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The UCLA Bruins go for something that has eluded them for more than a decade on Saturday: A road win against Cal.
The last time the UCLA Bruins beat the California Golden Bears in Berkeley was 1998, and the years between then and now probably feel like an eternity for UCLA fans. The program is on its third head coach, compiling an almost perfectly mediocre record of 89-88 since that 28-16 win over Cal. But now it's Jim Mora's team, and maybe-even-please-please-please the dawn of a new era in Westwood.
Speaking of Mora, the hot story of the week hasn't been what the Bruins are doing to prepare for Cal, but instead Mora's dressing-down of a sports information assistant who bore some responsibility for allowing a camera crew to set up next to a private practice. Every Day Should Be Saturday is of the opinion that this is Not A Nice Guy Jim Mora doing what's expected of him, while the folks at Bruins Nation maintain that it's a hack job by the LA Times. I'm not sure where things stand, but I'm also not sure what cussing out a PR lackey accomplishes. Taking the Bruins Nation idea that the SI department is completely incompetent and Mora was truth-telling, what does doing it in public get you? What does it demonstrate to the team? Wouldn't it be better handled in private? Taking the LA Times' perspective, all of those questions still apply, only they should be read louder, and in a more incredulous tone.
Beating Cal won't give Jim Mora a free pass to do whatever he wants, but it's a good start. If we know one thing about the world of sport, it's that pretty much anything is OK if you're winning. Maybe Mora's mistake is just getting ahead of things. It's one thing to go spending your wins at the Jerk Store, it's another to go shopping there on credit.
As for actual football matters, the UCLA/Cal game is likely to come down to defense. If Cal can shut down Johnathan Franklin like Oregon State did, the Bruins are in for another long night and more ugly questions. If Franklin can get going and the offense can establish a decent tempo, they've got a good chance at another decisive win. Alternately, if Franklin has trouble getting started, there's always an opportunity for Brett Hundley to move from a potential phenomenon to the real thing. That won't be easy; Cal is averaging giving up just over 30 points per game, but Mora spent the week praising their energy on defense, and the variety of looks they can show.
UCLA's defense is ranked 35th in points allowed, and I'm interested to see how far not-world-beaters-but-hey-good-enough can take the Bruins. Damien Holmes is consistently good fun to watch at linebacker, and if Jordan Zumwalt can return for Saturday's game then the front seven could really be something. That's going to be key, because (as was also demonstrated vs. Oregon State) if UCLA can't bring pressure, the opposing quarterback will have time to pick the secondary apart. To put it charitably, Aaron Hester and Sheldon Price have been inconsistent this season. A big step up from them would help UCLA in a big way.
Cal is 1-4 and looking at their worst start in years. A cornered, desperate team is a serious thing, and we can only hope that some of the screaming Mora is doing is about taking Cal seriously on Saturday.