A sluggish start, a torrid comeback and a disappointing near-miss conclusion — UCLA's Week 1, overtime loss at Texas A&M had a little of everything, save a Bruins' win.
"We've tried to develop a culture and a process where we take each week as its own entity, whether we win or lose the week before," UCLA head coach Jim Mora said. "It becomes very overwhelming... if you don't break it into a one-week endeavor. And our guys have adopted that."
UCLA comes home to the Rose Bowl for the first time in 2016 for a date with UNLV, a historically weak program on the upswing in its second year under head coach Tony Sanchez.
Sanchez came to UNLV from Las Vegas-based prep powerhouse Bishop Gorman — a risky hire to be sure, but one paying early dividends for the Rebels.
"Tony's doing an amazing job," Mora said, noting the Rebs are "sound, and they're disciplined."
UCLA's job Saturday is preventing the revamped Rebels from scoring a signature upset in their coach's second season at the Bruins' expense.
UNLV (1-0) at UCLA (0-1)
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 10 at 8 p.m. ET
TV: Pac-12 Networks
Spread: UCLA -26.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Starting faster
While Mora preaches a "one-week" style, he said that each Saturday offers "lessons, and you've got to apply those lessons to get re-focused on the task at hand."
Perhaps the biggest takeaway for the Bruins to glean from Week 1 is the importance of starting strong.
UCLA missed an opportunity on its very first possession at Texas A&M, setting the tone for three sluggish quarters out of the Bruins and a two-touchdown deficit in the final frame. The key to keeping an upset-minded upstart like UNLV from believing it can win is to step on the gas early.
The Bruins led 17-0 at halftime last season in Las Vegas, but deluged the Rebels with another 17 in the third quarter. An even faster starter this year should allow Mora to give the second- and third-string more reps in the second half.
2. Offensive line progress
Part of UCLA's slow start against Texas A&M was the result of the Bruins starting three new faces on the front five. Texas A&M's talented defensive front pressured quarterback Josh Rosen to the tune of five sacks and seven hurries.
Left tackle Conor McDermott played a solid game, but he's the most veteran of the front line. Another of the unit's upperclassmen, Scott Quessenberry, is just now getting back up to speed after shoulder surgery a year ago.
"For some reason, we gloss over Scotty. He didn't play last year at all," Mora noted.
Quessenberry and the rest of the line improved as the game went on, buying Rosen more time in the fourth quarter. Continuing along that trajectory is vital for UCLA this week, as it heads into a tough stretch with games against BYU and Stanford to finish out September. Both the Cougars and Cardinal employ aggressive, blitzing styles that caused the UCLA offense problems a season ago.
3. Devonte Boyd vs. UCLA secondary
UNLV features one of the best wide receivers in the nation going up against a premier secondary from UCLA. The Bruins' back-line might be the most talented in the Pac-12, and at Texas A&M, it made things hard on Aggies quarterback Trevor Knight. He completed less than 52 percent of his pass attempts and was intercepted once.
The return of Fabian Moreau gives UCLA a primary candidate to shadow Boyd, a big-play threat any time he gets his hands on the ball. Cutting him off is central to slowing the UNLV offense.
UNLV is a program headed in the right direction under Sanchez. The Rebels should contend for a bowl bid this season and make some noise in the Mountain West's West division. They do not match up particularly well with UCLA, though, and should expect an aggressive onslaught from the Bruins early to set the tone Saturday.
After losing Week 1, UCLA needs to make a statement in what is, on paper, the Bruins' most lopsided matchup of the season. UCLA should roll in a much-needed win before seeing BYU and Stanford back-to-back.