UCLA defense vs. Stanford offense

The Bruins’ defense has been a work in progress all season, a project that’s trended upward. UCLA has been fairly stout against the run (fourth in Pac-12), but the secondary has been a point of concern all season long. Last week was somewhat of a redemption outing for the pass defense, although the game-opening interception was gift-wrapped by Matt Barkley.

Most encouraging is that USC receivers — thought to be a nightmare matchup for the Bruins — didn’t end up with particularly eye-popping numbers. Marqise Lee grabbed nine catches for 158 yards and a score, but next-best was Robert Woods with five for 68. Stanford doesn’t have the type of gamebreakers that particularly trouble UCLA cornerbacks, but it counters with 6-foot-6 tight end Zach Ertz — who has almost twice as many catches (58) as anyone else on his team.

Stepfan Taylor is a very effective runner, but also isn’t known as a big-play back. The Cardinal’s leading rusher only averages just 4.74 yards per carry, good for 19th among all Pac-12 players. Five times this season, UCLA has surrendered over 150 yards on the ground. Four of those times, the opposing team had two backs who averaged over 5.00 per carry.

Quarterback Kevin Hogan, surprisingly, has already become his team’s second-leading rusher with a paltry 185 yards — 134 on 26 carries in his past three games. This speaks both to the Cardinal’s reliance on Taylor as well as its offensive line. Hogan hardly has the athleticism of Brett Hundley, who has run 34 times for 15 yards in his past three games. Hundley, though, has lost 80 yards on 10 sacks. Hogan has taken just five for a loss of 23 yards. It’s up to UCLA’s front seven to make those numbers tick up.

On an additional note, Jim Mora isn’t overly concerned with penalties. The Bruins rank dead last in the country in penalties and penalty yards per game, and some of the more prominent flags have come on pass interference calls.

“This is a 20-year study I did on penalties: The correlation between penalties and winning games is nonexistent,” Mora said Thursday. “And that is a fact. Over the last 20 years in football. Penalties, in general, don’t matter.

A cursory glance at national penalties statistics indicates a weak correlation: the 20 worst offenders include teams such as No. 5 Oregon, No. 8 LSU, No. 16 Oregon State and No. 25 Utah State; the five most well-behaved teams are Air Force, Kansas, Navy, No. 7 Kansas State and Army.

EDGE: Even

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UCLA offense vs. Stanford defense

The Bruins have proven themselves on offense again and again this season, so it’s not like Brett Hundley and company are going to turn in a goose egg. That said, Stanford’s defense — especially the front seven — looks like a different animal. When asked about the Cardinal defense this week, one of the first words out of Jim Mora’s mouth was, “Wow.”

The most impressive unit UCLA has faced thus far — at least statistically — is Oregon State, which delivered the Bruins their first loss. The Beavers allow just 18.6 points per game, which puts them at 21st in the nation; Stanford allows 16.9 per game, good for a 10th-place tie.

Some more numbers. Among Pac-12 teams, here are the Cardinal’s rankings in scoring defense, rushing defense, sacks and tackles for loss: first, first, second, first. Rushing defense is main one that sticks out; with Damien Thigpen injured (ACL), UCLA doesn’t have a game-breaking threat when it needs to rest Johnathan Franklin — something Mora has usually done to keep his star fresh for fourth quarters.

Stanford is somewhat vulnerable against the pass (257.1 yd/game, 7th in Pac-12), which is where UCLA needs to strike. But that too, is partially a function of how much teams avoid the run against the Cardinal; Stanford doesn’t intercept the ball often, but have given up just 11 TDs (tied with Oregon State) and 6.1 yards per attempt — good for first and third in the conference. Against the OSU defense, which bears some statistic similarities, UCLA rolled up 444 yards but went just 2 of 15 on third downs. Expect the Bruins to be better there this week, but how much better is unclear. Hundley has been big in such situations in recent weeks.

UCLA’s young offensive line can’t afford mistakes this week. Franklin carried the ball a season-high 29 times against USC for 171 yards. He’ll need to do something similar but against a stouter offense to help take pressure off Hundley.

EDGE: Stanford, slightly

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Abbott finalist for Burlsworth Trophy

A low-profile, but interesting award given to the nation’s best player who started his career as a walk-on. You can also vote for Andrew Abbott, which counts for five percent during each round. Finalists will be announced on Nov. 27, and the winner on Dec. 3.

Pac-12 All-Academic teams were also released yesterday. Jeff Locke (3.70, Economics) made first team for the third time, and was joined by freshman center Jake Brendel (3.60, Math/Applied Sciences). Steve Manfro (3.20, undeclared) was the Bruins’ lone representative on the second team. As announced in June, UCLA ranked third in academic progress rate among conference members.

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UCLA 60, Georgia 56: postgame audio

Here’s the game story from last night.

UCLA 60, Georgia 56: Postgame press conference by thejackwang

At around 1:20, Howland talks about Shabazz being more comfortable with the team. Shabazz talks about the same thing at 2:00. Howland talks about having to switch to zone defense at 3:50.

“We couldn’t stop them in our man. Just changed it up and went to zone. early on, we had one or two stops and they hit a couple threes and we stayed with it. i thought we got better at it. I thought Norman Powell, in particular, did a great job along with Larry up high, bouncing around guarding three guys. … We haven’t worked on it much. We’re going to work on it more. This is a team that will probably be a good zone team in certain situations. I want to primarily be a man-to-man team, but we’ve got to be able to go to it once in a while — especially when we’re getting scored on as easily as we were.”

At 6:55, Shabazz describes his own game — “guard/post guy who can give a matchup problem for the defense.” He and Kyle talk about their chemistry at 8:55.

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UCLA 60, Georgia 56: On Shabazz and Kyle

NEW YORK — UCLA’s 60-56 win over Georgia was a slow, plodding game that provided little excitement for fans outside of Shabazz Muhammad’s significantly improved encore.

It’s clear that the Bruins’ offense is still a work in progress, that it might have to stick with a zone defense more often, and that the team will be better once fully healthy and in 100 percent game shape. For now, let’s focus on the most promising play of the night.

It came almost six minutes into the second half. Kyle Anderson had rebounded a missed 3-pointer, one of many that Georgia launched against UCLA’s 2-3 zone. He dribbled upcourt and, when he was somewhere between the arc and halfcourt, threaded a perfect bounce pass to Muhammad underneath the basket.

Muhammad bobbled it at first, but recovered to put away two points and draw a trip to the line. (He missed the and-one.) UCLA had a 39-35 lead.

“I know when he’s going to pass the ball and when he’s looking for a guy to cut,” Muhammad said after the game.

That was perhaps the only truly glowing moment for the Bruins all night, a glimpse at what the team’s up-tempo hopes could look like if ever fully realized. For now, though, Muhammad is still trying to improve his conditioning and Anderson is still feeling out the odd positional quandary he’s in between forward and point guard.

Muhammad scored a game-high 21 points to go with four boards, while Anderson rebounded from his scoreless performance Monday night with a 9-9-3 line. Three assists, while better than the 0 Anderson posted two games ago, still isn’t much for a player with such impressive court vision.

“I think he was more comfortable tonight,” head coach Ben Howland said of Muhammad. “We’re learning to play with Shabazz for the first time. We didn’t play with him all summer. Same thing in a game situation until just yesterday. It’s going to take some time, but I thought he did a great job.”

Added Anderson: “Shabazz cuts very hard. Bringing the ball up, I see his defender struggling with him to the basket. … It’s a pretty good connection between us.”

Freshman Jordan Adams did get left out in the cold. A decrease in looks wasn’t surprising with Shabazz taking a bigger chunk of the offense, but his 1-for-6 outing will probably prove to be anomalous.

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UCLA vs. Georgia: Quick Look

The No. 11 Bruins’ loss to Georgetown last night exposed many of this team’s flaws: Ben Howland has difficulty making in-game adjustments, the offense still isn’t meshing, and UCLA has no inside game to speak of. Georgetown will likely be a ranked team depending on how it does against No. 1 Indiana tonight, but the Hoyas — even with the duo of Otto Porter and Markel Starks — aren’t more talented than UCLA.

Shabazz Muhammad’s quote from last night about missing out sums up this team right now: “”It doesn’t feel good inside. I really wanted a shot at them. We’re really not ready yet.”

Is it time for fans to panic? Not quite, UCLA certainly doesn’t look like a Final Four contender. Some thoughts heading into tonight’s tipoff against Georgia, another unranked team.

Must-win? Yes. The Bulldogs kept pace with the Hoosiers for a most of the game, but they’re still a 1-3 team. Georgia has just one player — sophomore guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, an All-SEC freshman last year — averaging double-digit scoring, and they’re shooting just 36.3 percent from the field while allowing 43.4. Here’s guessing Jordan Adams goes for another 20 tonight.

Inside game: UCLA really doesn’t have much. John Thompson III talked up what a big team the Bruins were after last night’s game, but the Wears hardly ever play in the low post and Josh Smith still doesn’t stay on the court for long stretches. David Wear is out tonight with a back injury and Tony Parker sat out last night with back spasms, which reduces the low-post troops even further. The Bruins had success late in the game when they pushed a full-court offense more. Not sure if Howland plans to do that more against Georgia, but with the players he has, he probably should.

Freshman duo: Shabazz Muhammad and Kyle Anderson were the supposed to be program saviors this year. Tonight’s a chance to prove it. Neither is playing at 100 percent right now, what with Anderson’s bone contusion and Muhammad not being in full game shape, but they’ll both be in the starting lineup for the first time this season. That bodes well for offensive chemistry. By his own admittance, Anderson hasn’t played well recently and looks particularly out of place on defense. Still, he has preternatural passing instincts, and having him dish to Shabazz early could get the offense rolling.

(Not a major concern for the college game, but I have no idea what Anderson will do at the next level. He already can’t defend point guards, and doesn’t have the offensive skill to play forward.)

On a side note, Kyle Anderson’s father doesn’t think much of how Howland handles his son. Not a particularly volatile situation at this point, but Anderson going scoreless against Georgetown probably didn’t help the situation.

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Shabazz Muhammad to start against Georgia

Shabazz Muhammad is in line for his first start this season against the Bulldogs at 7:30 p.m. ET. You can catch the game on ESPNU. The freshman will slot in for David Wear, who exited last night’s 78-70 loss to Georgia after landed hard on his back after a mid-air collision midway through the second half.

Assuming no more changes between now and tipoff, the starting lineup is now Travis Wear, Shabazz Muhammad, Kyle Anderson, Norman Powell and Larry Drew II. It’s an unorthodox set, but getting Muhammad more time may help him assert himself better early. He was just 2 of 6 for 4 points in the first half, finishing the game with 15 points

“I think at the end, we felt a little bit more comfortable with each other,” Muhammad said last night. “I’m just trying to get out here and really gel with my teammates for the first time. Just trying to get used to the system.”

Tony Parker sat out last night with back spasms, and Tyler Lamb is still recovering from swelling in his left knee after arthroscopic surgery.

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Belated awards roundup

Johnathan Franklin is one of three finalists for the Doak Walker Award. Wisconsin’s Montee Ball and Oregon’s Kenjon barner are also up for the nation’s top running back honor. The 174-member selection committee is made up mostly of journalists, along with former players and other representatives. The winner will be revealed on Dec. 6 on ESPN at 7:30 p.m. ET.

Joseph Fauria wasn’t a finalist for the Mackey Award, which quarterback Brett Hundley was disappointed about. Jeff Locke wasn’t a finalist for the Ray Guy Award either, which is even more of a snub.

Eric Kendricks won Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week for the second time this season after logging eight tackles, one TFL, one forced fumble, a blocked punt and a pick against USC. He doesn’t pop as quite much as Anthony Barr when you’re watching the game, but Kendricks is so consistent across the statsheet almost every week.

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