LOS ANGELES – After a debut season full of successes, Jim Mora’s first bowl game as UCLA’s coach was undoubtedly his greatest failure.
Everything that could go wrong did for UCLA in last year’s Holiday Bowl matchup with Baylor.
A few minutes into the second quarter, the Bruins had already dug themselves into a 17-0 hole. UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley was sacked six times, as the offensive line collapsed around him. The run game managed a mere 33 yards, while Baylor ran over the defense for 306 yards rushing and five touchdowns. UCLA’s offense converted one third down in 17 tries.
By the time the Bruins found a rhythm, the game was virtually gone and Baylor won 49-26.
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In Mora’s first bowl experience since the 1983 Aloha Bowl — when he was a player for the Washington Huskies, who lost that game 13-10 to Penn State — his UCLA team also looked like it hadn’t been there before.
“It humbled us,” Mora said in advance of 9-3 UCLA’s Sun Bowl matchup with Virginia Tech (8-4) on Tuesday in El Paso, Texas.
“It created a real motivation going into the offseason. I think it’s carried through this season. Our guys are really focused on … trying to find a way to get win number 10.”
Keeping that focus over its allotted 15 bowl practices was the problem last season, which means there were changes this time.
Mora admitted last year’s bowl prep spent too much time on developing young players and not enough on actual preparation for Baylor. Thus preparation for Virginia Tech started earlier. But the important adjustments, Mora said, will be in the details.
“To me, it’s more just structuring the practices and getting the right mindset at the right time,” ex-Seahawks coach Mora said. “You’ve got a longer period of time between your last game and the next time you play.
“It’s gauging how much contact you need to be able to be ready the day of the bowl game. It’ll be a long time since they’ve tackled live. You have to be able to gauge that and stay healthy at the same time. But when you get right down to it, it’s still just a football game.”
Alas, it is the type of football game few UCLA teams have managed to win over the past two decades.
UCLA has four bowl victories since 1992, and since the last Sun Bowl appearance – a 2005 victory over Northwestern – the Bruins are 1-4.
Fourth-year junior lineman Xavier Su’a-Filo is the only player on UCLA’s roster to have played a significant role in a bowl victory, having started at tackle on the Bruins’ last bowl-winning team in 2009.
Given last year’s debacle, there is a sense things will be different in El Paso. Hundley insists this year’s team, despite being an all-around younger group, is more mature than the one that was blown out in San Diego last December.
“We just really have to dig deep in ourselves and understand this isn’t a vacation,” Hundley said. “This is a business trip. We’ve got to make sure we all know that.”
Michigan State suspends LB Bullough for Rose Bowl
EAST LANSING, Mich. – Michigan State has suspended senior linebacker Max Bullough for violating team rules, making him ineligible to play in Wednesday’s Rose Bowl game against Stanford in Pasadena, Calif.
In a news release, Spartans coach Mark Dantonio said Bullough — an All-Big Ten first-team selection — had been suspended for the rest of the season. He did not say what rules the former team captain violated.
“It is extremely disappointing for all parties involved,” Dantonio said.
Bullough had 76 tackles and 9.5 tackles for loss this season.
“Max will forever remain a Spartan and valued member in this team’s achievements,” Dantonio said in the statement.