The battle of the banners. The banner bowl. The sky-valry match.
It’s possible nothing could get the angriest, most vocal Bruin fans – the ones who paid thousands of dollars to fly messages of “NO MORA” over the Rose Bowl before Saturday’s game – on board with keeping coach Jim Mora around.
— Thuc Nhi Nguyen (@thucnhi21) November 12, 2017
But there’s one thing that should: a win over USC.
It might all be a moot point – considering his $11 million buyout, Mora’s job might be safe regardless of how the rest of UCLA’s season shakes out.
What’s at stake, though, is how that sits with Bruin fans, and a win over the Trojans would provide a healthy dose of ammunition for the largely silent but definitely existent pro-Mora crowd.
I can picture a new banner, floating across the sky above the Rose Bowl.
“6 W’S BOWL GAME BEAT SC DESPITE INJURIES!”
As messages with 45-character limits go, it’s pretty convincing.
That’s what makes Saturday’s game more meaningful than an average rivalry game. It will go a long way in determining the fan base’s sentiments toward Mora.
By itself, the Victory Bell provides job security. No UCLA football coach has been fired in the past 40 years after beating USC.
This week’s game is even more consequential, though – a win would clinch a bowl appearance and ensure Mora finishes this regular season with a higher winning percentage at UCLA than any of the Bruins’ previous three coaches produced in their tenures.
Most importantly, it would also qualify this season as a success.
Year-ending injuries to their top-two receiving options, shorter-term absences of over half of the defensive starters and a midseason concussion suffered by the starting quarterback and best player on the team – if the Bruins can overcome all that to reach a bowl game by upsetting a more talented USC team ranked No. 11 in the country, it would be tough to argue this was a bad year from a coaching standpoint.
If you think I’m an apologist, I’m sorry.
There are many who feel that junior quarterback Josh Rosen’s midseason injury last year became an excuse for a 4-8 finish by a team that wouldn’t have been much better even with its starting quarterback. I’m sure those people are frustrated to hear injuries invoked again this year to brighten the assessment of the campaign.
Were UCLA to stall out around four wins again – and they already have five – it would be fair to dismiss injuries as a poor excuse.
But the Bruins’ injury toll has been significant this year, certainly enough to qualify a six- or seven-win season as a success.
I know there are legitimate arguments to let Mora go, ones like sliding attendance numbers, a rash of decommitments and a fat zero in the conference titles column.
But coaches at UCLA basically have three responsibilities: have a strong season overall, beat USC and keep your players out of Chinese prison.
Barring unforeseen circumstances, a win Saturday would mean Mora had achieved all three.
Put that on a banner.