UCLA and the grind of inconsistency

Stephen Dunn

The UCLA Bruins are 5-2 as they reach their bye week, and the path to that record hasn't been a straight one, and the up-and-down run of the season has a way of wearing on fans.

UCLA stands 5-2 at their bye week, which would be a respectable mark in some circumstances, but doesn't seem to cut it for many fans of the Bruins. The 2-2 Pac-12 record isn't helping. There's something immensely frustrating about the team's two losses, coming stuck between wins, sometimes dominant ones. They leave the team without any momentum, moving from one game to the next without a clear sense of what's happening, or why.

Consider the two losses. The first, a 27-20 defeat to Oregon State at home, saw their most effective offensive weapon, Johnathan Franklin, almost completely neutralized. The Beavers shut them down at the line, and UCLA managed 3 points in the first 29 minutes of the game. Compare that to the loss at Cal, where Franklin picked up 103 yards and averaged 6.9 yards per carry. Franklin was fine against Cal, it was Brett Hundley throwing four interceptions and the team getting flagged 12 times that cost them the game. Consistency in losses would give fans of the team a clear idea of what they need to improve, but instead Bruin fans are left to tune in to each game wondering if UCLA will have found something new with which to sink their own ship.

There are some themes to the team's struggles. They're 39% on third down. The secondary regularly hamstrings the defense as the team averages more than 300 passing yards yielded per game. Turnovers are an issue, with the team having only one game where they didn't hand the ball over, and two where they gave it up five or more times. But none of these things can be nailed down as making a difference for the team: They were 2-for-11 on third downs in the season-opening route of Rice, the game that saw them give up the most yards through the air was a win, and the five turnover performance that came against Houston was very nearly a shutout win.

Ultimately, this comes down to Jim Mora. There have been some dustups between the local media and both Los Angeles football teams this season, the latest being Mora's forceful removal of a camera crew from a practice. He's considerably more polite in his press conferences and post-conference chats, but he seems to be offering vague statements and analysis-by-way-of-tautology. When asked about the penalties and mistakes made against Cal, his response was simply that that's the game of football. It sure is, coach, but so is running downhill and the pick-six. What are you doing to make sure some of those things happen over others?

It's Mora's prerogative to respond to questions with fluff. As I've mentioned before, everything is forgiven if you win. A persistent criticism of Mora from the folks at Every Day Should Be Saturday is that he starts hot and finishes cold. His tenure with the Falcons fits that pattern. The team went 11-5 in his first season, only to find themselves 7-9 two years later, finishing as the only team in the NFL with a pair of 1000 yard rushers and a losing record. His tenure with the Seahawks didn't decline so much as flat line, so it's tough to see that as a failure to finish. The Bruins started 3-0 and have gone 2-2 since. Sometimes things work, and the team has an explosive offense and a competent defense. Sometimes things don't work, and they spend all night making "Who, me?" gestures at the ref.

UCLA's schedule only gets harder. Fans want to know if they have something to look forward to or if they should steel their hearts for more disappointment. Unfortunately, it seems we'll just have to wait and see.

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