After Tuesday’s practice, coach Jim Mora dispelled one potential explanation for the Bruins’ recent success: witchcraft.
“There’s no magic here, you’ve just got to go out and execute and play good football,” Mora said before he reeled off the list of football coach cliches: play hard, make tackles, make blocks, protect the quarterback, get after the quarterback.
Surely it can’t be that easy. UCLA’s turnaround from last year has been remarkable, and the way the Bruins have appeared to remain at a high level and even improve every week is a far cry from the inconsistent play that plagued them in the past.
One factor is the team’s new mindset. Mora has brought an attitude of never being satisfied. He chewed out his team following their 44-36 win at Washington State rather than patting them on the back.
Going into Saturday’s game against USC, UCLA seems focused on what Mora deems “the process” rather than on the rivalry.
As senior safety Dalton Hilliard said, “This is a totally different team.”
“In terms of our mindset, I think we’re going to look at it the same way we have the earlier games this year,” Hilliard said of the team’s preparation for USC.
The Bruins’ defense will have a lot on its plate on Saturday, but redshirt sophomore linebacker Eric Kendricks has been devouring the recent challenges thrown his way.
Kendricks is the Pac-12 leader in tackles and has averaged 13 tackles a game for the last five games. Kendricks will be key to the Bruins’ success.
That means stopping Trojan receivers Marqise Lee and Robert Woods, something that is easier said than done.
Redshirt senior safety Andrew Abbott said most of the challenge of covering Woods and Lee comes from their versatility and their ability to break tackles.
“They’re good playmakers, they get the ball often in any situation. So (the challenge is) just moving around and locating them to the best of our ability, and making sure we know where they are,” Abbott said.
While Mora too emphasized the difficulty of preparing to play against Lee and Woods, he also sang the praises of freshman quarterback Jerry Neuheisel, who will play the role of Matt Barkley for the scout team in UCLA’s practices this week.
“Jerry Neuheisel has been a star all year on scout team. It’s fun to watch him work and adopt the personality of the quarterback we’re facing,” Mora said.
“I think he takes a lot of pride in it, and I think he pushes our defense and forces us to be right on it. He’s been a real asset to our defense this year.”