Weekly Q&A: Stanford answers


Links for the day:

Now to your questions:

Any chance Mique Juarez makes an impact at linebacker this year? 

I don’t think so. He was expected to play a lot as a true freshman coming out of high school, but he’s not the same player after that one year off. He’s trying to recapture that and I think it’s still possible, but it took a lot of years to build him into the five-star prospect he was and it’ll take some time to rebuild that. He likely has a long way to go to get on defense, but he plays every week on special teams.

Even with the injuries to linebacker, Juarez likely won’t be called into action because of the different linebacker positions. He was the No. 2 middle linebacker during training camp and UCLA doesn’t go too deep at that position because Lokeni Toailoa rests naturally during the nickel package. And the Bruins hope to get Kenny Young back soon, who would play that position if Toailoa is hurt. (I wouldn’t count on Young for this week, but eventually he’ll be back.) Even Josh Woods can play mike in a game if necessary. Juarez was playing the mike during training camp because he was still a little bit out of shape, but when he gets to 100 percent, he’ll be more of a weak-side linebacker, where UCLA has Young, Krys Barnes and Woods. So even if Juarez was in shape, the Bruins are OK at that position and wouldn’t need him amid the injury situation. Last weekend, with Woods suspended for the first half and Breland Brandt out due to a concussion, UCLA had a shortage at strong-side linebacker. Juarez doesn’t play there so he wouldn’t have been helpful, and it’s likely too early in his career to have developed the position flexibility that Woods and Young have.

I think the biggest problem with the defense is a lack of sure-fire NFL talent. Other than Jaelan Phillips and Darnay Holmes who are both freshmen and prone to mistakes, is there anyone on the defense that is a for-sure NFL player? Maybe Adarius Pickett, but otherwise I do not see a single guy. Agree?

You could say it’s that. I might say it’s youth that disguises what might turn into NFL talent. Some kids come from a good genetic pool and they look like NFL talents in high school like Jaelan Phillips and Darnay Holmes. Other kids grow into those roles, like Jayon Brown or Anthony Barr. UCLA has a lot of young players on defense, especially up front: Boss Tagaloa, Krys Barnes, Osa Odighizuwa, Chigozie Nnoruka, Keisean Lucier-South, Rick Wade, and Lokeni Toailoa are all redshirt sophomores or younger. Even Josh Woods, who is an elder statesman in terms of the UCLA defense, is only 19 years old and he won’t turn 20 until January. Just because they don’t look like sure-fire NFL guys now doesn’t mean they can’t reach that level later in their careers or at least be very serviceable college players.

What would yet another loss to Stanford, especially in perhaps a down year for them, say about Jim Mora, coaching/recruiting and the state of the UCLA football program?

I’m not a betting person, but Stanford is favored by 7.5 points this Saturday, according to OddsShark.com. So if UCLA loses, it wouldn’t a surprise to many. I’ve always felt that impressions should be judged against expectations, so if the Bruins aren’t expected to win and they don’t win, how much does that one game change the impression about where they’re heading? Perhaps it’s the expectation of losing that irks people? I don’t know. I suppose if UCLA loses again, then it would mean that its stuck in the same place as it always was, which is obviously not where most programs want to be. But there are a lot of conditions involved here. You have to consider all the types of losses. A close loss would be different than a blowout. Then there’s always the possibility that UCLA wins. So trying to make an overarching statement about a program based upon the condition that it loses, which also has many other conditions concerning how they lose is not something I’m interested in.

Where do you think the following people will be (in relation to football) in two years: Jim Mora, Tom Bradley, Scott White, David Shaw, Chip Kelley and Clay Helton?

There’s no way to answer this question well. I’m not going to take a wild guess on something that might happen to someone I don’t know well in two years. I barely even know what I’m having for dinner tonight. I’m not a fortune teller and I don’t pretend to be one.

Every game that Brandon Stephens plays, he always gets a long run. He has the longest run from scrimmage this year. Shouldn’t he be getting the ball more?

Brandon Stephens does have two long runs, a 25-yarder against Hawaii and a 36-yard rush against Memphis. He’s leading the team in average with 8.6 yards per carry on his seven rushes, but running backs aren’t only judged on what they can do on the ground. It may be that he’s not as reliable a blocker as other backs. That’s just as important as being able to run because protecting Josh Rosen is the team’s No. 1 priority. (He did have some good moments against Memphis in pass protection, so I’m not saying that it is the reason why he’s not playing, but I’m proposing it as an example of how a running back is judged by things beyond running.) Stephens also fumbled last weekend. It was a good play by the defensive lineman to poke the ball free, but it still goes down on Stephens.

How many wins do you think UCLA needs for Jim Mora to keep his job?

He has an $11 million buyout. He just built a football-specific facility that was a significant step for the program. There may be more cushion than many might want or expect.

The Bruin rushing attack seems to be on the up and up over the last couple of games as you noted in your Daily News report (Note: thanks for reading!). Is this attributable to increased comfort in Jedd Fisch’s offense or a result of the competition the past two weeks? Or both? It seems like UCLA is still a year or two away in the recruiting cycle to get personnel truly geared towards the pro-style rushing attack but I’ll take any improvement for the time being.

I think the improvement of the past two weeks can be attributed to an increased comfort in the system, better execution on the offensive line, especially the right side with Michael Alves and Andre James, and definitely the competition. Hawaii was one of the worst defenses in the country last year and didn’t look like it had made much improvement. Memphis was an injury-riddled defense that was without its best defensive lineman for a half (due to a targeting suspension). The Bruins have a big challenge against Stanford this week and then we’ll truly see what UCLA’s running game is made of.

Is our defense run by Jim Mora or Tom Bradley? Because it seems to me that since Mora has been here, we have continually left our corners to be in man-to-man coverage by themselves and never run any zone. With this happening every down, we often get beat for a big play, do you think there is ever going to be an adjustment and maybe some more zone stuff on defense?

Didn’t people spend the past two weeks (in this pre-Hawaii and this pre-Memphis Q&A) asking about how the Bruins and Tom Bradley didn’t play enough man? Now they play too much? I don’t know the exact ratio of man to zone coverage and there might be some mixed coverages that go man for some players and zone for others, but like I’ve written about, Bradley doesn’t like to play man because he doesn’t want to give up the big play through the air. And for the most part, UCLA hasn’t, except for last weekend. Some of those were execution mistakes, not necessarily problems with the scheme. Against Memphis, UCLA gave up 47- and 42-yard screen passes, which go down as big passing touchdowns relinquished by the secondary, but you can really consider those more like breakdowns in the running game. The 33-yard touchdown to Anthony Miller on which Darnay Holmes was left on an island, Jim Mora called for a pressure and the blitzing linebacker was late and the one deep safety didn’t come over to help in time. The 41-yard catch on the prior play was just a damn fine catch by Miller too.

I think for the most part, Bradley calls the defense from the booth. Mora will occasionally pitch in play calls and suggestions, but I think it’s Bradley who runs the ship mostly.

Is it just me or does Jim Mora seem different this year? He does not talk about championships anymore or contending. Gone are the angry press conferences after losses. Way gone is the “We own this town” swagger. Perhaps trying to lower expectations after all the recent losses, thoughts? 

This is my only second season with UCLA so I can’t say much about the way he used to be. But he knows the situation: You don’t deserve to be boastful if you’re coming off a 4-8 season. It would be foolish to walk around and talk about championships and owning any town if you had the type of year UCLA had last year. If Mora was doing that, people would rip him for being delusional. If he doesn’t do that, then he’s lowering expectations and not reaching high enough? Sometimes coaches just can’t win.

Last drive of the game, Josh Rosen throws the ball that Theo Howard who needs to commit pass interference to break up a possible interception. Then it seemed that Howard got pulled for Eldridge Massington the rest of the drive. Was that play on Rosen or Howard? Both? Seemed weird that Howard got pulled for doing what seemed to be the right thing.

Josh Rosen made a mistake by trying to throw a ball down field when he had a defender wrapped around his ankles. He was trying to be a hero when he should have just let the play go and moved on to the next one with second-and-10 instead of forcing a first-and-25. He knows that and the coaches know that. On the TV replay, I can’t see what Theo Howard was doing when the scramble drill happened (whether he came back to the ball or not), but his committing the offensive pass interference was a smart business decision. I don’t think he was benched for that. It’s possible that the first-and-25 situation just required a different personnel package with Eldridge Massington instead of Howard.

Is there any particular reason why Soso Jamabo hasn’t been playing lately?

Soso Jamabo is dealing with a nagging undisclosed injury. He struggled with injuries in fall camp as well with a tight back, as I mentioned in last week’s Q&A and this story from this week.

What do you think of Kolton Miller’s play? Two years ago at right tackle he showed great promise. His play at left tackle has been less than stellar, especially in pass protection. Isn’t he better than he’s shown?

I think Kolton Miller has really struggled so far this season. A lot of pressure comes from the left side in pass and run situations. He whiffed on a block against Hawaii that resulted in a sack when the Rainbow Warriors rushed only three players. He missed a block last week against Memphis that led to Brandon Stephens’ fumble. It’s been a difficult transition for him to say the least. However, he’s also playing in his first games in a long time. He got hurt against Arizona last year and missed the final seven games, so it might just be taking him a while to get back into game speed. The Bruins hope he’ll be able to turn a corner soon, though, because they need something better from him.

As the Bruins prepare to be run over by Stanford’s offensive line and backs again, I recall that Jim Mora promised after Nebraska ran right over his defense two years ago that he was going to recruit bigger and stronger players. Angus McClure has been praised for his defensive line recruiting and yet here we are. Why are we still undersized?

UCLA did recruit bigger defensive linemen. They’re just young. Martin Andrus is 6 foot 1 and 300 pounds. Greg Rogers is 6 foot 3 and 310. They’re both freshmen. It’ll be a process to get them into games regularly. Andrus is playing sparingly already, but Rogers hasn’t burned his redshirt yet.

Am I the only one who feels that while the loss to Memphis was a bad blow? Is there still a lot to feel-good about the prospects for a good season?

Feel-good from who? Fans? Players and coaches? I’m probably the wrong person to ask about how fans feel because I’m not out there taking a comprehensive exit poll. I feel like most fans view any loss as a bad blow, though, especially if it’s a Group of Five team. (As a note, I think Memphis is a good team, despite the smaller conference.) For the players and coaches, I don’t think anyone within the program looks at that loss as a point where things are going to start spiraling out of control. It might turn out to be, but that’s something that will only reveal itself down the line.