By at least one measure, UCLA has the toughest schedule in college football. Saturday’s 9 a.m. season opener against Virginia isn’t responsible for much of that weight.
Coming off a 2-10 season that ranks as the program’s worst in 15 years, the Cavaliers are 21-point underdogs against a team that more and more national pundits are starting to pick as the national champion. Do they have a chance to keep up?
UCLA offense vs. Virginia defense:
If Virginia has any hope of pulling the upset, it must look to its defense — now entering its second season under defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta and his blitz-heavy scheme. Nine starters return, including All-American safety Anthony Harris, who led the country last year with eight interceptions.
“He has extreme ball skills,” said UCLA receiver Jordan Payton. “He plays physical. He plays in coverage. … Now, you’re looking at a guy who almost plays like a receiver at safety. You definitely have to play the ball more and be a little more aggressive coming back to the ball.” Continue reading
— Caleb Benenoch (@CalebBenenoch74) August 28, 2014
The second season of “The Drive” premiered on Pac-12 Networks Wednesday night, focusing on UCLA’s training camp at Cal State San Bernardino earlier this month.
For the most part, the 26-minute episode was spent setting the scene for the Bruins’ season: Players get settle into their dorms, and hit the field while mic-ed up coaches bark instructions. Head coach Jim Mora gave a few inspirational speeches, and all was well.
One interesting scene was when cameras followed Mora on one of his runs in the San Bernardino hills. You could hear Mora trying to catch his breath as he waxed on about his coaching philosophy — making for an up-close slice of his daily routine. The Pac-12 Networks crew had noticed Mora jetting toward the trail after practices. When they asked about it, he told them, “You can shoot it, but I don’t think you can keep up.”
To make sure they didn’t fall behind the obsessively in-shape 52-year-old, “The Drive” needed three cameras: one at the bottom of the hills, one mid-way up the trail, and a GoPro strapped to show narrator Yogi Roth. Continue reading
Despite finishing last season as the nation’s No. 110 scoring offense, Virginia can at least take solace in its running back corps. Senior Kevin Parks returns as the program’s eighth-leading all-time rusher, and he has a pair of capable backups in Taquan Mizzell and Khalek Shepherd.
UCLA linebacker Eric Kendricks said the trio looks “shifty,” but stressed that he’ll be watching for hard, downhill runs.
“They’re going to take it to the perimeter a little bit,” Kendricks said. “They’ll have some lead guys pulling for them and stuff like that, but for the main part they’re going to get upfield.”
The senior co-captain also talked about Virginia’s quarterbacks, and what he looks for in opposing offensive lines.
Leading up to UCLA’s season opener this Saturday at 9 a.m. PT, who better to scout the opponent than a Virginia beat writer? Andrew Ramspacher of The Daily Progress in Charlottesville took the time to answer five questions about the Cavaliers.
How hot is Mike London’s seat right now? Is there a rough performance bar he has to clear in order to keep his job?
You go 6-20 in your last 26 games, you have declining attendance (see an expected crowd in the mid-40,000s Saturday) and you struggle to handle the quarterback situation, your seat is obviously going to be hot. There’s no doubt Mike London is facing some serious heat this season. It’s his fifth year at UVa and the program has gone in the opposite direction after a 2011 campaign in which he took ACC Coach of the Year honors and guided the Cavaliers to eight wins and a trip to the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
Virginia administration, despite multiple requests, has chosen to remain mum on the situation, not publicly stating a bar. But I would believe six wins would keep London for a sixth year. Continue reading
UCLA receiver Jordan Payton talked about Virginia’s secondary Tuesday, praising the All-American safety Anthony Harris and comparing the unit to another ACC team the Bruins faced last year.
At the end of his interview session on Tuesday, UCLA receiver Devin Lucien looked into the cameras and offered a heartfelt dedication to his mother, Trina Matthews — who has been diagnosed with breast cancer.
“I’m trying to keep it down, but number one, I wanted to thank everybody for all their support when I was in the hospital,” Lucien said. “And I want to thank everybody for what they’ve been talking about my mom. You know, my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer, so — trying not to get soaked up — that’s been a lot. And this season is dedicated for moms, point blank.
“And that’s another reason for the (hair)do, because it’s really about to go down and people aren’t understanding — let me look at all the cameras when I say that.”
Maybe it’s because he’s never started a game before, but Virginia quarterback Greyson Lambert missed a memo.
Slated to start behind center against UCLA on Saturday, the redshirt sophomore laid down some Grade-A chalkboard material this week when asked about the Bruins — who return eight starters to a defense ranked 35th nationally in opponent scoring, and add a potential star in defensive end Owamagbe Odighizuwa after a year off due to hip surgeries.