Weekly Q&A — 10/20/14 Answers

Q: Based on what you’ve observed way back in spring practice through fall camp to today, seven games into the season, would you characterize the 2014 Bruins as a squad that was seemingly overrated on the basis of talent? Or were the general preseason perceptions of UCLA’s talent not that far off base and this has been a case of consistent poor execution on game days?

A: I think there was a solid argument for UCLA being a playoff contender, but even that was optimistic. Once people started picking them to win the national title, that’s when the hype really got out of control. The media wanted to look for a trendy dark-horse pick; coming off a 10-win season bearing star power in Brett Hundley and Myles Jack, the Bruins fit the bill.

This team should be better than it has been based on talent alone, but that wouldn’t necessarily be enough for it to win the Pac-12 title. It’s hard to knock off Oregon when they have a guy like Marcus Mariota who almost never makes mistakes. Still, a UCLA team functioning closer to its ceiling should have been able to beat Utah at home, and should have come out and trucked Cal in the second half. This hypothetical team might still fall short in the Pac-12 title game, but just getting there at all shouldn’t be as difficult a road as it now looks.

Q: Do you think Brett Hundley would ever consider coming back again for next season? Or is he pretty much done after this season?

A: Gone. He was emphatic that this would be his last season at UCLA even right after he announced his decision to stay back in January, and nothing has changed since. Assuming he continues playing at the same level he has so far, I can’t imagine him staying.

Q: Do you think a two-loss Pac 12 champion can make the four-team playoff? Looks like every team (except FSU) will have at least one or two losses by the time its all said and done. And yes, I’m talking about UCLA — if they can win out and finally get their act together (and Utah loses twice and ASU once). Continue reading

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Jim Mora: Tailback Paul Perkins ‘doing well’ after wrist injury

Running back Paul Perkins missed the fourth quarter of UCLA’s 36-34 win at Cal last Saturday with a right wrist injury, but practiced with it wrapped on Tuesday and appears on track to play at Colorado this weekend.

Bruins head coach Jim Mora said the tailback is “doing well.” Perkins is third in the Pac-12 with 116.6 yards per game, and also had four receptions for 75 yards and two touchdowns against the Bears.

Cornerback Fabian Moreau practiced after suffering what Mora originally called a “stinger.” Inside receiver Thomas Duarte is still limited after tweaking his hamstring, and did not practice in full on Tuesday. Unsurprisingly, Mora also said they were “doing well.”

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Marcus Rios’ interception a product of resilience, strategy

The most remarkable part of what Marcus Rios did on Saturday happened long before the ball fell into his hands with 51 seconds left in UCLA’s 36-34 win at Cal.

It’s been well-reported, but worth mentioning again: Back in spring of 2013, the cornerback spent months at UCLA Medical Center battling a life-threatening fungal infection. Even after he returned to the practice field last season, he looked underweight and far from playing in an actual game.

And yet, there he was at Memorial Stadium, pulling in an interception that sealed the Bruins’ first win in Berkeley since 1998.

“A year ago, this kid was battling for his life,” said UCLA defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich. “That’s no exaggeration. I remember when he had just gotten out of the hospital and he was 135, 140 pounds. To think how far he’s come and for him to have an opportunity to seal this win for us, that was just really cool.”

Rios received the game ball afterward, the first one handed out since head coach Jim Mora was hired. “It just made sense,” Mora said.

Less discussed has been exactly what happened on that play. Down two points, Cal was threatening to enter field goal range with another first down. With a kicker who was 7-of-10 on field goal attempts this season — and a long of 47 — all the Bears needed was another run or a short pass.

But they opted to take another shot at the end zone. Continue reading

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UCLA moves back into Associated Press poll after beating Cal

UCLA’s absence from the national rankings didn’t last long.

A 36-34 win at Cal moves the Bruins moved into the Associated Press poll at No. 25. The team had fallen out completely from No. 18 a week earlier, following back-to-back losses to Utah and Oregon.

UCLA remains unranked in the USA Today coaches’ poll.

The Ducks remain the Pac-12′s highest-ranked team, jumping three spots to No. 6 after blowing out Washington.

Stanford is now unranked after entering the weekend at No. 23. A loss to Arizona State gave the Cardinal their third of the season.

Full AP poll below: Continue reading

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UCLA 36, Cal 34: Linebacker Eric Kendricks

UCLA linebacker Eric Kendricks talked about the defense’s performance in a 36-34 win at Cal, including cornerback Marcus Rios’ game-sealing interception and what it was like to have to constantly defend a short field after three turnovers.

“We’ve got to find ways to make field goals out of those drives,” Kendricks said. “We can’t let them score that easy. I think we have to go back to work on that this week. … We can’t respond like how we did.”

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