Weekly Q&A: Arizona State answers

It seems like Jim Mora has almost overnight become very forthcoming about player injury information, contrasted with his tight-lipped approach over several seasons. Is he now attempting to play the “injury card” to explain away the team’s dismal performance this season and to save his job? Have any reporters called him out on his newfound approach to dealing with injury information?

I’m not sure what his approach was in the early years of his tenure because I wasn’t here. But from what I understand of his policy, he’ll say if a player is out for a significant amount of time or the rest of the season, if a guy has a more minor injury, then he won’t give specifics about exact availability, usually deferring to the “hopeful” line. Depending on his mood, he might let it slip what the injury is, but he still won’t say that a player is doubtful/probable/out.

I think for the most part, he’s been true to that standard this year. It may just seem that he’s being more forthcoming with injuries because the Bruins have suffered so many season-ending injuries this season. For example, he was never particularly expansive about Jaelan Phillips’ status week-to-week when he was dealing with that ankle injury that eventually kept him out for more than a month. Each week, he mainly just said that Phillips was working hard to get back and they would see where he was on game day.

There have been some inconsistencies with some of his policies though, most notably this past week with Josh Rosen. One of the policies is that media can’t report who is and who isn’t practicing on any given day. But Mora was forthright about Rosen’s practice status this week (he practiced on Tuesday and Wednesday) and he wasn’t even really coaxed into giving up that information. The standard around Rosen has always been different, though. Such is life with a hyper-talented quarterback.

What are the odds that Dan Guerrero loses his job? I keep hearing that athletics overall are in decline over the last 5 or so years. Who else would be a good candidate to replace him?

I’m going to go with a strong 0 percent chance. He’s under contract through 2019. It’s said that he’s expected to retire at the end of his contract. The chances of him getting fired three years before retirement are infinitesimal.

What are the chances that Tom Bradley is fired at the end of the season? Any candidates you would suggest for a replacement, maybe someone extremely detailed oriented and creative like Jedd Fisch is with the offense?

Kennedy Polamalu didn’t survive having the worst rushing offense in the country. You would have to think it would be hard for Tom Bradley to survive having a rushing defense that’s even worse than what Polamalu’s rushing offense was. Bradley has experience and a little bit of success on his side, but it’s also a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately business.

I’m not going to speculate on new coaches when there are still coaches in place.

Now that it has been established that Josh Rosen sustained a concussion in the Washington game, do you know whether television analyst Brock Huard has reached out to UCLA or Rosen to express any regret for his premature and speculative comments?

Brock Huard, a radio host in Seattle, said on his show the day after Jim Mora’s comments that he and Mora has exchanged text messages about it, according to The Seattle Times.

What’s the story on Jordan Lasley? He’s been having problems since fall camp.

Jordan Lasley has always been a little bit of a loose cannon. Remember that he got suspended before he even started school as he missed part of training camp as a true freshman for violating team rules in the summer prior to the 2014 season. His emotions have surely helped elevate him to his level of athletic success as they’ve spurred his competitiveness, but they’ve clearly also prevented him from going even higher. The team has been waiting on him to level out his emotions for years now and just when he does (like earlier this year in this story that has not aged well) he takes several steps back.

I don’t know the exact story of his most recent suspension, but it’s possible he does return this weekend.

Mora has consistently blamed the defensive problems on poor tackling and, more recently, on injuries. Have you seen any sign that Mora also believes that the overall defensive scheme may be to blame for the poor results?

If you can’t tackle, then no scheme will save you, so I would agree with him that tackling is an issue. That’s a matter of coaching in practice and player development. The fact that it’s November and the team still can’t tackle is mind-blowing to me. That’s usually the case at the beginning of the season because there hasn’t been a lot of live tackling during the summer, but that reason expired several weeks ago.

But to answer your question, I could imagine that Jim Mora has been more involved in the defensive play-calling in recent weeks to tweak some of the scheme. Perhaps the possible extra loop of communication was a reason why they’ve had some communication breakdowns on defense that led to substitution issues (12 men on the field after a timeout against Colorado and 10 men on the field on a play against Utah). At this point in the season, there’s not much good that can come out of a wholesale schematic change (remember what happened when the Bruins tried that on offense late last year), so the best they can likely do are make tweaks along the way and hope for better execution.

What role do donors and boosters play in coach hiring/firing? Is it purely financial (putting up the funds to end a contract early)? Any other tidbits that add to the equation of keeping or sweeping a coach out?

Donors and boosters are extremely important in the process. Their money speaks volumes, way louder than any flying banner people crowdfund for or angry tweets. Whether the donors directly fund a potential buyout or they threaten to withhold funds for future donations to the program, their feelings toward the direction of the program are critical in forcing the administration’s hand.

If Jim Mora finds a way to stay for next year, what will be the buyout amount then if things don’t improve? I recall $13 million is due after this year.

According to USA Today’s coaching salary database, Jim Mora would be due a $12.25 million buyout if he is fired at the end of this year. From what I can understand from his contract, if he would be fired after next year, it would be around $10 million.

UCLA will still face two teams ranked in the top 10 nationally in sacks, Arizona State and USC. What is the over/under for sacks before Josh Rosen is put out of a game again? Any changes contemplated in the starting offensive line?

While it hasn’t been perfect, UCLA’s offensive line is the most improved unit from a year ago and is the only the unit that hasn’t lost a starter to some sort of injury at some point this season (knock on wood). There’s no chance the coaching staff would make a non-injury-related change on the offensive line. Many of the sacks given up this year have been due to Josh Rosen holding the ball for too long, receivers not getting open, or running backs missing the protection. Sometimes it is breakdowns in the offensive line, like a few times against Arizona when the Bruins didn’t pick up the stunting defensive lineman, but it’s not always.

How likely do you think Josh Rosen would play as a Bruin next year? Have heard rumors that Sam Darnold might play another year but no such rumors yet on Rosen?

My answer on Josh Rosen’s draft chances is the same as in this Q&A two weeks ago. I think the reason why there are probably more rumors about Sam Darnold is because he is a little more mysterious in terms of what he can bring to the league right now and how that compares to what he would be if he were to stay another year. Many thought Rosen had NFL-ready passing skills as a freshman, so the question of how much Rosen can improve in one more year of college is perhaps not as interesting as with Darnold, who is in only his first year as the full-time starter.

Is Darren Andrews eligible to play another year of college football? Also which players won’t be eligible to play another year on account of graduation or having no years of football eligibility left?

Unlikely that Darren Andrews is allowed to come back. He has already used a redshirt year for a knee injury he suffered at the end of his freshman season that bled into his sophomore year. This year’s injury occurred in the ninth game of the year and the cutoff point for a medical redshirt in football is three games. It’s a terrible way for a college career to end, especially for a guy like Andrews who worked hard this past offseason, put on a ton of muscle, and was having a standout season.

Those who are graduating/out of eligibility:

  • Redshirt seniors:
    • Darren Andrews
    • Scott Quessenberry
    • Gyo Shojima
    • Zach Bateman
    • Poasi Moala
    • Kenny Lacy
    • Eldridge Massington
    • Nick Terry
  • Seniors:
  • Jaleel Wadood
  • Mossi Johnson
  • Nate Starks — could try to get this year back because of a season-ending knee injury that occurred in the third game of the year
  • Kenny Young
  • Najee Toran
  • Alex Van Dyke
  • Jacob Tuioti-Mariner
  • Matt Dickerson

Was there any particular incident or set of circumstances that drove so many decommits within a short period of time?

Wrote about this in a feature this week. Short answer: No. Each decommit came for different reasons and are varying degrees of importance. It’s a notable deal but not a huge one at this point in time because UCLA still has many of its key pieces in Olaijah Griffin and Dorian Thompson-Robinson.

What are the chances Jim Mora still has the head coaching position after the season?

There are two factors to Jim Mora’s job security in my mind: record and feeling about the program. I think a 6-6 record could be enough to take care of the first part, so UCLA would only have to win two out of these final three games. The most likely scenario for two more wins would be victories against Arizona State and California at home and a loss against USC, which brings us to the second part of the job security equation. The game against USC, even though it’ll likely go down as a loss, is still important because the Bruins to put up some fight, be competitive and not embarrass themselves in rivalry game to earn good will from donors. A 50-0 loss would not go down well at all. So if the Bruins can do those two things — win out at home and compete at the Coliseum — there are good chances. You can set your own idea of what the chances are for those first conditions actually happening. I’m not an oddsmaker.

Can you give us a list of key players who will be out? Seems like a ton more than usual.

  • UCLA’s season-ending injuries:
  • Preseason: OL Kenny Lacy (hips), WR Audie Omotosho (knee), OL Alex Akingbulu (knee)
  • Week 2: LB Breland Brandt (concussions) — medically retired
  • Week 3: DB Keyon Riley (shoulder), RB Nate Starks (knee)
  • Week 5: TE Caleb Wilson (foot)
  • Week 8: LB Josh Woods (shoulder), DL Matt Dickerson (collarbone — possible he may be able to return during a bowl game)
  • Week 10: DL Ainuu Taua (knee), WR Darren Andrews (knee)

Key injuries to watch this week: LB Krys Barnes (fluid in lungs, second occurrence vs. Utah), DE Jaelan Phillips (probable ankle, re-aggravated old injury against Utah), TE Austin Roberts (ankle, played one snap on offense against Utah, did not look full strength running down field)

I’m wondering why you wear thick-framed eye glasses. 

Because I like them.