Weekly Q&A – Utah answers


As a reminder, my first name is Thuc Nhi. I prefer to go by that instead of Thuc (or whatever other nicknames you have). It’s pronounced Too-k Knee.

Kennedy Polamalu said the Bruins don’t have the personnel for his offense. What area of the offense would you say is the most significant in his comment: the lack of offensive line play, wide receiver play or running back play?

My interpretation of his comment was that he’s looking for better play from the offensive line. That day, he first brought up the linemen in response to a question about the changes in the running game that head coach Jim Mora brought up the previous day. Remember that Mora was vague about the changes the previous day, so the question was relatively open ended (that is to say Polamalu wasn’t asked specifically about the offensive line, but he was still thinking about them).

Polamalu responded by saying a reason for modifying the running game was to “help these young linemen win at the point of attack.” Later, when asked about why the team had been operating out of the shotgun more often in the past two games, Polamalu said it was to give the quarterback breathing space and help the offensive line with protections.

Probably the most telling comment he made was when asked specifically about recruiting for this scheme he said “we’re in that fast tempo body instead of the large mass body.” You’re probably not looking for a receiver who is a “large mass body,” and while large-bodied running backs surely do exist, I doubt Polamalu was referring to finding different running backs with that comment. And let’s be real, if he wanted to do that, he doesn’t have to look far.(cough) Ainuu Taua (cough).

What (is there any) accountability or criteria to determine which receivers see the field?

In terms of public accountability, there hasn’t been that much. That’s one thing, but accountability within the team and making sure the players understand who is getting on the field and why is much more important. When you see players tweet things like #FreeTheo or #FreeSJIII (or whatever they were tweeting for Stephen Johnson III), that signals a disconnect between the coaches and players. I think that’s a problem.

Receivers coach Eric Yarber is an “earn your stripes” kind of coach and he wants to play players who have experience, are good football studiers and good meeting-room guys. That’s commendable in theory and can be especially rewarding when those players pay the coach’s faith in them back with consistent catches. That hasn’t happened with a lot of the receivers so far, so it’s a no-win for a lot of people right now.

The way the offensive line has been playing do you think now Mora wishes he would have fired Adrian Klemm?

First off, as I’ve written before, hindsight is always 20-20. So I’m sure there are plenty of things that Mora wishes he would have done, but he doesn’t  have a crystal ball to know how things will turn out.

But for an attempt to answer your question: I wasn’t here last year and I didn’t watch the offensive line last year, but whatever happened at that time, the numbers didn’t look bad: 14 sacks (second fewest in school history), 2,300 rushing yards (5 yards per carry), 26 rushing touchdowns. Three guys got looks at the NFL, even though only one of them made a final roster this season. I think Mora should have seen the lack of depth coming, and that could be attributed to Klemm, but at the same time, I think Mora was confident they could weather the storm. His faith hasn’t necessarily been repaid this time.

In terms of Klemm’s future, he’s known as a top-notch recruiter, but his reputation as a great recruiter can only take him so far if those recruits don’t perform well. It doesn’t help that the team is without Paco Perez, who probably could have played this season if he hadn’t come in with that knee injury. But you also don’t necessarily know what things will transpire in the next five games.

Does Klemm take any responsibility for run game?

Does he personally, or should he? With his position as offensive line coach and run game coordinator, yes, he should definitely take at least a large share of what’s gone on with the running game. Whether he did take personal responsibility when he spoke to the media Wednesday is a little up for debate, depending on how you interpret his comments. He said things like “it’s my job to get those guys ready once they get that opportunity” and “that’s my job to get that right,” but in my opinion, he didn’t speak as strongly as say, when Polamalu said after Stanford “I gotta do a better job of coaching those young backs” and that it was “on him” that the running backs didn’t see the running lanes well enough. Klemm didn’t speak too specifically about the run game, saying that the offensive line is just trying to get continuity across the board. He didn’t say things like he was frustrated or disappointed with how it was going.

All coaches speak differently in public, so you can’t judge Klemm’s exact words and temperament to those of another coach, but to me, he came off as a little detached. But I’d be curious to hear some of your thoughts about what he said Thursday.

If you were the coach, would you make any personnel changes on the offensive line, or is this lineup the best UCLA can do given Miller’s injury?

I want to make it clear that I’m not a coach. I don’t pretend to be. I don’t even pretend to be some sort of player analyst. Some reporters are really good at that — I am not one of them. So I don’t know what I would do as a coach, but when I consider the roster with the help of what other people who are more familiar with the personnel, what the Bruins have is just a reflection of the lack of depth. It’s been a concern for UCLA since the beginning of camp. I think the Bruins just don’t have very many options. They went to Josh Wariboko-Alali last game. He was the king of the false start during spring and fall camp. That’s how many stones they’re turning over to find someone.

Is the lack of a run game to blame on offensive line or running backs themselves?

It’s changed throughout the season, but I think most recently, it’s been the offensive line. With what changes are taking place in the offense and how the coaches speak out the offensive line, I think at this point, that’s where the coaches believe the troubles are. The running backs do miss holes, but I think more often than not, the line is not making the holes.

An interesting stat: according to ESPN Stats and Information (via a tweet posted by Kyle Bonagura on Monday), 39.8 percent of UCLA’s rushes have gone for 0 or negative yards in Pac-12 play.

Did Mora or Tom Bradley dispute Mike Leach’s complaint that UCLA’s defense was yelling out a cadence all game to disrupt WSU’s offense? Isn’t that what UCLA accused Oregon State of doing last season?

Mora said Leach was “misinformed” about the situation if he said UCLA was interfering with WSU’s snap counts. So take that as you will. I believe UCLA did have some drama with Oregon State in regards to that same issue. I feel like a lot of teams accuse other teams of doing that.

With the Pac-12 South title all but done for the Bruins, is Saturday a must win game for UCLA?

I would probably say yes. A loss would give UCLA five losses on the season. No team, even out of the weaker Pac-12 South, has reached the conference title game with more than four losses, except for UCLA in the 2011 game when USC was on sanctions. They’re fighting to just even get bowl eligibility. If you think that Oregon State and Cal are definite wins (as much as a win can be “definite” in the Pac-12), then the Bruins have to get at least one win between Utah, Colorado and USC to get bowl eligibility. Utah might be the best matchup for UCLA between those three because the Utes are not a particularly high-powered offense and the Bruins can’t hope to survive in any shootouts.

Barring an unexpected turnaround, the Bruins will have regressed for a second consecutive season under Mora despite high expectations. Does his seat start get a bit warm going into 2017? Or does the administration take the long view and allow the wholesale changes to the offensive scheme and player personnel continue to develop?

It’s possible it gets a little bit warm, but by the slightest degree. I think the administration is behind him and will be patient with the changes because of what Mora did in his first few years. I have not been at UCLA for long, but I feel like it’s not one of those schools that pulls plugs quickly or impatiently, say like a Texas.

Is home game attendance above or below last year so far? Would you agree that poor attendance and dwindling cash box fill would get Dan Guerrero to change coaches, not the not-running game or not-receiving game or even wins and losses?

The average home attendance last year was 66,858. The average home attendance through the first three home games this year is 67,519. So it’s about the same, a little bit higher this year.

Wins lead to higher attendance, which leads to more money, which leads to any coach keeping his job. Win and all things will be solved.

Is there any player on the roster that can field a punt? Is this being addressed?

Adarius Pickett didn’t have a bad day fielding punts that first day he was in against Arizona. He really struggled against Arizona State though, and when asked about it, he added the context that the ASU punter was a lefty so the ball spun a different way, which made it tricky. I think his game as a punt returner against ASU isn’t completely indicative of what he can do in that area.

In terms of addressing it, it’s the same way they address drops: just work on it in practice. Obviously that’s had mixed results at this point in the season, but it’s kind of all you can do. Special teams coordinator Scott White talked Wednesday about the returners getting on the Jugs machine after practice to work on it and he added that ball security is the most important thing to them in the return game.

Added note: the Utah punter, Mitch Wishnowsky, is probably going to present problems for the Bruins. He comes from that Australian punter pipeline and leads the nation in punting (49.13 yards per punt). He can kick it rugby style or traditional and the Bruins were working on fielding some rugby style punts in practice this week.

What is your feeling about snarky questions on this blog from trolls? Do you feel the need to answer their questions? Or do you really just want to ignore them?

My reaction to ALL trolls:


I wish I didn’t have to waste my time even considering whether their questions were serious or not, but it’s just an occupational hazard you have to deal with. The internet is a weird place and you take it for what it is. But it does bother me when people put inappropriate sexual comments on the live chat during games. So don’t be that person. It’s just annoying.