Receiver Alex Van Dyke eager to contribute after burning redshirt

Through UCLA’s preseason training camp, Alex Van Dyke looked the part of a starting receiver — if you imagined him two years into the future.

The true freshman looked bigger than his listed 6-foot-3, 212 pounds, a frame that could easily carry more weight. Also an All-Metro basketball player at Elk Grove (Calif.) Cosumnes Oaks, Van Dyke already had the genes (son of a former NFL player) and the nickname (“Bambi” for his wobbly gait).

He just didn’t always look like he knew what to do. After two weeks in San Bernardino, Van Dyke seemed destined for a redshirt — especially considering that the Bruins returned nearly every receiver from 2013, including four who had double-digit receptions.

So it was a bit of a surprise when, with UCLA already up by three touchdowns in last Thursday’s 62-27 win at Arizona State, the true freshman stepped onto the field for a handful of plays. Continue reading

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First look: Utah Utes

No. 8 UCLA Bruins (4-0, 1-0) vs. Utah Utes (3-1, 0-1)
Kickoff: Saturday, 7:30 p.m. PT, Rose Bowl
TV: ESPN (Mark Jones, Rod Gilmore, Jessica Mendoza)
Radio: 1150 Fox Sports LA / SIRIUS 136 (Chris Roberts, Matt Stevens, Wayne Cook)

Coach: Kyle Whittingham isn’t exactly on the hot seat, but the 54-year-old is at a bit of a crossroads in the midst of his 10th season at Utah.

Through his first six years, the Utes finished top-three in the Mountain West all but once — punctuating five straight postseason wins with a perfect 13-0 run to the Fiesta Bowl. His team finally stumbled in 2012 and lost to Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl, but still finished 23rd in the coaches’ poll.

Conference expansion knocked the program completely off course. Utah has yet to win a Pac-12 opener, and finished league play with four wins in 2011, three in 2012, and two in 2013. The Utes’ offense has finished either 11th or 12th in the Pac-12 in each of those seasons, which has pushed Whittingham into trying to juggle offensive coordinators like a bad Penn Jillette impression.

Utah’s 2014 campaign looked more promising after a road upset of Michigan, but the team followed up by blowing a 21-point lead to Washington State last weekend.

Key players:

QB Travis Wilson, Jr., 6-7, 233 — 56/96, 783 yards, 7 TD, 0 INT, 33 carries, 81 rushing yards, 1 TD
– About as tough as any quarterback you’ll find in the country, the San Clemente product looks more efficient after throwing 23 touchdowns against 22 interceptions over his first two seasons. Continue reading

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UCLA linebacker Kenny Orjioke to undergo knee procedure

UCLA linebacker Kenny Orjioke will have a procedure on right knee on Tuesday, said head coach Jim Mora.

The junior was on crutches and had his right knee heavily wrapped. Initially thought to be a bruise, the severity of Orjioke’s injury is still uncertain pending further medical examination. He has eight tackles this season in reserve action, including one for loss.

“I’m keeping my fingers crossed that it’s just something minor,” Mora said. “Maybe he misses this game and he’s back next week.”

Starting offensive guard Alex Redmond (ankle) is still in a boot after spraining his ankle in the first half of UCLA’s win at Arizona State last Thursday, but Mora didn’t rule him out of playing against Utah this weekend. Continue reading

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Weekly Q&A — 9/28/14 Answers

Q: Do you feel the defensive issues have more to do with the loss of Lou Spanos, and Jeff Ulbrich being green as a coordinator, or does it have more to do with the loss of Anthony Barr, Cassius Marsh, and Jordan Zumwalt? Do you see the defense getting better this year?

If the DBs are so good, why don’t you trust the defense enough to bring more pressure?

A: I think it’s both, which always sounds like a cop-out answer but is more often than not the truest one. If Jeff Ulbrich had an All-American linebacker plus two more NFL draft picks back in this defense, he could probably afford to throw a lot more pressure. But Spanos also excelled at making halftime adjustments in a way that Ulbrich hasn’t quite done yet.

Giving up 626 yards to an Arizona State team running with its backup quarterback wasn’t good. But while yards aren’t completely meaningless, as Jim Mora may argue, that number doesn’t look as bad considering that the Sun Devils needed 105 plays to do so. (Why Arizona State was able to run 105 plays may be a better point of contention, even if the Bruins were merely trying to prevent a big play down the stretch.)

With a third of the regular season done, the defense looks like it’s going to rely on its defensive line to create pressure and stop the run, as well its knack for forcing timely turnovers. It’s probably not going to start throwing blitzes on every other snap — especially since the secondary hasn’t played particularly well and also lost safety Randall Goforth to shoulder surgeries. UCLA has given up 57 pass plays of at least 10 yards, more than anyone in the country except Washington, South Carolina, Cal, Toledo and Bowling Green.

Q: Any idea on when Simon Goines will be ready to play? Any news about Conor McDermott?

I don’t think anyone should be surprised if he ends up redshirting this season. Mora did say before the season that he wants Goines to play, and gave a tentative Week 3 return date then. However, he also picked his words carefully, saying he wanted Goines “ready to go” by then — as if referring to a mental mindset rather than being physical prepared.

Obviously, Week 3 has come and gone, and Goines remains limited in practices.

Conor McDermott played a bit already this season, but the staff is trying not to rush him back given his history of shoulder problems. Continue reading

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Brett Hundley, Ishmael Adams named Pac-12 Players of the Week

UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley and defensive back Ishmael Adams both earned Pac-12 Player of the Week nods on Monday, marking the second time this season that two Bruins have won on the same day.

Hundley was named the conference’s top offensive player following his big performance in UCLA’s 62-27 win over Arizona State. The redshirt junior threw for 355 yards and four touchdowns on just 23 pass attempts, and finished the game with just five incompletions — none of which came in the second half.

He also rushed for 72 yards and another score, all while wearing a protective brace over his injured left elbow.

“It’s a little concern — not too much,” Hundley said of the brace on Monday. “Obviously, the more I practice with it the more comfortable I feel. Obviously, it adds a bigger piece of weight to your arm. It distributes weight a little different. But at the same time, you practice with it and it’ll be fine.” Continue reading

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Jim Mora defends UCLA’s defense: ‘Yards don’t matter’

UCLA stomped Arizona State 62-27 on Thursday and bounced back into the top 10 of national polls, but its defense gave up 626 yards in the process — a record under third-year head coach Jim Mora.

In case anyone was wondering, Mora doesn’t care about that number.

“I’ve been coaching since I was 22 years old,” he said. “Played defense for four years before that. Yards has never been an issue. I doubt that I’ll change now. Most coaches I know don’t pay much attention to yards, because yards don’t matter. Points are usually what they grade you on.

“It’s the team at the end of the game with the most points that wins, not the team with the most yards. So that’s how I feel about yards.” Continue reading

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UCLA’s Saturday game against Utah to kick off at 7:30 p.m.

Fresh off a decisive win at Arizona State on national television, UCLA will spend another weekend in the spotlight.

After playing three of their first four games away from the Rose Bowl, the Bruins will return home on Saturday for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff against Utah on ESPN. UCLA moved up to No. 8 in the Associated Press poll after their 62-27 win over ASU.

The Utes’ promising start to the season was spoiled by Washington State’s 28-27 comeback victory in Salt Lake City. Utah had blown out Idaho State and Fresno State by 74 combined points to start the year, then beat Michigan, 26-10, on the road.

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