Weekly Q&A: Washington answers


Based on what you have seen from Washington this season, how might UCLA keep this game close?

Washington has lost three games in the past two years: USC at home last year, Alabama in the College Football Playoff and Arizona State two weeks ago. Jake Browning was sacked 13 times in those games (4.33 sacks per loss). In the team’s 18 wins during that span the Huskies have given up only 24 sacks (1.33 per win). It seems like an effective pass rush that creates chaos in backfield is a key to stopping the Huskies. UCLA has struggled with getting sacks this year and are dealing with defensive line injuries, but is coming off a four-sack game last weekend. So it does have a little bit of confidence.

Of note: The Huskies are without starting left tackle Trey Adams, who suffered a season-ending knee injury against Arizona. He was a first-team All-Pac-12 player last year and a second-team All-American. That’s a big loss.

Is Lokeni Toailoa getting playing time? Was he hurt? He was starting at the beginning of the year.

Lokeni Toailoa did suffer an injury earlier this year. He hasn’t played much since Memphis and was not even suited up against Colorado. He’s since been on the bench and dressed to play, playing on special teams and sparingly on defense. The injury (I’m not sure what he went down with exactly) did obviously slow him down, but linebackers coach Scott White said a few weeks ago that the staff “probably put a little too much” on Toailoa’s plate too quickly. They were expecting him to play middle linebacker and make all the defensive calls from that position, which is a big task for a young player. He wasn’t able to execute it at this point, so the coaching staff took a step back and returned Kenny Young to that middle linebacker position to get some of his experience and leadership back.

UCLA’s defense seemed to play more aggressively against Oregon than in prior games this season. Does this herald a change in defensive philosophy or was it more that Oregon’s one-dimensional offense allowed the defense to sell out against the run?

I wouldn’t read too much into the Oregon win. It was a necessary win that the Bruins checked off their list, but I think it did less good as a win than the bad it would have done as a loss. Oregon was completely one-dimensional. The Ducks didn’t test the UCLA defense to cover multiple options and diagnose plays the same way a complete offense would. Tom Bradley and Jaelan Phillips both agreed after the game that Oregon’s lack of any passing threat made it easier to commit to being more aggressive because they knew they weren’t going to get burned for it. Jake Browning will likely not make it that easy for the Bruins this week.

Looking at the current draft order in the NFL, Cleveland No. 1, San Francisco No. 2 and Arizona No. 7 are the only real landing spots for a quarterback declaring for the draft. It doesn’t feel like Josh Rosen’s end game has ever been to make it to the NFL, is there a legitimate chance he returns? It seems like if Rosen comes back for his senior year he would set up UCLA well for years to come at quarterback and other positions.

I don’t know what Josh Rosen is going to do in terms of the NFL at the end of the year and I’m not sure if he truly knows at this point either. I would be surprised if he came back because it seemed that he was always destined to be a three-year player, but Rosen can also be a little bit of a contrarian who, as he told Sports Illustrated, likes “messing up the system.” Jim Mora told Yahoo Sports he thought Rosen would return, citing Rosen’s relationship with Jedd Fisch as a main factor that would keep him in Westwood, but Mora really couldn’t have said anything else if he was asked the question. So long story short, I don’t know if he will, but, as always, anything is possible.

It seems, to some extent we are peaking right now? Will we get 75 yards on the ground? 100?  Isn’t it time for a signature Pac-12 win from Jim Mora?

Two weeks ago, this team allowed 457 rushing yards to Arizona, then the Bruins turned it around for one week against a bad Oregon team. For the team’s sake, I hope this isn’t its peak because that would be a low ceiling. There were good things to take away from the Oregon win that the team can build on, like the defensive effort and no turnovers on offense, but I wouldn’t say a slight incline is necessarily a peak until you can keep climbing for at least two weeks.

Washington is the best rushing defense in the Pac-12 and the second best in the nation. The Huskies allow only 73 rushing yards on the ground per game. Although, I’ve liked the effort with which the running backs are playing and I think the offensive line has been the most improved unit on this team from last year, I would be very surprised if UCLA could beat UW’s average on the ground.

In addition to UW’s stout defensive front, the Huskies are missing two starting corners and will be relying on true freshman to stop Josh Rosen. I’m sure the Bruins will want to exploit what looks like a favorable matchup, even if the Huskies haven’t allowed a passing touchdown during Pac-12 play yet.

UCLA haven’t had a win over a ranked opponent since 2015 against then-No. 18 Utah. I don’t know if that means it’s “time” for a signature win, but if one did come Saturday, it would be coming at a very good time for UCLA.

What have the coaches considered in defending screen passes if they play an attacking defense? UCLA was consistently killed earlier this season by screen passes.

The two blown screens against Memphis, which are the most glaring issues with screens that I can remember off the top of my head, were because of missed tackles and poor effort. The defense has been talking about those two things all season. Those points aren’t only important for defending screen passes, but they’re key on every snap. Against a diminished Oregon offense last weekend, the Bruins tackled better (mostly) and played with impressive effort (in my eyes). Now they have to keep those trends going against a much better offense.

I thought defensive lineman Marcus Moore looked good against Oregon after receiving significant playing time for the first time this season. Do you feel he has earned the opportunity to be an active component in the defensive line rotation in the remaining games?

I also thought Marcus Moore looked impressive sharing time with a slightly hobbled Jaelan Phillips. He had five tackles with two tackles for loss and could have had another if not for a holding penalty in the secondary on third down in the second quarter. A possible reason why he played so well is the same reason why the whole defense played well: There was wasn’t as much thinking that needed to be done against a one-dimensional Oregon team. That makes it easier to play well, especially as a young player. Playing time is not only dependent on game performance but also practice performance and we don’t know what goes on during practice, so I can’t say if Moore has earned more playing time or not. However, with Rick Wade still questionable with a knee injury, Moore will likely get some.

What limitations do you have as far as what you can and cannot say regarding your true thoughts on the team, coaches, administration, NCAA, etc? As much as many fans are clamoring for a coaching change or other wild ideas and opinions, you never share your opinion on the matter. Is being “vanilla” on some topics a part of the job? For example, can you actually say you are rooting for UW this week?

There are several layers to this. The first one is that I didn’t get into journalism to write about myself. There isn’t, say, a sheet that was given to me by my editors about what I can and can’t write concerning anything on my beat, but I choose to be less-opinionated (or “vanilla” if you prefer) because this beat isn’t about me. It’s about UCLA players and coaches. I respect the art of opinion writing and I believe that when it’s done well, as it deserves to be, it’s hard. It’s way harder to be a good columnist who is paid for their good, nuanced opinions, than be a good reporter, who hunts down opinions and thoughts from other people and relays them. I just, as Lavar Ball would say, stay in my lane.

The second layer is that, to be honest, I don’t have a lot of strong opinions on many things involving the team. I truly don’t. Whether the team is good or bad or wins or loses doesn’t really affect my daily life because I know that whatever happens, I’m going to be there the next day for work. I go to practice, do interviews, write the story (or two), upload videos, update the blog and tweet every day after a win or a loss. Those things take enough of my mental energy, and I try not to waste any time drumming up hot takes.

And for the record, I 100 percent am not rooting for Washington this weekend. I’m also 100 percent not rooting for UCLA this weekend. I root for two things on any given game day: the press box wi-fi and my deadline. Those are the only things that matter to me when I show up for work, no matter the sport or the teams. With so much going on during the game — I’m writing my game story while simultaneously writing a notebook while tweeting while checking in on our live chat while also watching the game — there’s literally no time to care about who wins the game. I just want it to be over so I can write my story and meet my deadline.