Jim Mora Jr. let out a laugh when a reporter asked him Thursday how familiar he is with Mike Riley.

"With Mike? Ah, shoot, I feel like I've known him forever."

The UCLA head coach has one image in particular of Riley that sticks. It was back in 2002. Riley was spending a year as an assistant head coach with the New Orleans Saints, in a one-year transitional period before his second stint with Oregon State.

Mora remembers being in New Orleans for a game and seeing a man riding out of the locker room on his bicycle. Is that …? Yep, Riley. On his way home.

"I just thought that was really cool," Mora said. "To me, that kind of signifies Mike."

Since arriving at UCLA in 2012, Mora has coached just one game against Riley. Oregon State is in a separate division of the Pac-12. When the teams did meet in the Rose Bowl in 2012, two weeks after Nebraska lost there, Riley's Oregon State team pulled a 27-20 upset.

No hard feelings. Mora calls himself "a fan of Mike." Praises the Husker head coach's integrity.

The UCLA coach who beat the Huskers in 2012 and 2013 said he also is a fan of the Nebraska program he will face for the third time in four years when the schools meet in the Foster Farms Bowl on Dec. 26.

During a Foster Farms Bowl teleconference Thursday featuring both coaches, Mora told a story of how his late grandfather was a resident of Kearney. "A die-hard Husker." When he died, he left his property to family members, including Mora.

So Mora knows his share about Nebraska and the passion that surrounds Husker football, just as Riley is familiar from his Pac-12 experiences with the talent that fills UCLA's roster.

"Familiarity is one thing, but that knowledge can also be sobering," Riley said when asked if that experience helps in preparation. "This is a good football team."

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It's a football team led by true freshman quarterback Josh Rosen, who has thrown for 3,351 yards and completed 59.5 percent of his passes. He's got a Sunday arm.

A great release, according to Riley: "All those things that you look at it, it's pretty easy to see this guy's got a lot of stuff."

Mora doesn't want to overdo it with hype about his young QB, but does allow that "he's on his way" to a very good career.

"Like any true freshman, especially one that handles the ball every play, he has his ups and downs," Mora said. "But I think if we had anticipated him having the type of success he's had this year before the season, we probably would be dreaming a little bit."

Considering the Bruins were starting a true freshman quarterback and the defense didn't get out of September before losing three defensive starters, including linebacker/running back Myles Jack to a serious knee injury, he's proud of his team's 8-4 record.

"I think it says a lot about the young men in the program — their resilience, their toughness, their focus and their drive. And Josh has become a real leader on our team. They have a great deal of respect for him."

Respect is also something Mora has for Husker fans. One of the toughest moments for him as a coach came in 2013 when UCLA walk-on wide receiver Nick Pasquale was hit by a car and died the week of the Nebraska game.

When the Bruins took the field in Lincoln that Saturday, Nebraska fans held up banners in his honor, including one that read: "Two schools. One team."

Mora calls it "one of my most memorable experiences in college coaching," and praised the class and outpouring of love showed by Nebraska fans on a day their team lost by 20.

"That's something that will stick with me forever."

Reach the writer at 402-473-7439 or bchristopherson@journalstar.com. On Twitter @HuskerExtraBC.


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