Q: We’ve started a record 18 freshmen. Do you agree this is setting the table for a dominant team in years to come? If we play Oregon a 2nd time I think we could definitely win. Your thoughts?
A: I’m not sure. To some extent, it backs up the sheer amount of talent in this signing class. Practice also obviously can’t completely replicate game experience, so it’s good to get their feet a little wet. Some players, though, are sometimes better off redshirting a year and learning. Using 18 freshmen seems a bit excessive; I think maybe a guy like Jayon Brown might have been better off sitting for a year. (He does fill in special team depth though. On Myles Jack’s blocked punt against Oregon, the center was peeking back and forth between Jack and Brown and decided to block the latter.)
I don’t think UCLA would win a rematch. Defending Oregon is just a nightmare; even if you contain the Ducks for say, five straight plays, they could break the sixth out for 40 yards. The Bruins’ linebackers played them better than anyone else this season, and Oregon still put up 42 points.
Q: Now that Scott Quessenberry’s redshirt is gone, and he played pretty well, do you expect him to stay in the lineup? Or is he back to the bench if Simon Goines is ready?
A: I think they’ll feature Quessenberry. How many reps he gets does hinge a lot on Goines, who I think might still be weeks away from playing. (No sense rushing him back while he’s still limping.) Offensive line coach Adrian Klemm said he could stick with his current starting five for the rest of the season, adding that Goines wouldn’t be fully healthy even if he can play in the next few weeks. He wants consistency on the line above all, and doesn’t want to have to move Xavier Su’a-Filo back and forth between left guard and left tackle.
Q: So what exactly is the status with Priest Willis and Tahaan Goodman? Neither seems to be getting a lot of playing time unlike other true freshman.
A: I think the secondary has been much better than expected. All through the offseason, coaches were saying that all four freshmen would be featured in some way. Now, the only two that play are relegated mostly to special teams. (Tyler Foreman is redshirting, but Johnny Johnson had season-ending shoulder surgery.) Willis, though, has not progressed as many expected since shining early in fall camp. There’s no reason he shouldn’t be able to beat out Brandon Sermons for a backup spot.
Q: Do you think Myles Jack and Alex Redmond would be in a midseason freshman All-American team? Any other frosh in the team could be?
A: Myles Jack is a lock for that team. Has an argument for being the best true freshman in the country at any position. That squad also includes redshirt freshmen, so that reduces everyone else’s chances a bit. Eddie Vanderdoes has a shot if he keeps getting significant reps. I don’t think Alex Redmond will make the roster.
Q: Do you think Noel Mazzone’s offensive system has a ceiling capable of surpassing the top 5? Or is what we are seeing is a young team, an overly penalized and undisciplined team, or just a team that couldn’t capitalize on the chances presented?
A: Yes, I think UCLA can be a top-five team with Noel Mazzone. They’re not that this year regardless of scheme, but I don’t think the offense is so limiting that it caps the Bruins should other factors break right. Also, I think it’s playcalling that’s more of a problem rather than the system.
Q: It appeared Oregon safeties crashed hard to bust or minimize most bubble screen plays. Is the pass protection just not there to take shots down the field to keep those safeties honest? Otherwise, a big part of Mazzone’s offensive scheme goes by the wayside no?
A: I think the offensive line played fine against Oregon, though more so with run blocking than pass protection. It might take some time for Xavier Su’a-Filo to get used to playing left tackle again. Brett Hundley, who has missed on some deep throws all year, is also just not seeing some of his open receivers downfield in recent games.
Q: Why is there already so much dislike of Steve Alford among UCLA fans out there?
A: The whole introductory press conference was a disaster. Alford should’ve immediately apologized for his handling of Pierre Pierce’s rape case at Iowa. Somehow, neither he nor the school was prepped for that question.
Expectations were also high with names like Brad Stevens in the mix, and Alford — with his one Sweet Sixteen appearance — doesn’t have a stellar resume. The very lackluster recruiting since his hire also hasn’t helped.
Q: Is there a target date for the completion of the new football facilities? (The official statement from the athletic dept doesn’t give a projection.)
A: No. They’ve started doing a little digging in the area, but fundraising is too far off the $50 million budget for a firm projection.
Q: In reading Chris Foster’s UCLA column in the LA Times, I note that his comments regularly match yours — often seemingly word for word, and not just on quotes from the Bruins. Is this because reporters do not have access to practices and are being fed the same handouts by the team? Or is there some other explanation?
A: Access to players for interviews has been diminishing all season, so there’s a limit to number of one-on-one interviews versus a media scrum. When I do get an exclusive, I generally reserve those for longer features or non-notebook stories.
Any “word for word” similarity would be coincidental, but if you show me a specific example maybe I can explain it more.