Five things to watch: No. 8/9 UCLA vs. Stanford

With a spot in the Pac-12 Championship on the line, UCLA will try to get its first win against Stanford since 2008. A few things to watch, plus a score prediction …

How will Stanford’s offense fare without Ty Montgomery? First guess is not well. Quarterback Kevin Hogan is the quintessential game manager, one that was more than sufficient for the Cardinal when it had a powerful run game to lean on. Stanford is on track to finish with a 1,000-yard rusher for the first time since 2007; losing its most explosive player to a shoulder injury is only going to limit the offense even further.

Montgomery was Hogan’s most reliable target, and the recipient of more than a quarter of the team’s total receptions. At 6-foot-2, 220 pounds, he would have been a load to bring down once he got into the secondary.

Can UCLA’s defense maintain pressure? Hogan only threw at least 20 passes in seven games last season. This year, he’s already hit that mark in nine games, at topped 30 passes in three straight games in October. Not coincidentally, Stanford lost two of those games, beating only lowly Washington State. Continue reading

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UCLA fighting for 7th place after big loss to No. 5 North Carolina

UCLA has just one more chance to leave the Battle 4 Atlantis with a win.

The No. 22 Bruins opened the tournament in the Bahamas with double-digit losses to Oklahoma and No. 5 North Carolina, looking nothing like a team that should be ranked in the Associated Press poll. After a 78-56 dismantling at the hands of the Tar Heels, UCLA now falls the the seventh-place game against the University of Alabama-Birmingham, which tips off Friday at 7:30 p.m. PT on AXS TV.

The 22-point margin of victory was UNC’s largest against a ranked opponent since 2008. An even uglier milestone was marked by the Bruins’ own carelessness with the ball: they coughed up 23 turnovers against seven assists, the team’s worst single-game ratio since 1996. Continue reading

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Weekly Q&A — 11/25/14 Answers

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! In today’s Daily News, I put together a list of what UCLA football has to be thankful for this season. Hope you all have a great holiday.

On to the Q&A …

Q: If Brett Hundley and Marcus Mariota swapped teams, who do you think would be more successful? Where do you suppose UCLA and Oregon would be ranked?

A: I’d go with the team that has the likely Heisman winner, and swap UCLA and Oregon in the rankings.

Q: How much of an impact has running backs coach Kennedy Polamalu had on Paul Perkins becoming the league’s leading rusher?

A: Multiple people have said that Polamalu’s biggest effect on the running back corps has been their pass blocking, which I think has allowed Perkins to stay on the field much more — even if he’s not getting the carry. That was the edge that Jordon James had through the offseason, and the reason I thought the senior would get every chance to win the starting spot. Perkins looked like he would beat out Jordon James for the starting spot at some point this season; I just didn’t expect it to happen so early, and for James to look so poor through the first two games.

(It’s also worth mentioning that Perkins’ conference lead is very slim, and he isn’t facing as much competition for the rushing title as recent backs.)

Q: What is the nature of receiver Thomas Duarte’s leg injury suffered in practice on Tuesday?

A: He looked like he tweaked his hamstring, which has given him trouble since training camp in San Bernardino. Duarte’s limp was barely noticeable on Wednesday, though, so he should be good to go by Friday.

Q: Do you think Brett Hundley’s comment about “achieving everything I wanted to at UCLA” will cause distraction this Friday against the Cardinal, or is the media making a non-story a story?

A: No. I have no clue why this is a story. He literally said in January that this would be his last season, but I guess everyone forgot/didn’t care. Continue reading

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UCLA close to scheduling home-and-home series with Kentucky

UCLA men’s basketball just suffered its first loss of the season, dropping a 75-65 decision to Oklahoma today. After debuting in the Associated Press poll at No. 22 on Monday, the Bruins’ stay could be short-lived if it loses to fifth-ranked North Carolina tomorrow as the Battle 4 Atlantis continues in the Bahamas.

This team has talent, if not depth, but there’s a reason Steve Alford preached patience before the start of the season. It will take time for him to coach the team up to where he wants it to be.

But under Alford’s long-term philosophy, it’s these early games against top teams that will make UCLA a tougher program. The second-year head coach told ESPN on Wednesday that the Bruins are close to finalizing a home-and-home series with Kentucky, which has become a perennial title contender under John Calipari. The series would start in 2015 at Pauley Pavilion, then conclude at Rupp Arena the following year.

UCLA already has a game against the No. 1 Wildcats on Dec. 20 at the United Center in Chicago, as part of the CBS Sports Classic.

Since being hired in 2013, Alford has not been shy about his desire to schedule big-time nonconference opponents. The Bruins have a home-and-home against Gonzaga this year and the next, and are currently playing in a tournament that features three other ranked teams.

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UCLA moves up one spot to No. 8 in playoff rankings

This wasn’t a chaotic week in the College Football Playoff rankings, but UCLA nevetheless continued its climb — inching up one spot to No. 8 following a 38-20 win over USC.

The Bruins are now the nation’s best two-loss team in the eyes of the selection committee. Those two losses came against other top-25 teams: No. 2 Oregon and No. 25 Utah, which is the only four-loss team to appear in the latest rankings. The order of the top seven remained unchanged, however.

UCLA’s path is still clear. If it beats Stanford on Friday, it will earn a second shot at the Ducks in the Pac-12 Championship. Given the committee’s friendliness toward the league, the Bruins will have a good chance at a playoff berth if they can win their first conference title since 1998 — even if one-loss teams such as Ohio State and Baylor don’t drop another game.

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Stanford’s Ty Montgomery to miss UCLA game with shoulder injury

UCLA’s defense will have one less concern this Friday, as Stanford receiver Ty Montgomery has been ruled out with a shoulder injury.

The 6-foot-2, 220-pound wideout and kick returner produced a season-low 87 all-purpose yards against the Bruins last season, but is a dynamic player who is hard to bring down in the open field. The senior leads his team with 61 catches this season (for 604 yards and three touchdowns), which accounts for 28.5 percent of the Cardinal’s reception total. He also has 429 yards on 17 kickoff returns.

Montgomery’s absence will rob an unremarkable Stanford offense of its biggest playmaker. Without a powerful lead back to lean on, quarterback Kevin Hogan has not been able to progress beyond his game-manager role. After averaging 8.9 yards per pass attempt last season — good for 13th in the country — the redshirt junior has dipped to 7.6.

UCLA’s pass rush has picked significantly this month, getting a season-high six sacks against USC. Combined with an improving secondary, the Bruins are now allowing just 6.3 yards per pass attempt — good for second in the conference and 25th nationally. However, defensive backs Ishmael Adams and Priest Willis are questionable with ankle and head injuries.

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VIDEO: Offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone scouts Stanford defense

The biggest worry for UCLA this Friday is Stanford’s defense — by far the toughest on the Bruins’ schedule. The Cardinal have no obvious holes on that side of the ball, ranking third nationally in opponent yards per pass attempt (5.4) and 15th in yards per carry (3.18).

Asked what in particular is challenging about the Stanford defense, UCLA offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone quipped: “What isn’t challenging about the Stanford defense?”

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