Five questions: Daily Progress’ Andrew Ramspacher on Virginia

UCLA is just two days away from its season opener, which means it’s time to check in with opposing beat writers again for some perspective on the Bruins’ opponents. First up is Andrew Ramspacher of the Daily Progress, who gives his take on a Virginia team that is coming off a 5-7 season.

(Also, here are the questions I answered for the Daily Progress about UCLA.)

1. It seems like Mike London’s job security is perennially under scrutiny. Is this finally the do-or-die season for the sixth-year head coach, or is the seat at about the same temperature it was last fall?

A buzzword around UVa and Mike London’s situation entering 2014 was “improvement.” What did London have to do to stick around for 2015? Show great improvement from the dismal 2-10 campaign. And, well, that’s kind of exactly what the Cavaliers did last season. Sure, they went 5-7, but five of those losses came by eight points or less. With a more appropriate schedule, they’re easily into a bowl game.

As for this season, I think it’s more than safe to say it’s finally do or die. London has two years left on his contract. A popular thought is he either does enough to stay and Virginia extends him or he falls short and is let go. (It would be REALLY hard to recruit with one year left on a contract). What’s a reasonable expectation to have him back in 2016? A bowl game appearance in the least. Something else to consider is attendance. Virginia had a 15 percent decrease in Scott Stadium seat fillers last year. Notre Dame and Virginia Tech coming to Charlottesville should give this year’s numbers a decent bump, but it’ll be interesting to see how administration factors everything in.

2. London said in spring that the quarterback competition wasn’t close, but Greyson Lambert is now the starter at Georgia. Is Matt Johns really that much better, or is there any thought that UVa picked the wrong guy?

Lambert, although he wasn’t always healthy, had a full season to prove he was the right guy for Virginia in 2014. His numbers — 10 touchdowns to 11 interceptions — proved Johns, who made occasional appearances last year, still had a chance in the competition.

Coaches were adamant they charted all of the QB throws in spring practice and, as London noted, Johns beat out Lambert by a significant margin. On the flip-side, Virginia offensive coordinator Steve Fairchild said the QB battle was a “fluid situation” and the post-spring depth chart simply reflected if the Cavaliers were playing a game that day. That head coach-offensive coordinator disconnect perhaps is symbolic of the way Virginia’s handled quarterbacks since London’s hire. It’s been a non-stop carousel that’s directly related to London’s 23-38 record. Continue reading

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Five questions: Seattle Times’ Adam Jude talks Washington

After beating then-No. 14 Arizona at home, No. 18 UCLA is slowly crawling back up the national rankings. But to stay alive in a tight Pac-12 South race, the Bruins can’t afford to lose any of their last three regular-season games. They visit Washington on Saturday for their last road trip, and are currently listed as a 6.5-point favorite over a team that doesn’t have any victories over ranked opponents. Adam Jude of the Seattle Times answered five questions about the Huskies.

1. Since moving to running back, how valuable has Shaq Thompson become to Washington’s offense? What does the Husky defense miss most when he’s not in?

Shaq has quickly become the Huskies best offensive weapon, with 272 yards on 36 carries in two games as the Huskies’ featured running back. Before that, you could make a strong case that he was UW’s best defensive player. His four defensive touchdowns this season are the most in college football over the past decade, according to ESPN research, and he was drawing some national pub at midseason as a national defensive player of the year candidate. There’s no doubt, though, that he is more valuable to the team as a running back right now. It’s likely that he will play some at linebacker against UCLA, but the Huskies are fairly comfortable with the depth they have on defense behind him.

2. UW also has a pair of Bednarik semifinalists in Hau’oli Kikaha and Danny Shelton. How much does the defense rely on their performance? And given how much UCLA struggled against a similarly aggressive Utah front, do you see any soft spots the Bruins could try and find?

Two of the best (and nicest) guys I’ve covered. Kikaha is as good as any player at this level at getting to the quarterback; he leads the nation in sacks and tackles for loss. And Shelton leads the team in tackles — as a 340-pound nose tackle. Not sure I’ve ever seen that. When the Huskies can pressure the quarterback with four linemen, it makes life much better for the back end of the UW defense. That’s true for every team, but especially so for a UW secondary that will start three true freshmen against UCLA in the wake of Marcus Peters’ dismissal late Wednesday. Continue reading

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Five questions: Arizona Daily Star’s Daniel Berk talks Wildcats

Sitting near the top of the Pac-12 South, Arizona has quickly become the conference’s biggest surprise. On the other side of the Rose Bowl this Saturday is UCLA, arguably the conference’s biggest disappointment. Both have six wins, but the former has earned its record in far more convincing fashion than the latter. Daniel Berk from the Arizona Daily Star answered five questions about the No. 14 Wildcats.

Nearly three years in now, how has Rich Rodriguez measured up to what most Arizona fans initially expected? How much did the upset of Oregon earlier this month feel like a turning point for the program?

I think two-plus years in, he’s ahead of where most people thought he’d be. The cupboard was pretty bare when he got here other than Ka’Deem Carey, and he managed to win 16 games in two seasons and win back-to-back bowl games. I think fans were willing to be patient and let him build something, but the expectations changed and were raised going into this season after having some success the first two seasons. I think the win over Oregon was significant, but I’m not sure if it was viewed as a turning point, because Arizona has gotten some big wins like that before, but hasn’t backed them up the following weeks. So I think some fans have been waiting for a letdown game. I think a win Saturday would be more of a turning point with some of the recent struggles UA has had with UCLA. A win Saturday would also set Arizona up pretty nicely with the remainder of its schedule.

How has Rodriguez kept the Wildcats’ offense firing despite cycling through a different quarterback each year?

He’s a quarterback guru and knows how to get more out of guys at that position than most coaches in the country. Few, if any, thought B.J. Denker was a Pac-12 quarterback and he turned him into one in less than two seasons. Anu Solomon certainly had some talent coming out of Bishop Gorman High School and had other options, but the fact that he’s playing as well as he is so early in his career is both a surprise and a credit to Rodriguez and quarterbacks coach Rod Smith. Continue reading

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Five questions: Daily Camera’s Kyle Ringo talks Colorado

Colorado is still searching for its second conference win under head coach Mike MacIntyre, while UCLA is still searching for its first complete performance since a blowout win at Arizona State last month. The Buffs and the Bruins don’t have the most storied history, although quarterback Sefo Liufau did try to fight linebacker Anthony Barr after taking a late hit last year. Kyle Ringo from the Boulder Daily Camera answered five questions about the Buffaloes.

1. What were the biggest challenges facing Mike MacIntyre when he first took the Colorado job? Has this season been a bit of a step back after his four-win debut?

The biggest challenge is one shared by all programs that have struggled through multiple losing seasons — it’s tough to recruit to that. He’s approaching the two-year anniversary of his hiring and still struggling to get serious interest from many top-flight recruits. The four-and five-star players want to play for a winner. Most generally don’t want to be a part of building a program into a winner. That made addressing another problem more difficult. He needed to increase the speed and athleticism of his team, which he has done, but there remains work to do there. MacIntyre also took over a program that badly needed some major facilities upgrades. Those are underway now with $181 million project in and around Folsom Field. Finally, I’d say another significant problem he faced, maybe the most significant when it comes to actually making headway, was getting players in the program to develop a culture of caring about each other and playing for each other on Saturdays. He inherited a fractured team with factions and friction.

This season hasn’t been a step back by any means. Continue reading

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Five questions: BearTerritory.net’s Ryan Gorcey talks Cal

Following back-to-back home losses, UCLA heads to Cal for a game that could stabilize the Bruins’ season — or knock it completely off the rails. The Bruins are a slight favorite, but haven’t won at Memorial Stadium since 1998. Ryan Gorcey, who publishes Scout’s Cal site BearTerritory.net, answered five questions about the Bears.

1. Sonny Dykes’ first season went about as poorly as anyone could have imagined. Does a 4-1 start in 2014 keep his job safe for the next few years, or could a second-half collapse put him in jeopardy again?

Well, 4-1 did wonders not just for the team itself, but also for a lot of folks in the general Cal community. I think there’s certainly evidence that the program is getting turned around, already winning as many games as it has over the past two seasons combined. The Bears are also playing an exciting brand of football, offensively, and the reasoning behind Dykes’s hiring was that he was going to put butts in seats with offense. That hasn’t happened quite yet. That’s a very expensive stadium that the university has to pay off, and the folks buying the most expensive seats aren’t sold on this new order quite yet. That said, Dykes has gotten Cal’s house in order, academically, which was the most significant directive given him when he was brought in. That’s played very well amongst those up top. Now, as far as a collapse, there are two ways it could happen: Cal could get blown out (like they did in the second half of 2007), or the Bears could keep things competitive against very, very good teams in a back-loaded schedule. We all knew that the second half would be tough, but if he can have his team in games at the end, I think folks will start believing.

2. What are the biggest improvements that you’ve seen from quarterback Jared Goff? Do you expect Cal to play Luke Rubenzer more given UCLA’s recent struggles against running quarterbacks?

Goff’s deep ball is much more precise and is incredibly consistent. He throws the back-shoulder fade better than any college quarterback I’ve seen, and wide receiver Kenny Lawler has rightly called it “indefensible.” Continue reading

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