Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! In today’s Daily News, I put together a list of what UCLA football has to be thankful for this season. Hope you all have a great holiday.
On to the Q&A …
Q: If Brett Hundley and Marcus Mariota swapped teams, who do you think would be more successful? Where do you suppose UCLA and Oregon would be ranked?
A: I’d go with the team that has the likely Heisman winner, and swap UCLA and Oregon in the rankings.
Q: How much of an impact has running backs coach Kennedy Polamalu had on Paul Perkins becoming the league’s leading rusher?
A: Multiple people have said that Polamalu’s biggest effect on the running back corps has been their pass blocking, which I think has allowed Perkins to stay on the field much more — even if he’s not getting the carry. That was the edge that Jordon James had through the offseason, and the reason I thought the senior would get every chance to win the starting spot. Perkins looked like he would beat out Jordon James for the starting spot at some point this season; I just didn’t expect it to happen so early, and for James to look so poor through the first two games.
(It’s also worth mentioning that Perkins’ conference lead is very slim, and he isn’t facing as much competition for the rushing title as recent backs.)
Q: What is the nature of receiver Thomas Duarte’s leg injury suffered in practice on Tuesday?
A: He looked like he tweaked his hamstring, which has given him trouble since training camp in San Bernardino. Duarte’s limp was barely noticeable on Wednesday, though, so he should be good to go by Friday.
Q: Do you think Brett Hundley’s comment about “achieving everything I wanted to at UCLA” will cause distraction this Friday against the Cardinal, or is the media making a non-story a story?
A: No. I have no clue why this is a story. He literally said in January that this would be his last season, but I guess everyone forgot/didn’t care.
Q: Beside Hundley, are any other UCLA juniors likely to go pro?
A: Jordan Payton might think about it for a hot minute, but I doubt anyone declares early except Hundley.
Q: Have you heard anything about Eric Kendricks’ draft status? What do scouts like/dislike about his game?
A: Maybe a second- or third-rounder right now. He has great instincts for the ball and his film will back that up, but he’s also a little undersized.
Q: Do you think Fabian Moreau will take a step forward next year or is this pretty much good as he is gonna get? How good can Jaleel Wadood be? He has big-time potential.
A: Moreau should get better. He looked so good in spring and training camp, and it’d be surprising if he didn’t tap into more of that ability come next season. He might not become the All-American and first-round draft pick that Jim Mora once predicted, but he should still be UCLA’s top corner and an all-conference guy. Wadood could have an all-conference future too.
Q: Brett has been prone to get picked off on those swing passes. Do you think he will start using pump fakes more to keep the defense honest?
A: Those sidelines have become a bit of a blind spot for him. He just doesn’t see the defender sometimes, and it’s usually a safety who jumps in and snatches the ball. I don’t know that pump fakes are the fix there.
Q: What’s the deal with Myles Jack this season? Seems he’s had a (relatively) very quiet sophomore year, especially on defense. Is it just a matter of other teams scheming against him more now that (a) he’s a known threat and (b) Anthony Barr is gone?
A: All those things apply, but lot of it is also perception. No one expected him to be as good as he was a freshman, and everyone assumed that his sophomore year would bring another huge jump in his progression. That hasn’t happened, but he’s still second among Pac-12 linebackers with seven pass breakups — one behind UW’s John Timu — and had an incredible one-handed interception against Colorado wiped out by a penalty.
It has become clear that he’s more of a coverage linebacker than a pass rusher. He spent much of the offseason working on the latter, but hasn’t been used much that way.
Q: All we heard about in Fall Camp was NaJee Toran and Kenny Young, that they were the most impressive in camp. Do you think the coaches over hyped those players, or did they just didn’t pan out once the season started?
A: In retrospect, Toran should have redshirted. He looked completely out of his depth when he started in the season opener, and basically hasn’t played since. True freshman linemen will usually have a tough time, even if they’re talented. Part of what’s limiting Young is that UCLA uses nickel more than its 3-4 base, which puts Young on the bench. He’s started in the base, and projects as the replacement at inside linebacker for Eric Kendricks next season.
That said, it’s a good policy to be wary of spring and training camp hype in general.
Q: What’s your take on UCLA basketball? Everything I’m seeing says this team top 1/3 of the Pac-12 and a 7/8 seed at best…and is one injury away from a really terrible season.
A: I’d agree with top three in the Pac-12, though I could see the team gelling late in the season and going on a run through the conference tournament. Any injury, particularly to the backcourt, would be devastating.