Weekly Q&A: Colorado answers

What do you contribute the Bruins inability to stop the run?  Are we lacking size or strength or is it the defensive scheme? 

I think there’s a lack of size, especially on the inside, after the departures of Eddie Vanderdoes and Eli Ankou. But I think the main thing is a lack of experience, which results in a lack of trust (more on that here). Everyone on this defense was a hero for his high school team at one point in time. No hero is super enough to save this defense alone, so it’s necessary that everyone sticks to perfecting their assignment and when that happens, the defense can become more than the sum of its parts. At least that’s what the Bruins are hoping. This type of defense only works when everyone does the right thing at the same time every time. It’s a thin line to traverse, but this is the way the Bruins have to live without players like Jayon Brown and Takkarist McKinley, who could very easily erase mistakes from the teammates.


What are the chances that fans actually listen and show up wearing white? I’ve been going to UCLA games for 12 years now and the fans are never coordinated.

I’ve found that it’s typically difficult to get fans excited about special promotions like White/Black Outs when the team is not doing so well. That goes for UCLA and other schools. So I don’t anticipate a large showing for the White Out, but the fact that the athletic department is planning to give out 40,000 white pom-poms should help with the optics. Also with it being the first weekend with school in session, The Den is expecting a larger turnout and is giving out free white T-shirts to the first 2,500 students.

If UCLA loses this game what will be the incentive to play hard for non-draft eligible players? In the span of three weeks they would have lost all hope for a playoff spot and essentially the Pac-12 South.

Have you ever been around a sports team after a loss? It’s not a particularly enjoyable mood. There tends to be this deafening silence that is somewhere between awkward and sad. If non-draft eligible players are content with feeling that every weekend for the next two months then they won’t play hard. I highly doubt that’s the case. No matter what this week’s result is, there will still be at least seven more games that the team has to play. They’re not going to cancel the season because of a bad start, and if there are games to play, players are expected to play hard to win them. And for returning players, they often cite wanting to play well for their seniors as a main source of motivation.

(Also, was there really hope for a playoff spot three weeks ago? Maybe I missed that)

Is there any feeling around the program that Tom Bradley’s time has come and gone?

Certainly there’s overall frustration about the defense’s performance. When Jim Mora was asked about his thoughts about how Tom Bradley has done so far, the head coach pivoted to the message of working together as a coaching staff to figure out the issues instead of a direct answer. Here’s what he said:

“I think that Tom is a veteran coach with tremendous, tremendous experience, has had great success and he’s like all of us: We come in here every day and try to do our best. I have incredible respect for the man he is. The important things is we all pull together and all search endlessly for the answers to the issues that we’re having and that we emphasize them and work on them and overcome them.”

What is the best-case scenario for the defensive line moving forward?

Everyone plays up to their potential at the same time while Jaelan Phillips and Boss Tagaloa stay healthy. The unit is still the deepest on the defense, but the problem is that the depth is inexperienced. There’s no replacement for experience so the Bruins are at the mercy of time as they help their young players grow up.

Does Colorado have a drop back quarterback susceptible to a defensive end pass rush?

No, Steven Montez is a capable runner and can extra plays with his legs.

How close to 100 percent do you think Jaelan Phillips will be Saturday? What is the injury?

I’m not going to throw out a random number without having been able to observe any of practice, so I’ll just say he’s questionable for Saturday. It’s an ankle sprain, unsure if it was defined if it was defined as a high ankle sprain.

The interior defensive line needs an upgrade in performance. Chigozie Nnoruka seems to be the most active but how good is he at the point of attack? Is Boss Tagaloa finally ready to become Kenny Clark 2.0 as we all expected? More reps for Greg Rogers and maybe Martin Andrus?

Chigozie Nnoruka has been the best of the young defensive linemen but he’s also playing at a new position, so he’s had some adjusting to do. He was recruited as a defensive end, but is now playing inside. Boss Tagaloa has been slowed by an injury. He can’t be any version of Kenny Clark or even any version of himself for that matter on the bench. I’m surprised that Martin Andrus burned his redshirt. If there was one freshman defensive lineman who was going to go this year, I would have thought it was going to be Greg Rogers. But Andrus gives the defensive line good size on the inside, although he is still young.

Do beat writers like yourself travel with the team or separately? 

We’re on our own for road games. The team charters while us lowly beat writers fly normal, commercial flights. You may see me Friday mornings before road games at LAX. I’m the one reading the media notes.

I know you don’t like making predictions, but in your opinion will UCLA at least be bowl eligible this year?

I had them pegged as a seven-win team at the beginning of the year and that’s still a possibility, but it’s looking more difficult than previously anticipated. Of the final eight games, there are five that seem up for grabs: Colorado, at Arizona, Oregon, Arizona State and Cal. The Arizona schools are not particularly strong and if UCLA plays the way it should, those should be victories. So the Bruins would be at four wins. Then to get bowl eligibility, it’ll come down to getting at least two wins out of games against Colorado (this weekend), Oregon and Cal. Oregon and Cal seem to be tougher than many expected, so it’s not going to be a lock.

The other three games on the schedule (at Washington, at Utah and at USC) are going to be extremely difficult and if UCLA can steal a win in any of those that would be very impressive.

Why do you think UCLA is now a 6.5-point favorite in this game?

Lines aren’t always indicative of what the outcome is expected to be. Sometimes they’re set to stimulate betting by placing a line that seems unlikely. And the Bruins are at home and while the Rose Bowl atmosphere doesn’t always seem like much, I’ve come to understand that home-field is advantage is usually worth three points to the spread.

As a note, I’ve also never bet on a sporting event. While studying math in college, a professor told me that at that point in our mathematics careers, we’ve learned enough to know not to bet.

With the Bruins defense severely struggling, why are they redshirting Greg Rogers? It sounded like he had a good fall camp from your reports and has some good push on the line to plug some running lanes to stop the run.

I was surprised to see that Martin Andrus was the first true freshman off the bench for the defensive line. I felt that if there was going to be one, it would have been Greg Rogers. I don’t know the exact reason why Rogers hasn’t played, but even if he did, it’s unlikely that he would be a savior for the defense in any way. The gap between him and any of the other interior linemen would be minuscule at this point so it’s unlikely that he would make a significant impact. Depending on his understanding of the playbook and his health, he might be able to get into a few games to start getting used to the speed of the game, but it’s not easy for freshmen to make big impacts.


Although there are minimum NCAA requirements to receive a football scholarship which all Pac-12 schools have to adhere to, does UCLA use just those standards or do they have additional requirements for the players they offer a scholarship?

I’ve been told that UCLA has what’s believed to be a higher standard than the average school. UCLA also requires any prospective student-athletes to be admitted to the university before receiving a national letter of intent to sign, which, according to Jim Mora, is rare among schools now. Mora said on National Signing Day last year that he believes only three schools require that: Stanford, Northwestern and UCLA.

Since the “bend but don’t break” defensive philosophy is not working, what are the chances that Jim Mora/Tom Bradley to go on the attack with more defensive line stunts and blitzing against Colorado as well as more defenders in the box even if that means leaving the cornerbacks one-on-one with the receivers? 

Like I’ve written and referred to before, Tom Bradley doesn’t want to leave his cornerbacks on islands, and he won’t, unless they’re down by 34 again like they were against Texas A&M. The Bruins got a little more creative with some pressures last week, mixing in some corner blitzes, but did not have great success. In some ways, the Bruins are just picking their poison and the coaching staff is choosing to not leave their defensive backs to fend for themselves.

Since Kenny Young and Krys Barnes have not been very stout against the run, any chance that a bigger linebacker like Mique Juarez and/or others get some playing time?

Like I wrote last week in the Q&A, I’m not expecting Mique Juarez to get much, if any, playing time on defense this year.

Do you have any sense of how UCLA’s big football donors feel about moving on from Jim Mora and funding his buyout?

Unfortunately I don’t have much I can say on this topic. Many donors just gave a lot of money to Jim Mora’s vision for this program and they have the Wasserman Football Center for that. I would imagine that it would take more than four games in a season for a donor to want to abort that original investment and start a whole new vision.