UCLA remade itself to better match up with the Stanfords of college football.
The Bruins bulked up, adding hundreds of pounds of muscle, and changed their offense to more of a smash-mouth style.
Now they will try to emulate the Cardinal in an unintended way: rebounding from a season-opening loss on the road against an unranked team.
Stanford fell flat against Northwestern in its 2015 opener and everything turned out fine. The Cardinal won the Pac-12 Conference title and the Rose Bowl.
That might be the best the Bruins can hope for after a 31-24 overtime loss to Texas A&M on Saturday, though quarterback Josh Rosen didn’t seem to fear that his preseason ambitions of a national title had been foiled.
“I think we can accomplish everything we want to do,” Rosen said Monday.
UCLA would probably have to win the rest of its regular-season games and the Pac-12 championship to have any chance of making the College Football Playoff, a destination Stanford couldn’t reach last season after a November loss to Oregon saddled it with a second defeat.
Thus came perhaps the one upside to the Bruins’ lost weekend in College Station, Texas. The saying in college football is that if you’re going to lose, lose early, though some coaches prefer a more absolute approach.
“I subscribe to the theory of ‘Don’t lose,’” UCLA Coach Jim Mora said with a chuckle.
The Bruins’ setback against the Aggies represented the first season-opening loss in Mora’s nine years as a college and NFL head coach, putting him in an unfamiliar spot. He remained mystified by one of the Pac-12 game officials having touched UCLA center Scott Quessenberry late in the fourth quarter Saturday because it triggered a premature snap.
Guard Kenny Lacy had tapped Quessenberry all game as part of a silent count to indicate when to snap the ball, but the official’s contact prompted the center to release it before Rosen was ready. The ball hit the ground and Rosen retrieved it before throwing a pass that was intercepted.
“It’s befuddling to me that after an entire game in the most crucial moment the official would decide that he’s going to come up now and touch our center,” Mora said. “I’m trying to get an answer for that and hopefully I will.”
Most of UCLA’s wounds were self-inflicted. Receivers dropped passes, Rosen overthrew open teammates and the defense allowed Texas A&M’s running backs to escape containment on three long gains. There was also the matter of scoring only one touchdown in six trips inside the red zone.
Rosen may have tempted fate by waving his arms to provoke a crowd that had taunted him over a quote about the limits of fan noise. His gesture came shortly before the interception that ended the Bruins’ final drive of the fourth quarter.
“They were cheering their butts off and I was playing my butt off,” Rosen said, “so we both acknowledged that. But at the same time, if we would have come out on top in the end, I would have given them a little bit at the end, like a salute or something, but we didn’t.”
Rosen appeared to have mellowed a bit two days after his postgame rant about his three-interception performance. He even smiled while recalling a dinner he hosted for six offensive linemen last week, saying the restaurant treated players to two-for-one bowls after running out of chicken.
“Everybody’s gotten mad — I mean, you lost, you have to be mad,” Rosen said, “but I think we’re taking this sort of negative energy and using it in a positive direction.”
Mora said running back Nate Starks, who did not travel with the team to Texas A&M for an undisclosed reason, would practice this week and that his availability against Nevada Las Vegas on Saturday at the Rose Bowl would be a game-time decision. … Mora said an MRI exam on defensive end Takkarist McKinley’s groin revealed some swelling, and he was listed as day to day. The coach indicated that he was hopeful that defensive end Deon Hollins could return from the concussion that sidelined him last week. … Fullback Cameron Griffin has been cleared to play after being sidelined since the first week of training camp by a concussion. … Mora on highly touted freshman receiver Theo Howard, who did not play in the opener: “You can’t get everyone in, so he didn’t get in.”