On Saturday, Jim Mora will take his No. 16-ranked UCLA team to Lincoln, where 81,067 Nebraska fans will be waiting for the Bruins at Memorial Stadium.
Still, facing the No. 23 Cornhuskers won’t be close to the hardest thing the Bruins will do this week. Not by a long shot.
Bruins receiver Nick Pasquale was killed Saturday night after being struck by a car. Mora and UCLA returned to practice Monday afternoon; Tuesday, Mora spoke on the Pac-12 coaches conference call about how to prepare for Saturday’s showdown in Lincoln.
The Bruins won’t — and can’t — simply move on.
“Football pales in comparison to what our players are going through,” Mora said.
Pasquale, a walk-on receiver, saw his first game action in UCLA’s opener against Nevada last month at the Rose Bowl. The redshirt freshman was walking in his hometown of San Clemente, Calif., late Saturday when he was struck by a car and killed.
Mora met with Pasquale’s parents on Sunday and has been in constant communication with his players.
“I’m making myself available to them 100 percent of the time,” Mora said. “I’m being real, being genuine, being honest and being there for them. Being available to them is most important.”
The days since Pasquale’s passing have been emotional.
Mora met with local reporters on Monday, but walked out of the room in the middle of his opening statement because a television technician was talking on his cell phone as Mora was speaking.
The coach later met with reporters on the team’s practice field. There, he said the team plans on wearing No. 36 emblems on the front of their jerseys for Saturday’s game at Nebraska. The Cornhuskers will also wear a No. 36 sticker on their helmets.
Coach Mike Riley of Oregon State spoke Tuesday about the difficulties of losing a player. He knows: Beavers defensive tackle Fred Thompson died in 2011 of an enlarged heart. The same ailment killed UA defensive end McCollins Umeh in 2004; the freshman collapsed and died during a voluntary team workout.
Oregon defensive back Todd Doxey drowned in 2008. In July, Utah defensive tackle Gaius “Keio” Vaenuku died in a car accident.
“Frankly, it can be overwhelming,” Riley said. “I don’t know if you can ever be prepared for that. Events like this really rock you on your heels. When something like this happens in a program — like what happened at UCLA and what happened to use a couple of years ago — it’s devastating.
“When it hits, it affects everybody and is tremendously hard to deal with.”
Mora must also get his Bruins (1-0) ready for a football game.
The Cornhuskers are 2-0 and coming off a 56-13 win over Southern Mississippi.
“I don’t know if we could find a more difficult situation,” Mora said. “We’re going into an environment with a ton of class, but it’s still going to be hostile. When the game starts, we want to win and they want to win. We have to handle that. We have to remain poised and overcome adversity. These are the things that define mental toughness.
“This is a tremendous test, and I’m excited and anxious to play this game with these kids.”