Weekly Q&A – Stanford answers

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ON THE OFFENSE:

Does Josh Rosen need a Heisman type year for UCLA to make the College Football Playoff (2016 or 2017)? How do you think Rosen would answer the first question?

I think the College Football Playoff is for UCLA this year, no matter what types of numbers Josh Rosen puts up. With the parity in the Pac-12 and some bad nonconference losses (looking at you, Washington State), it’s going to be hard for any Pac-12 team to get into the Playoff, especially UCLA with its loss to Texas A&M. For next year, that’s a tough one to answer. I can barely think past this week, let alone to next year. Rosen will definitely be expected to put up big numbers next year as it will be his second year in his tailor-made offense that will have a few more returners. The defense takes a big hit next year because they’ll lose several seniors including Takkarist McKinley, Eli Ankou, Jayon Brown and Fabian Moreau. If he has a good year this year, Eddie Vanderdoes could be gone too. So maybe next year, the roles will be reversed and it’ll be up to an experienced offense to carry the defense. But really, that’s a tough question to answer right now for next year.

As for how Rosen would answer that question, that’s another interesting question. He might say something like he expects the best from himself every game and if he executes the way he can, then the team can accomplish whatever it wants (but he won’t specifically say it wants). He could also say that it’s a quarterback-driven sport, point out that rarely does a team make it to the Playoff without a star on offense, and he’s expecting himself to be that star for the Bruins, but won’t answer directly yes or no. He obviously has extremely high expectations for himself and if you asked him, he would want to be putting up Heisman-type numbers just because he believes he personally can, not because he believes he needs to for his team to succeed. But he’ll keep the team’s interests first, always. 

Why is Rosen not getting off to the start we all had anticipated?

I think it’s a case of paralysis by analysis. His brain is still very busy, cluttered with all the different types of reads he has to make and protections he has to call. We asked him about if he sometimes feels a need to be a hero and make an unnecessarily big play and he gave us a brief glimpse into the mind of a quarterback: He discussed how post-snap he is trying to decipher where the running back is, if he’s in protection or not, if he can throw to him or not and whether that means something is open down field. There’s just a lot more going on and he’s still catching up to it. He got it down when he was going against his own team, but when facing different defensive systems every game, there’s still some mental gymnastics to be done. It was going to be pretty tough to make a seamless transition into the season with the new offense, no matter how much everyone said they loved it.

Seems to me, the key to UCLA’s ground game will be running outside UCLA’s tackles. Do you agree and if so, how does UCLA’s outside run offense match up to Stanford’s outside run defense

I’m of the opinion that all things are best in moderation and that includes offensive game plans. I like the idea of a balanced offense, between passing and running and inside and outside running. Getting some outside runs going to establish some sort of momentum in the ground game could surely help because that will take some pressure off the interior of the defensive line, but Stanford’s outside run defense is pretty strong. The Cardinal have some good linebackers, especially Peter Kalambayi, who could make the outside run game hard for UCLA.

The run blocking in the interior line has looked poor and yet interior running plays continue to be called frequently. What do you think of the play calling and how the running backs have been used?

Kennedy Polamalu has an idea for what he wants out of his offense and he’s sticking with it. I can respect him for sticking to his guns and the team seems to be behind him and his play-calling because he’s effectively communicating the reason why he wants to run those plays. He has the confidence of his fellow coaches and his players, which is important. I’m not on the headset hearing his reasoning for the calls, so it’s hard for me to judge everything because I don’t have the full picture. If the poor run blocking continues in the middle, then I would think the play calls have to take the running backs outside because you can’t keep beat the dead horse. I also think that might be better suited for some of the personnel, at least for Soso Jamabo, who really excels outside of the tackles.

Is the apparent discipline meted out to our running backs with loss of playing time a way to manage the fact that we have five running backs who all deserve to play? A way to avoid bruising anyone’s ego? Who is consistently the best running back in pass protection? Not seen many running backs in the pattern, over the middle, flair out behind the line, even up the sidelines as was Noel Mazzone’s want, have you?

I’m not sure if suspending a guy for a game is the best way to manage a deep running back group. I feel like the better way to avoid bruising any egos would be to dress everyone and get them all touches as appropriate, based on how effective they’re being. The players will know when a guy had a hot-hand and deserves the ball. If it’s an injury-related thing and they sat guys just to get them some rest, that’s something else, but if you’re speaking specifically about using disciplinary reasons to manage the group, I don’t think that’s the case.

I think Bolu Olorunfunmi is probably one of the best running backs in pass protection. As head coach Jim Mora has previously talked about, that’s the area of most improvement for Jamabo.

I’m not surprised with the lack of running backs running routes and what not because while that may have been a staple in Noel Mazzone’s offense, this is not that offense. There has been a little bit, but Polamalu is just focused on different things from his running backs.

What was the reason for Soso Jamabo not playing last week?

There was no official reason given, which suggests a little bit of a disciplinary vibe, but it might also be to give him some rest. Running back Nate Starks said he missed two games due to “in-house issues” and to get his body healthy. That’s a luxury when you have so many running backs, to be able to rest one if he has even a minor issue. Mora was also tight-lipped about Jamabo this week on Monday when he said if he can play, he’ll play.

Are the coaches still planning on using Paco Perez this year?

Paco Perez finally got off the sideline this week, but Mora said he’s still not 100 percent. At this point, I would think they’re hoping for the redshirt route because it would be a waste to burn it for the few games that are left after he does reach full health. Of course, other injuries as the season progresses could change things.


ON THE DEFENSE

What is the defense doing to prepare for the physicality that is Stanford’s offensive line? Do you foresee entire line changes throughout the game to keep the D-line fresh if and when the offense fails to produce first downs?

It’s not that they’re doing anything new this week. If they were just starting to prepare for Stanford’s physicality this week then it would be way too late. The prep started in the winter and it’s continued into the season. It was every offseason weight-lifting session and protein shake. It was in every 9-on-7 session during the spring and summer and every run-fits drill. This is a big game for the defensive line and the defense as a whole because they spent the entire offseason saying how badly they wanted to be like Stanford. They wanted to be physical like Stanford. Well, this is their chance to show it.

I do expect a lot of rotation along the defensive line, not just because it’s Stanford, but because that’s just what the defensive line does. The Bruins played nine different defensive linemen against BYU. That’s their style. Defensive line coach Angus McClure said he always wants to keep his guys fresh and he’s most happy with the depth at his position that allows him to roll guys all the time.

What happened with Lokeni Toailoa being utilized?

Perhaps it’s the same thing that’s keeping Theo Howard on the sideline. The freshman looked great in practice then got frozen a little bit on game day, so the coaches are trying to bring him along slowly. With the experience at middle linebacker between Kenny Young and Isaako Savaiinaea, I think the coaches are OK with letting Toailoa come along slowly, although the two upperclassmen haven’t been perfect all the time.


ON OTHER STUFF

How did you get Mique Juarez to break his silence?

Like several of the reporters in Los Angeles, I have a prior relationship with Mique Juarez. I wrote this story on him when he was in high school and it was one of my first stories after moving here from Seattle. At that time, we also talked about facing intense outside pressure. He remembered me from it and I reached out to him to see if he was OK. It’s not a decision I took lightly. I didn’t want to impose on him or put any more pressure on him. There was a lot of discussion involved about that situation, both with UCLA and my editors to go about it as delicately as possible.

A lot of people wonder how journalists can go up to people who are grieving or struggling and ask them pointed questions about their lives. Well, I’ll tell you it’s not easy and it’s not fun. It really sucks sometimes. But it’s part of the job. I’m thankful that he was open to speaking and I hope that people will support him and understand his situation while allowing him space so he can get ready to get back on the field.

Are you surprised that Stanford is only a three-point favorite? What do you think factored into that line?

Yes, because I don’t think the game will be that close, but I also understand that Vegas is a business and it’s about getting people to bet so the line was probably set to get people’s money. But for the record, I’m not a gambling person. As one of my stats professors said, “You know too much math to do that.”

Why do you think Ishmael Adams is not having the same success on special teams this year as he had previously?

Probably some of it is that Ishmael Adams looks a little hesitant back there, but more so, the coaches said there have been some breakdowns in blocking. Just one guy misses a block and everything is over. Every guy has to do their job in protection to let Adams do his and that hasn’t quite happened yet. I saw the team doing some extra work on special teams during our brief media viewing period on Wednesday so it seems that the coaches are thinking about the lack of a return game.

What will be the key factor to beat Stanford?

Contain McCaffrey. The most effective way to do that would be to just keep the ball away from him. So as others have said, time of possession will be important. Last year, Stanford led the conference in time of possession (34:48 per game). UCLA was last (25:55). Those times were almost exactly how the time of possession broke down last year in UCLA’s 56-35 loss (25:59 for UCLA, 34:04 for Stanford). Through three quarters, UCLA only had the ball for 19:04. The defense carried the team to victory last week and the offense needs to step up this time to keep McCaffrey on the sideline because you can’t expect the defense to contain him all night long.

Have you seen any attempt by Takkarist McKinley to apologize to Juarez, the coaches or the university for his tweets from earlier this week?

I haven’t, but if he did, then I’m sure the coaches would want to keep that private. McKinley is an interesting personality for many reasons. He’s unapologetically himself, and the team kind of has to take the good with the bad. His personality is a great thing to have on the field because he goes full-speed all day, every day. He’s energetic, he’s fun, and he’s a warrior. But then when it comes to off-the-field, that same personality doesn’t always fit into the buttoned-up persona that coaches would probably prefer.

Which UCLA coaches sit up in the box during game time?

For the first two games, the only full-time coach in the box was tight ends coach Rip Scherer. He’ll continue to be in the box. Against BYU, defensive coordinator Tom Bradley joined him up there for the first time. It’s unclear at this point if Bradley will remain in the box going forward.

Is there anything to indicate that Christian McCaffrey has ever been a dancer or has taken dancing lessons? I was watching a Stanford game the other day and the way he kept his balance to avoid tacklers gave me the impression he was a dancer.

I haven’t read anything about McCaffrey dancing in the past. I think he was just gifted with a lot of natural talent. And then practiced his butt off, of course.

What is your favorite Asian food in Orange County and LA? 

I don’t eat out often, which is a shame because there’s so much good food in the area. But I love banh mi and I’ve committed to only eating it when I’m in Orange County. I go to Banh Mi Cali, usually.

Ask Coach Mora how his time at UCLA has been compared to any expectations he had and also, what would he like to see happen during his tenure.

Didn’t see this in time for media availability this week, but I’ll try to ask him next week, so check back.

What is the significance of the sheep GIF and does it have anything to do with an ensuing slaughter?

Here’s the true story: I wanted to find a GIF of the Stanford tree waving, but the Stanford tree GIFs started creeping me out, so I went with a friendly looking sheep instead. I don’t want to promote any animal slaughter.