UCLA left tackle Conor McDermott will return for senior season

UCLA left tackle Conor McDermott (68) will return to school for his senior season. The Bruins are losing three other starters from its 2015 offensive line. (Keith Birmingham/Staff)

UCLA left tackle Conor McDermott (68) will return to school for his senior season. The Bruins are losing three other starters from its 2015 offensive line. (Keith Birmingham/Staff)

UCLA left tackle Conor McDermott will return to school for his senior season, stabilizing a Bruin offensive line that loses three starters.

The 23-year-old announced his decision on Tuesday night, writing in an Instagram post: “After long discussion with my family and coaches, I’m proud to say I am returning for my senior season at UCLA. I am committed to earning my degree from UCLA, and helping my brothers win a Championship on the field.”

McDermott had said in August that the idea of jumping to the NFL was in the “back of his mind,” but decided to stay at UCLA after requesting a draft evaluation. He has started 19 games at left tackle through the past two seasons, and will enter this final year as the team’s most valuable offensive lineman.

His decision to stay gives the Bruins a significant boost up front. The unit is losing fourth-year starting center Jake Brendel to graduation, as well as juniors Alex Redmond and Caleb Benenoch. Redmond was academically ineligible for the Foster Farms Bowl last month, and signed with an agent before the Bruins’ loss to Nebraska. Benenoch, who is projected as a late-round draft pick, declared last week.

UCLA will also return offensive guard Kenny Lacy, who started 10 games this season, and soon-to-be redshirt sophomore Kolton Miller. Miller started a game at left tackle in place of McDermott, and four more at right tackle.

Scott Quessenberry, who started 19 games in 2013 and 2014, is also set to return after sitting out this past season recovering from shoulder surgeries. He has spent most of his career at guard, but could replace Brendel at center.

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UCLA offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone returns to practice

UCLA offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone returned to practice on Thursday morning, after being hospitalized earlier this week.

The 58-year-old had been with the Bruins on Monday, but missed their Tuesday and Wednesday sessions.

“It was great,” said left tackle Conor McDermott. “I love seeing him out there. I was in the middle of the second team period, I turn around and see him, I raised my hand up — ‘Coach Mazzone!’ …

“We were praying for him and worrying about him, of course. We’re happy he’s back.”

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Kenny Clark leads UCLA with All-Pac-12 first team selection

UCLA nose tackle Kenny Clark (97) was the Bruins' lone representative on the All-Pac-12 first team. He also caught at touchdown pass in UCLA's season-opening 34-16 win against Virginia. (Keith Birmingham/Staff)

UCLA nose tackle Kenny Clark (97) was the Bruins’ lone representative on the All-Pac-12 first team. He also caught at touchdown pass in UCLA’s season-opening 34-16 win against Virginia. (Keith Birmingham/Staff)

Through most of the season, nose tackle Kenny Clark looked like UCLA’s best player. Pac-12 coaches agreed.

When the All-Pac-12 teams were announced Tuesday, Clark was the Bruins’ sole first-team representative on offense, defense, or special teams. The 6-foot-3, 310-pound junior was second on the team with seven tackles for loss, showed off his development as a pass rusher by notching his first five career sacks.

UCLA placed several more players on the second team. On offense, running back Paul Perkins, center Jake Brendel and left tackle Conor McDermott all earned spots. Linebacker Deon Hollins and defensive backs Randall Goforth and Jaleel Wadood filled in for the defense.

Receiver Jordan Payton, linebacker Aaron Wallace, and cornerback Marcus Rios were honorable mentions.

Perhaps the most eyebrow-raising part of the all-conference selections was Ka’imi Fairbairn settling for being a second-team specialist. The kicker became the Pac-12’s all-time leading scorer this season, hit a school-record 60-yard field goal, and is one of three finalists for the Lou Groza Award. Throw in his respectable 20 of 23 conversion rate on field goals, and he seemed like a shoe-in on the first team.

Instead, Pac-12 coaches voted for Aidan Schneider. The Oregon sophomore was slightly more accurate at 20 of 22, but hadn’t attempted a field goal longer than 41 yards. Fairbairn’s three misses have come from 47, 49 and 50 yards.

See the full All-Pac-12 teams below: Continue reading

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Five thoughts after UCLA’s win over Utah

In case you missed anything from UCLA’s 17-9 win at Utah, here’s our coverage from yesterday in Salt Lake City.

» The Bruins’ defense made key adjustments, and shut a team out of the end zone for the third time this season.
» Jordan Payton set a new UCLA record with his 194th career catch. He also became only the eighth Bruin to record 1,000 receiving yards in a season, and the first since Nelson Rosario in 2011.
» VIDEOS: Jim Mora, Tom Bradley, Josh Rosen / Paul Perkins, Deon Hollins, Jordan Payton, Takkarist McKinley, Jayon Brown

A few more thoughts on UCLA, and the road ahead …

1. The Bruins are in good position to win the Pac-12 South. Jim Mora has won three straight games against USC, taking the last two by more than two touchdowns. If a fourth is what stands between UCLA and a spot in the Pac-12 Championship, it’s very difficult to imagine this team letting up. As much as he’s struggled against Stanford, Mora has consistently prepared to against both USC and Arizona, going 7-0 with an average margin of almost 21 points. That’s not just happenstance.

While the Trojans have opened as 3.5-point favorites, that only feeds into UCLA’s preference for the underdog role. Even Josh Rosen has caught onto this.

“I hope we don’t get ranked after this game,” he said Saturday. “Because for some reason, we don’t like playing ahead. We like when people doubt us.”

That said, with the division at stake, this could easily go down to the wire.

2. The offensive line could have issues. Left tackle Conor McDermott injured his right knee on Saturday, and wasn’t able to walk off the field unassisted. Mora wouldn’t say much about his status, but coming back from something like that in one week seems unlikely. Continue reading

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Four-star offensive guard Michael Alves commits to UCLA

UCLA has added a much needed prospect to its 2016 class in offensive guard Michael Alves.

Rivals.com rates he San Diego St. Augustine standout as a four-star recruit, and one of the top 20 guards in the country. Scout.com gives him three stars and a No. 2 ranking among California recruits at his position.

The 6-foot-4, 310-pound Alves is only the second offensive line recruit on track to sign with the Bruins next February. Three-star center Sean Auwae also picked UCLA back in August.

An offensive line that has allowed a conference-low 10 sacks this season will graduate center Jake Brendel, who has more career starts than any Bruin in school history. Starting left tackle Conor McDermott, a 23-year-old redshirt junior, is also a candidate to declare for the NFL draft.

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