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UCLA Coach Jim Mora says the Bruins need to find a way to finish games

UCLA Coach Jim Mora says the Bruins need to find a way to finish games
UCLA defensive lineman Matt Dickerson brings down Washington State quarterback Luke Falk during the second half of a game on Oct. 15. (Young Kwak / Associated Press)

To finish or be finished?

That is the question facing UCLA after a string of last-minute defeats has left it with a losing record more than halfway through the season.

The Bruins had two chances to drive for a winning score against Washington State last week and went 0 for 2. A late drive against Arizona State ended in an interception. A fumble on the final play against Stanford sealed defeat. Overtime against Texas A&M went poorly on offense and defense.

"Good teams finish," UCLA Coach Jim Mora said Wednesday, making one wonder where that leaves the Bruins.

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UCLA (3-4 overall, 1-3 in Pac-12 Conference play) has secured two of its three victories in blowout fashion heading into a game against No. 19 Utah (6-1, 3-1) on Saturday at the Rose Bowl. The other came after the Bruins built a 17-point lead against Brigham Young and withstood two Cougars touchdowns.

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To increase the chances of his team running a closeout special, Mora said he had emphasized competitive periods during practice between the first-string offense and defense.

"What I'm looking for is the competitiveness, the fight, the intensity and things like that," Mora said. "I thought it was excellent."

It may have helped that quarterback Josh Rosen was back at practice Wednesday after having missed the previous day, though Mora wouldn't divulge how involved Rosen was in running plays.

Mora said he did not expect to know whether Rosen could play against Utah until game day. The quarterback was sidelined last week by injuries to his lower body and the area around his throwing shoulder.

Thin blue line

UCLA offensive line coach Adriam Klemm acknowledged that his unit has underachieved, contributing to the epic struggles of the team's running game. What Klemm would not concede is that it's a matter of players recruited for a fast-paced offense not being suited to a more physically punishing style.

"We knew what we had going into it," Klemm said of players matching the team's change in philosophy. "You build the guys up, when you switch to a system you bulk them up differently, get them bigger and different things of that nature."

Klemm noted that center Scott Quessenberry had gone from 260 pounds to 312 but said mass did not matter as much as other factors.

"It's not about size or different things like that," Klemm said. "It's about physicality, technique, executing the scheme. There's so much left on the field in terms of, the plays are there, it's just about executing."

Among the biggest issues has been consistency among a line featuring four new starters after right tackle Kolton Miller was lost to a leg injury earlier this month. Second-string tackle Andre James regressed in his play last week, Klemm said, and some spotty production at guard prompted the Bruins to start Josh Wariboko-Alali against Washington State.

"We haven't done things well," Klemm said, "so [it's] just trying to find guys that can play up to the level and the standard that we want them to."

Miller is expected to remain sidelined against Utah.

Tough love

ESPN's cameras caught Mora berating freshman punter Austin Kent last week after the Bruins lost one yard on a punt. Mora said he wasn't upset so much by the punt as he was by Kent's not having made an effort to run after the ball and knock it out of bounds as it traveled backward.

"It came off his foot wrong into the wind and it was bad," Mora said. "The thing that irritated me was that he didn't make an effort and go down there—the ball was bouncing toward our goal line—and knock it out. That's what I was talking to him about."

Kent has averaged a disappointing 38.7 yards per punt, compounding his tendency to be hard on himself. Mora said he's tried to strike a balance between criticism and support.

"You love all these guys like they're your children and you want to see them have success," Mora said. "Sometimes you gotta be a little bit harsher with them than you would like to be and sometimes you have to love them up and have to help them maneuver their ways through some adversity."

Meadors back?

Defensive backs coach Demetrice Martin said cornerback Nate Meadors (groin) moved well in practice and was hopeful he could play against Utah after sitting out the previous two games.

ben.bolch@latimes.com

Twitter: @latbbolch

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