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Column: Jim Mora’s flip response to Josh Rosen’s injury shows a UCLA football program adrift

UCLA Coach Jim Mora watches as quarterback Josh Rosen throws a pass during a training camp practice on Aug. 15.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

The words that came out of Jim Mora’s mouth were as incredible as the depths UCLA has reached this season.

“Josh who?” Mora asked.

That was how Mora responded Thursday night to reporters asking about UCLA shutting down quarterback Josh Rosen for the remainder of the season.

Josh who? Really?

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The Bruins have already lost six games, the most recent by a score of 20-10 to Colorado on Thursday. They have lost their star quarterback, who could be undergoing a season-ending surgical procedure next week. And now their head coach has evidently lost his ability to remain civil in public.

What was already a disappointing season is in danger of turning into a full-blown embarrassment.

“We’re talking about Colorado here, so if you want to talk about Colorado, we can do that,” Mora snapped.

Mind you, it was Mora who told a television sideline reporter during a pregame interview that Rosen would remain sidelined until next season. That revelation came after weeks of Mora refusing to rule out a return by his star quarterback.

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Mixed signals have been coming out of Westwood the entire season, raising questions about the direction the Bruins are headed.

The optimistic view is that the situation isn’t nearly as hopeless as their 3-6 record indicates; they have been a play or two away from winning each of the games they lost. Their defense has improved under coordinator Tom Bradley. Their lack of scoring could be attributed to their transition to a pro-style offense, something that can take multiple seasons to implement if the right personnel isn’t already in place. (Of course, if it wasn’t, why do it?)

And with UCLA making a long-term commitment to Mora and close to opening an on-campus training facility, the school has something resembling an infrastructure that could be the foundation of future success.

But the reality is that UCLA has a 1-5 record in conference games, which is unacceptable even for a program with relatively modest expectations.

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UCLA isn’t USC, where it’s a minor crisis any time the team isn’t contending for a national championship. This is a school that rewarded Mora with a contract extension after an unremarkable 8-5 season.

Field a reasonably competitive team, don’t shame the program, and the head coach at UCLA generally doesn’t come under any real scrutiny.

That the voices of disapproval are as loud as they are now speaks to what a mess this season has become.

And to think this was supposed to be a breakout season for the Bruins.

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The degree to which the offense has struggled is a sign Mora made serious miscalculations about the capabilities of his players. The Bruins don’t have the blockers necessary in a power offense, not on their line, not in their backfield and not at tight end.

The scheme was supposed to improve the team’s ground game, only for the opposite to happen. The Bruins rank last in the country in rushing, averaging 78.8 yards per game.

The new offense also placed Rosen directly in harm’s way.

Even in a Week 5 victory over Arizona that counted as his best performance of the season, Rosen was under constant pressure. When Rosen threw, he often did so as he was bracing to be hit or while dodging a tackler diving in at his ankles.

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He played his last game a week later.

His replacement at quarterback, Mike Fafaul, revealed after the Colorado game that Rosen would have shoulder surgery next week. In other words, the pro-style-offense experience might have compromised Rosen and the Bruins beyond this season.

The news about Rosen wasn’t the only dispiriting development of the week.

The dropped passes by receivers in Colorado were nothing new. But the Bruins compounded their problems with a couple of major breakdowns on special teams. They missed three field goals. They also committed 13 penalties, which cost them 95 yards.

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Suddenly, they find themselves in a position where they have to win their three remaining games just to be bowl eligible.

This isn’t the time for the head coach to be sarcastically responding to perfectly reasonable inquiries about his best player. Some fans might be amused by that kind of prickliness if the Bruins were ranked in the Top 5 nationally. Against this backdrop, there’s nothing cute about it.

Mora should know better. And if he doesn’t, he better learn soon. Otherwise, people around Westwood might soon be asking, “Jim who?”

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dylan.hernandez@latimes.com

Follow Dylan Hernandez on Twitter @dylanohernandez


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