By the numbers countdown to kickoff: 9 days

Eddie Vanderdoes (47) talks with Kenny Young (42) at practice. Photo by Steve McCrank/Daily Breeze

Eddie Vanderdoes (47) talks with Kenny Young (42) at practice. Photo by Steve McCrank/Daily Breeze

Countdown the days to UCLA’s season-opener against Texas A&M with key stats facing the Bruins this year.

10 receiving touchdowns scored by Thomas Duarte last year, which led the team

9 RETURNING STARTERS ON DEFENSE

UCLA sent two big stars on defense to the NFL, but the Bruins are set to reload quickly with nine returning starters.

Eddie Vanderdoes replaces first-round pick Kenny Clark in the starting lineup after a season-ending knee injury last year. Vanderdoes had never missed a game in his college career prior to his injury and made 19 combined starts during his first two years with the Bruins.

Cameron Judge is set to take a starting outside linebacker role opposite Jayon Brown. Judge, a senior, played in 12 games last season and made one start while Myles Jack left school early to prepare for the NFL Draft and recover from a meniscus injury.

Deon Hollins started 12 games last season as an outside linebacker in UCLA’s 3-4 front, but with the team’s switch to a 4-3, defensive end Matt Dickerson worked mostly with the No. 1 unit during training camp. Dickerson played in every game last year and made one start, against Washington State.

The Bruins could have 10 (or possibly 11) upperclassmen starting on defense:

  • Defensive line: Takkarist McKinley (Sr.), Eli Ankou (R-Sr.), Vanderdoes (R-Jr.), Dickerson (Jr.)
  • Linebackers: Brown (Sr.), Kenny Young (Jr.) or Isaako Savaiinaea (Sr.), Judge (Sr.)
  • Defensive backs: Fabian Moreau (Sr.), Randall Goforth (R-Sr.), Jaleel Wadood (Jr.), Marcus Rios (R-Sr.) or Nate Meadors (So.)

The group’s experience is “golden,” Vanderdoes said.

“That’s the biggest asset we have right now,” he continued. “We’ve been through everything. … We’ve experienced big losses, small losses, everything, so I don’t think anything can faze us at this point. We’ve seen it all, we’ve experienced it all. We know what it’s like.”

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UCLA linebacker Deon Hollins to return for senior season

UCLA linebacker Deon Hollins (58) will return to the Bruins for his senior season. (Keith Birmingham/Staff)

UCLA linebacker Deon Hollins (58) will return to the Bruins for his senior season. (Keith Birmingham/Staff)

UCLA linebacker Deon Hollins will stay in school for his senior season, becoming the second Bruin to announce such a decision.

Hollins made the All-Pac-12 second team this season, but was not widely regarded as a strong candidate for the NFL draft. After leading UCLA with nine sacks as a sophomore, his numbers dipped as a junior to 2.5 sacks and 18 total tackles.

Opposing teams clearly game-planned more for the talented edge rusher this season, especially after a season-ending injuries knocked out both defensive lineman Eddie Vanderdoes and linebacker Myles Jack in September. The Pac-12 reprimanded Hollins in November for complaining about officials and missed holding calls.

Left tackle Conor McDermott, a redshirt junior, decided earlier this week to delay his professional career. Receiver Thomas Duarte, who caught 10 of Josh Rosen’s 23 touchdown passes, has not announced one way or the other.

UCLA is losing Jack and defensive tackle Kenny Clark — potential first-round picks — as well as running back Paul Perkins and offensive linemen Caleb Benenoch and Alex Redmond.

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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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