The Bruins’ inability to stop the run hasn’t exactly made Jim Mora happy.
“It kills me. It rips my guts out,” the coach said.
“In my career, I’ve taken great pride in being able to stop the run and historically been a pretty good defensive coach when it comes to stopping the run, and obviously right now I’m a really bad coach at stopping the run. And it’s disconcerting.”
Mora’s opponent-points-per-game numbers sat in the mid-20s in each of his first five seasons as UCLA football’s (3-3, 1-2 Pac-12) head coach. This year, that figure has climbed to 40.5, the sixth-highest mark in the country.
To Mora – a former NCAA walk-on linebacker – the culprit is obvious.
“Right now, as you know, as everyone knows, as evident to the entire world,” Mora said, “It’s the run.”
Before this season, Mora’s Bruins gave up an average of 170.2 yards on the ground over the last half-decade. That average has soared to 313 in 2017.
But it’s not just the defense that’s culpable for the opponents’ prolific scoring. UCLA ranks 117th among FBS teams when it comes to turnovers lost.
“Turnovers are the great neutralizers that allow worse teams to beat better teams,” said junior quarterback Josh Rosen. “If you can take the ball away, then it doesn’t matter how many yards they have.”
Rosen’s 2,354 passing yards still have him ranked third in the nation – even after a bye week and his only sub-300 yard game of the season – but he’s also thrown eight picks in six games, tying him for seventh in the country.
Following last Saturday’s loss, one of offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch’s criticisms had to do with Rosen’s failure to give up on plays.
“We’ve gotta learn to throw the ball away when we’re out of the pocket,” Fisch said. “You know, that’s OK too. It’s OK to throw the ball away and have another down.”
Though Rosen’s tendency towards taking sacks and making risky throws has been a point of concern, the quarterback indicated Wednesday that the kink isn’t one that can be easily ironed out during practices.
“That’s more of a game-time thing,” Rosen said. “In practice, ideally you’re hitting the open guys, but you’re always working on it.”
The real Rosen
When asked about his leadership style, Rosen said he valued authenticity over more of a “rah-rah” style of motivation, characterized by uncritical enthusiasm or excitement.
“I think a lot of the times (teammates) can see through things that aren’t authentic,” Rosen said. “I feel like I try to be as authentic as I can and give everything I can on the field. Hopefully my teammates will rally around that and play as hard as they can for each other.”