doesn't score many (16.3). That then begs the requisite "hangover" question.
"I think about it," Mora said. "I think it's our responsibility as a coaching staff to push these kids out of any hangover effect there might be. I think it's human nature when you come off something as emotional as we came off of last week. Obviously the death of Nick and dealing with those emotions, trying to balance that with preparing for Nebraska. Then going into Nebraska and getting a big win for this team, and then yesterday the service, which was very emotional for a lot of our kids. To come back and play a game, you can certainly understand where there might be a hangover, but we can't let that happen. Not if we're going to be the kind of team that we want to be."