UCLA suffered tough losses to Stanford and Oregon in the past two weekends. As the Cardinal and Ducks will square off next week in what appears to be the Pac-12 game of the year, it made sense to ask Bruins coach Jim Mora what he thinks about the matchup.
That's exactly what a reporter did on the Pac-12 coaches teleconference. Things started reasonably when Mora said, "It's going to be a great one."
He then added, "We've got to get back on track. Colorado's a much-improved team."
Mora then began to talk about Buffaloes freshman quarterback Sefo Liufau, with whom he is familiar because his "best friend's son played with him" at Bellarmine Prep in Tacoma, Wash.
Now he might not have heard the question correctly, thinking he was asked about the Bruins' matchup Saturday against Colorado in the Rose Bowl, but Mora is a pretty meticulous interview subject, a guy who frequently quibbles with the premise of an inquiry or asks questioners to clarify their meaning.
So if we can be so bold as to attribute an ulterior meaning and motive -- and you just know we will -- Mora was making clear his team is looking forward, not back.
"You just turn the page and go," he said. "But you learn the lessons as you turn the page."
It's not even about looking forward. It's about the present moment. What was most meaningful for Mora was a great practice Tuesday morning that showed him his team has shaken off a 24-10 loss at Stanford on Oct. 19 and a a 42-14 defeat at Oregon last Saturday.
"You've got to narrow the focus," he said. "You've got to boil it down to having a great practice, a great meeting, great focus. You've got to learn the lessons that were taught in the losses and apply them going forward."
The most obvious issue at Oregon was the fourth quarter. The Ducks only led 21-14 entering the final 15 minutes, but rolled up 21 consecutive points to turn the game into another blowout victory. The Bruins defense had done a good job containing quarterback Marcus Mariota and the high-powered Ducks offense for much of the night, but they seemed to run out of gas.
"I'm not so sure it was just our defense as opposed to our entire team," Mora said. "We just didn't execute as well as we are capable of in the fourth quarter. They were put in some tough spots. They were on the field a lot."
The Bruins offense struggled because there was little to no passing game. Quarterback Brett Hundley completed just 13 of 19 passes for 64 yards with two interceptions. It was his second consecutive subpar performance, though those games were against the Pac-12's two best defenses.
Mora said there were more issues with the offense than Hundley, the larger problem being three true freshmen starting on the offensive line because of a rash of injuries. That complicated Hundley's job. It also probably was a bit of a distraction.
"When there's some uncertainty in [a quarterbacks's] mind as to who's playing in front of them -- it's a new group with a lack of continuity -- then that's going to affect you mentally," Mora said.
Yet those young linemen handled themselves fairly well. The Bruins' previously struggling running game, in fact, had a good day, producing 219 yards on 4.2 yards per carry. That positive takeaway should help Hundley to develop faith in his protectors, which then should help the offense down the season's home stretch.
"I think Brett's confidence will naturally grow just from the fact the he now understands he's got an offensive line in front of him that's played together a little bit and is showing great improvement," Mora said.
The Bruins are still in good shape in the South Division. If they win out, they will be the division champions. Of course, the same can be said for Arizona State, which is in first place with a 3-1 conference record. The Bruins and Sun Devils play in the Rose Bowl on Nov. 23.
Winning the South would mean a shot at the North Division champion in the Pac-12 title game, likely the winner of the Oregon-Stanford game.
At that point, you'd think Mora would be more than happy to talk about the Ducks or Cardinal again.