Q: We have seen two straight seasons of tremendous offense and production from Brett Hundley. Why, then, is everyone panicking about our offense after one season-opening, trap away game against a solid defense? Is our offense really going to be that much worse because we lost Xavier Su’a-Filo and Shaq Evans?
A: No offense to Shaq, whom I always enjoyed talking to, but he wasn’t an irreplaceable talent. While there aren’t any potential Biletnikoff winners on the roster, UCLA has enough depth at receiver.
The bigger problem is Su’a-Filo’s absence, which I think Saturday’s game at Virginia really exposed. No amount of recruiting Klemm does was going to be able to instantly replace UCLA’s best offensive lineman in 15 years. I doubt UCLA’s line will continue to look as awful as it did on Saturday — especially after what Klemm said today — but the hole Su’a-Filo left as a pulling run blocker will be difficult to completely fill.
Entering this season, I think one question facing UCLA was whether or not it could field a top-15 or top-20 offense after ranking 36th nationally in yards per play last season. So far, the answer looks like no, though the defense will be good enough to match up against nearly any opponent.
Q: Is the plan to put Simon Goines at left tackle when he returns and move Malcolm Bunche to one of the guard spots — paired with Alex Redmond — thus moving true freshman NaJee Toran to the bench?
A: In an ideal world, maybe. If tackles Simon Goines (ankle) and/or Conor McDermott (shoulder) were at full health, the Bruins’ offensive line would be in much better shape. The problem is that neither of them are rarely at full health. So that makes any kind of “plan” sort of moot.
I think center Jake Brendel (knee) will be able to play by Texas and restabilize the line, but I wouldn’t be shocked if Goines is out for an extended period of time. Head coach Jim Mora had said this summer that he wants Goines to be mentally prepared to play against the Longhorns, but that’s no guarantee that he’ll actually be healthy enough to see the field without risking further injury.
Q: Who was listed as the back-up quarterback?
A: No one was officially listed as anything. “Depth charts are a waste of time,” Jim Mora said.
Q: Are you surprised by the play of the running backs? Especially with Jordon James, highly rated coming out of high school and four years in the program. I myself expected a breakout season.
A: Not terribly surprised, though I expected more than three rushing yards from James. I’d suspected that his 424 rushing yards through the first three games last season were the result of facing the country’s Nos. 54, 124 and 125 run defenses in Nebraska, Nevada and New Mexico State.
Q: I noticed that Jordon James did not pick up pass blocking very well. Do you think Adarius Pickett or Nathan Starks can do a better job at pass blocking? If so, when do you think we will see them at running back? Also why does offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone not pound with the fullback?
A: The odd thing is that James looked like far and away the best pass-blocker among running backs during training camp, but then completely missed a few assignments on Saturday. Pickett and Starks looked like talented runners for being so new to the offense, but I wouldn’t expect them to be better in pass blocking; Mazzone said in the past that it usually takes players about a year to learn that in his offense.
I think you’ll see Nate Iese used more and more as the season progresses. He can catch a short pass and just be an absolute nightmare for an opposing defensive back to try and tackle.
Q: Which UCLA running back will have a breakout game, to take it to the next level?
A: Paul Perkins looks like the starter after rushing for 80 yards on 16 carries against Virginia, but I don’t see him turning into Johnathan Franklin-lite or anything like that.
Q: What’s your assessment of Brett Hundley’s performance at UVA? Personally, I thought he saved the game for us (along with the D, of course), showing immense poise and maturity in a very tough situation (terrible line blocking, multiple dropped passes, etc).
A: I was very impressed by how often he was able to stay upright after shedding an initial tackler, turning what would’ve been maybe a five-yard loss on a sack back to at least the line of scrimmage. His passing and decision-making wasn’t the best ever, but the offensive line didn’t make it easy for him.
Q: On the helmet call on Priest Willis, what does the Pac-12 or the NCAA expect players to do once the helmet is removed? Why wasn’t a violation called on Virginia? There were a couple of times helmets got ripped off UCLA players heads but no calls?
A: The rule is that a player must leave the field after his helmet comes off due to safety reasons. Helmets often come off in the course of a game, but if it’s not on a return, he can usually just walk off and sit out the next step. I don’t know which specific calls you’re referencing, but the refs probably just didn’t see enough for unnecessary roughness or something similar.
Q: Do you think Myles Jack will play RB this year in important situations?
A: Yes. Whether that comes at Memphis this Saturday or a little later, I’m not sure. The loss of Steve Manfro to what appears to be a serious injury isn’t a huge statistical blow, but it does lighten the running back rotation and might push Jack into offense a little sooner.
Q: Bad luck to be playing Oregon when our two main rivals for the South don’t have to. How do the crossover games rotate? CA schools always play, but am I correct in assuming the next two years we won’t play Washington or Oregon? That would be a nice way to break in five-star quarterback Josh Rosen.
A: Yes, next season will revert back to something more similar to 2012, when UCLA played Washington State and Oregon State rather than Washington and Oregon. It’ll be like that in 2016 as well, then switch again.
Q: Which one is stinkier — the offensive line or stinky tofu?
A: Gotta go with the latter, especially since reporters don’t have locker-room access.