UCLA Coach Jim Mora takes level-headed approach to USC game

UCLA is treating this week before the USC game as business as usual, as Coach Jim Mora stays level-headed

There is no doubt that UCLA Coach Jim Mora can be volatile.

Mora chewed out his coaching staff during a practice in training camp two years ago, and he also has thrown his entire team off the practice field.

But his players shouldn't expect a fire-and-brimstone speech before Saturday's game at the Rose Bowl across crosstown rival USC.

"I don't know what that is," Mora said.

Mora said fiery pregame speeches are "overrated in general." More important, he added, are "the things you say to them through the course of the year, through the week, with the culture that you build. That's what sticks with them.

"You can give them a win-one-for-the-Gipper speech and the minute they get hit in the mouth all that does right out the door."

The week was framed as business-as-usual with hopes of offsetting the rivalry's passion. Mora told players to be cautious when talking to the media and avoid inflammatory posts on Twitter and Instagram.

Receiver Jordan Payton went so far as to refer to the Trojans as "our opponent" while speaking with reporters Monday. The Bruins were not going to get emotionally wound up — at least publicly — before the game.

"You don't change things," Mora said. "Our formula has proved to be fairly successful. You're always tweaking it as you go. But you don't change. You say the same things. You emphasize the same things. You prepare the same way."

There's a catch

Nelson Agholor should be on the minds of UCLA players. USC's standout receiver has 82 receptions for 1,079 yards and 10 touchdowns this season.

Bruins' defensive back Ishmael Adams compared him to former USC receiver Marqise Lee, now with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Adams' scouting report was brief: "Fast … fast … fast."

And Agholor is not a solo act. The Trojans also can throw JuJu Smith, George Farmer and Darreus Rogers at the Bruins, as well as Adoree Jackson, who plays defensive back and receiver.

"They've got a crew," UCLA defensive back coach Demetrice Martin said. "That's typical of a [Coach Steve] Sarkisian offense. He's going to have a lot of weapons and a quarterback who can get the ball to them."

Martin added: "It's the same old thing in the Pac-12 every week. We see a ton of good receivers."

Flag-free zone?

Anyone who has seen a Pac-12 Conference game this season has seen a bad call by the conference's referees … or two … or more.

Among the 19 most penalized major-college teams in the nation, seven are from the Pac-12 — UCLA and USC among them.

The Bruins cut their penalties down to four, for losses of 37 yards, in a 44-30 victory over Washington two weeks ago. The Trojans had 14 penalties for 159 yards in beating California, 38-30, last week.

"I hope penalties are not what decides this game," Mora said. "I hope it's the players on the field playing their hearts out. I hope the officials understand the significance of this game and let young men go out and decide the outcome."

chris.foster@latimes.com

Twitter: @cfosterlatimes

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