Jim Mora's 5 Keys to Success at UCLA
The UCLA football program has slowly been descending in a downward spiral for the past decade. There are so many different reasons behind their decline, ranging from bad hires to no financial commitment from the university, to strict academic requirements on athletes.
When UCLA decided to fire Rick Neuheisel and replace him with Jim Mora Jr., there was a change in philosophy towards the program. Money is finally being put in to hire a quality coaching staff, facilities are being updated, and a renewed sense of commitment from the athletic director, Dan Guerrero, seems to have been installed out of necessity.
Guerrero is well aware that this hire could be his last if Mora doesn't turn around the program, and that his job security is very much dependent on him. Make no mistake, this is a huge point in time for the UCLA program and Mora has been given the responsibility of turning it around.
Let's look at the five most important factors to UCLA having a successful year on the football field for the 2012-13 season.
1. Culture Change
A new attitude
After struggling through a decade of mediocrity its time the boys in Westwood took it upon themselves to change the program and give the fans something to cheer about. With Jim Mora now at the helm, he is doing everything he can so far this spring to install a new toughness that fluctuates from top to bottom throughout the program.
Accountability is being stressed at a new level and guys who don't want to buy in will be shown the door.
Mora knows changing the culture at UCLA is one of the biggest, if not the biggest task at hand in creating a successful program once again. Excuses will not be tolerated anymore under this new staff and every position is up for grabs. Mora is creating competition in every area possible.
And that's exactly the way he wants and needs it to be.
2. Quarterback Play
Who can play quarterback?
Anyone who knows anything about UCLA football knows its been a struggle, to say the least, at the quarterback position over the past decade.
You have to go all the way back to 1999 when Cade McNown was selected in the first round by the Chicago Bears to find a UCLA QB taken in the draft.
From recruiting misses to poor offensive line play to injuries, there seems to have been a curse put on Bruin QBs the past 10 years.
Enter: Brett Hundley.
Touted as the "savior" of the program when he committed in 2011, Hundley redshirted his first year and now finds himself in a battle for the starting sport with Kevin Prince and Richard Brehaut. His development will be the focus of UCLA fans everywhere.
The Big Uglies
Offensive line play
Given the poor quarterback play, it's no surprise the offensive line falls in right behind as the number two concern going into next season. The two are clearly directly correlated, and have been the driving forces for UCLA's poor performance on the football field.
The good news for Bruin fans is that Xavier Sua' Filo returns after spending two years on his Mormon mission after being the best lineman on the team as a true freshman in 2009. He has the potential to be a high draft pick when it's his time to leave school, but there remain questions as to whether he will regain his old form after spending two years away on a mission.
Another key component to the line will be senior stalwart, Jeff Baca, who has been an anchor on a otherwise porous line, throughout his career. The emergence of talented redshirt freshmen Torian White at right tackle will play a huge role in determining the success of the offensive line this year as well.
4. Defensive Line Play
Can the D-line get pressure on the quarterback?
UCLA's defensive line is composed of a bunch of highly touted recruits, including Owamagbe Odighizuwa (pictured above to the left), who have yet to put it together on the college level.
Between the defensive prowess of Jim Mora and the experience of newly inserted defensive coordinator Lou Spanos, there will be a definite coaching upgrade at UCLA.
Guys like Datone Jones, Cassius Marsh, Owa, Brandon Willis and Iuta Tepa need to start living up to their billing if UCLA wants any chance of returning to the top-half of the conference.
Help is also on the way in form of 5-star recruit Ellis McCarthy, who will arrive this fall. In a conference filled with explosive offenses, getting pressure on the quarterback is always key to each team's overall success.
5. Where Are the Home Run Threats?
The emergence of some playmakers
One of the most frustrating aspects to UCLA fans about their football team has been the lack of a breakout performance at the skill positions. This is mainly because the Bruins have recruited the WR and RB positions fairly well over the past couple years, but due to the inept QB and offensive-line play, they have nothing to show for it.
Guys like Jordon James show flashes, but for one reason or another don't get the touches they need to show their skills. Under Neuheisel's staff there were some questionable personnel decisions and the move from the pistol offense to the spread under offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone has the younger players excited again.
It will be interesting to see who emerges this spring and if they can carry it over to the fall. Guys like James, Malcolm Jones, Devin Lucien, Damien Thigpen and Shaq Evans will all have their opportunity to shine under the new coaching staff.