UCLA coach Steve Alford talked about the start of the Bruins’ 2015-16 season before the start of their first practice, touching on Jonah Bolden’s recovery from knee surgery, the team’s increased depth, and the possibility of playing big men Thomas Welsh and Tony Parker in the same lineup.
Q: What was once a strength, now seems to be a weakness that opposing teams like SC, Stanford and Utah will expose. Are Jayon Brown, Isaako Savaiinea, Eli Ankou and Matt Dickerson really capable of playing defense at a high enough level to keep us contending for a Pac-12 title — let alone a national championship?
A: National championship? Unlikely. Pac-12 title? Maybe. I think the Bruins are definitely still in good shape to take the division, but they essentially got thrown into a worst-case scenario before conference play even started. The bright side is that it gives the team a lot of time to readjust their defensive scheme before the toughest part of the schedule, but there’s just no way to prevent a dropoff after losing Eddie Vanderdoes, Myles Jack and Fabian Moreau.
Q: With all the injuries to the linebacker corps, do you think Coach Mora would consider moving Nate Iese to the defensive side as well? Also how is Dwight Williams looking? He seems to be the forgotten man.
A: I think Nate Iese has moved around positions enough in his career. Better to keep him at fullback, where he’s been able to contribute as a blocker as well as a receiver. The guy who has switched is Taylor Lagace, who practiced a bit at linebacker this week, presumably because Jayon Brown is limited by his back injury.
Q: Am I the only one who thinks Soso Jamabo would be a beast at outside linebacker? I get he is talented at running back, but do you ever see a day where he might move over to defense? Reminds me a lot of Anthony Barr with his frame.
A: That’s an interesting thought, but I think it’s unlikely. UCLA seems committed to keeping Jamabo in the backfield, and hasn’t even tried moving Jamabo to receiver — where he might also succeed given his upright running style. The Barr comparison is also be a bit of a stretch. Continue reading
UCLA responded to losing three defensive starters in a big way last weekend, rolling out to a 56-30 win at then-No. 16 Arizona. Can the No. 7 Bruins keep it going against an Arizona State team that might be the most disappointing in the conference? Doug Haller, who is covering his sixth season of ASU football for the Arizona Republic and azcentral.com, answered five questions about the Sun Devils.
1. During Arizona State’s 42-14 loss to USC last Saturday, you called this the worst half of football you’d seen out of the Sun Devils in your time covering them. What set this apart from their performances in other blowout losses?
Mostly, the overall sloppiness. They fumbled twice in USC territory — once at the 1-yard line. That one was picked up and returned for a touchdown. Then on the ensuing kick-off, ASU’s returner made a poor decision to bring the ball out of the end zone and fumbled. So that gave USC 14 points in about 30 seconds. Contributing: The defense tackled as poorly as it has all season and couldn’t get off the field on third down. It was ugly.
2. Mike Bercovici’s numbers haven’t slipped that far overall compared to last season, but against Texas A&M and the Trojans, he’s only completed 56.5 percent of his passes for 471 yards, a touchdown, and an interception. Was he playing over his head during his three-game tear in 2014, or was that stretch closer to his true abilities?
When I think back to his performance last season, I always wonder: Had that last-season Hail Mary fallen incomplete, giving Bercovici one win in three starts, how would that have changed the offseason excitement? It’s a hard question to answer. Either way, here’s what’s changed: Last year, ASU had a solid offensive line. This season it has two first-time starters at tackle. Continue reading
Devin Lucien is coming back to the Rose Bowl this Saturday. He’ll just be wearing different colors.
The former UCLA receiver left the program back in March, a few months after he expressed dissatisfaction at his role in the Bruins’ offense. He later landed at Arizona State, eligible to play immediately because he had completed his undergraduate degree.
A perennial camp standout, Lucien never caught more than four passes in a game through three seasons as Bruin, and finished 2014 with 225 yards and two touchdowns on 29 receptions.
As a Sun Devil, he totaled 147 yards on 13 catches in his first three games. Limited by a hamstring injury, he is probable to play against UCLA at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday. Whether he does or not, the Bruins don’t seem concerned.
“It’s a game,” said UCLA receiver Jordan Payton. “I’m not there for the friendships. I’m there for the win. Continue reading