UCLA taking a different approach to bowl preparation

UCLA Coach Jim Mora says last year's bowl experience gives him a better feel for how the Bruins should prepare for this year's game at the Sun Bowl against Virginia Tech.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Things are going to be different for UCLA this bowl season.

And that doesn’t just mean the sombrero that Hyundai Sun Bowl officials will place on Coach Jim Mora’s head when the team arrives in El Paso on Dec. 26.

UCLA was off to the Holiday Bowl a year ago to finish Mora’s first season in style. Instead, Baylor administered a 49-26 thrashing.

So there will be changes to how the Bruins approach their game against Virginia Tech on Dec. 31.

“We want to put ourselves in a position to win,” Mora said. “We’re still formulating our practice schedule, but as we go through how we’re going to install things and what’s the point of emphasis, we’re going to think carefully on last year.”


One thing that should help is momentum. UCLA went into the Holiday Bowl on a two-game losing streak, and had missed out on a spot in the Rose Bowl. Stanford beat the Bruins, 27-24, in the Pac-12 championship game.

This season, UCLA is fresh off a 35-14 whipping of rival USC.

“That was my first bowl experience since I was a player at Washington and it was all brand new to me,” Mora said. “I think having that experience will help. I have a much better feel how the week should be formatted. How we operate, how we keep our players’ focus and still have some fun so they feel rewarded for the season we have had.”

The Bruins, who are 9-3, will have a chance to win a 10th game for the first time since the 2005 season.

“Getting that 10th win is really important to these guys, especially the seniors,” Mora said. “That would be the cherry on top for their careers. It would be an accomplishment, showing the program is moving forward.”

The Bruins got that 10th win in 2005 by beating Northwestern, 50-38, in the Sun Bowl. UCLA lost to Wisconsin, 21-20, in the 2000 Sun Bowl and beat Illinois, 6-3, in El Paso in 1991.


This will be the first meeting between UCLA and Virginia Tech.

“I’ve seen them throughout the year and know they were having a great season,” said Virginia Tech Coach Frank Beamer, whose team is 8-4. “We got to get the scouting department rolling and find out more about them.”

Twice in a lifetime

This is the second time that Virginia Tech has played in the Sun Bowl. The Hokies, in what was their first bowl game, lost to Cincinnati, 18-6, in the Sun Bowl on New Year’s Day, 1947. It is still called the worst playing conditions in the game’s history, with temperatures below freezing.

Beamer was born Oct. 18, 1946, nearly three months before that game.

“I’ve always wanted to get back to the Sun Bowl,” he said.

Don’t’ need a weatherman

UCLA will begin practice for the bowl game Saturday. The team went through a light workout this past Saturday, though the weather — 50 degrees and rainy — apparently was not in the brochure during Brett Hundley’s recruiting visits.

Joked Hundley: “They pitched 80 degrees and a summer breeze every time I was here. We got this.”

UCLA players have finals this week.

Souvenir collector

The game ball from UCLA’s victory over USC was last seen secured in the arms of Hundley as he ran off the field. It doesn’t appear that he will be giving it back.

“That ball is already home in Arizona, in the trophy case,” he said.

Barr honored

Linebacker Anthony Barr was named the winner of the Lott IMPACT Trophy as the nation’s top defensive player.

Barr is the first UCLA player to win the award. He leads the Bruins with 20 tackles for losses. He also has 10 sacks, five forced fumbles and 62 total tackles.

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