Five questions: Bay Area News Group’s Jon Wilner on Stanford

Stanford already has a conference win in the bag after a victory over USC last week while UCLA is just starting its Pac-12 slate. The Bruins are trying to snap an eight-game losing streak to the Cardinal and earn head coach Jim Mora‘s first win over Stanford in five tries. The Bay Area News Group’s Jon Wilner answered some questions about Stanford’s star running back, its quarterback and its defense.

1. Christian McCaffrey’s versatility makes him such a nightmare for opposing defenses. He has accounted for nearly 60 percent of Stanford’s yards from scrimmage, but how long can the Stanford offense survive on the solo McCaffrey show?

One more week, at most. Can’t image Stanford winning at Washington without McCaffrey getting help on the playmaking front. Can he beat UCLA largely by himself? That depends on the Bruins. Their front seven will challenge Stanford, but it doesn’t take much for him to find the end zone. I expect that Stanford will try to use Bryce Love’s speed in the misdirection game, attempt to stretch the field with receiver Michael Rector and look to tight end Dalton Schultz on third down. But if UCLA cannot contain – not stop, but contain – Stanford’s running game, then nothing else matters. Continue reading

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Five questions: Salt Lake Tribune’s Jay Drew on BYU

After barely escaping last year’s home game against BYU with a victory, UCLA travels to Provo, Utah for the first time since 2008 when the Bruins got stomped 59-0. The Salt Lake Tribune’s Jay Drew answered some questions about BYU under new head coach Kalani Sitake and what the Cougars are missing with the suspensions of Kai Nacua and Austin McChesney.

1. For the first time in 11 years, it’s not Bronco Mendenhall at the helm for the Cougars. What kind of impact has Kalani Sitake had on the culture of the team? 

Sitake inherited a veteran team from Mendenhall, one with a lot of senior leaders and mature, proven players who were successful under the former regime. There was some question early if they would “buy in” to the new coach and his new staff, composed mostly of former BYU players. It appears that they have.

Players say they are having more fun, enjoying practices more, and aren’t playing as if they will get yanked the next time they make a mistake. Mendenhall was more of a no-nonsense, highly regimented coach, who rarely displayed emotion in public.

Take one look at Sitake’s behavior in the Utah game to learn that he’s totally different.

In short, there’s no understating the fact that Sitake has brought a “breath of fresh air,” as former BYU coach LaVell Edwards called it.

Slowly, the team seems to be taking on Sitake’s personality — positive, engaging and passionate. Continue reading

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Five questions: Las Vegas Review-Journal’s Todd Dewey on UNLV

UCLA is coming home after a season-opening loss to Texas A&M and will UNLV at the Rose Bowl on Saturday at 5 p.m. The Las Vegas Review-Journal’s Todd Dewey answered some questions about UNLV, and what the Rebels have in store for the second year under head coach Tony Sanchez.

1. It’s year two of the Tony Sanchez era, how does the mood around the program compare to last year and what’s the next step for the Rebels under Sanchez?

Following the lead of the high-energy Sanchez, the mood around the program is upbeat and expectations are higher this season despite the team winning only three games last year. That’s because the 3-9 mark was an improvement after UNLV won only two games in eight of the previous 11 seasons. The Rebels are hoping to take another big step this year and go to a bowl game for only the fifth time in school history. Continue reading

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Five questions: Salt Lake Tribune’s Kyle Goon on Utah

UCLA needs two more wins to clinch the Pac-12 South, but closing out its schedule on the road won’t be easy. Before next week’s regular-season finale against USC, the Bruins must travel to Salt Lake City and upset No. 18 Utah. The team has come back to Earth after a 6-0 start that vaulted them to third place in the AP poll, but is still the type of tough, defensive-minded squad that often spells trouble for UCLA. The Salt Lake Tribune‘s Kyle Goon answered five questions about the Utes.

(Here are the questions I answered for the Salt Lake Tribune and the Deseret News.)

1. Utah is likely out of the playoff picture after brief stay in the national top five, but it’s still in the midst of its best season since joining the Pac-12. What’s the bar the rest of the way for closing out on what players or fans would consider a “successful” year?

I think fans would really like to go to the Rose Bowl. The Utes have never gone to that game, which — despite its lesser importance in the College Football Playoff structure — is still the Grand Old Lady of the Pac-12. It’s a status symbol that Utah would like to attain, and since it’s in Los Angeles, a lot of people would probably make the trip. Of course this year, it will be the Pac-12 champion that goes, and Utah doesn’t control its own destiny (USC has to lose). I think winning out against UCLA and Colorado would also probably welcomed as a success, as long as Utah finishes first or second in the Pac-12 South.

2. How big of a blow to Utah’s offense is the loss of Devontae Booker? What’s the plan for the Utes moving forward?

It’s a huge blow. Booker is among the top 10 players in all-purpose yards per game (157 ypg), and Utah’s offense accounts for his production a lot to set up play action passing and keep the box stacked. The Utes don’t really have a guy who can replace Booker’s power and vision, as well as his receiving production. The Utes will turn to Joe Williams, who showed some promise last week and is probably faster than Booker. Continue reading

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Five questions: The Spokesman-Review’s Jacob Thorpe on WSU

UCLA will play at the Rose Bowl for the last time this year at 7:45 p.m. on Saturday, hosting a Washington State team that had turned itself around over the course of two months. WSU has already become bowl eligible, but is seeking to ruin the Bruins’ Pac-12 South hopes and further cement this as Mike Leach’s most successful season in the Palouse. The Spokesman-Review‘s Jacob Thorpe answered five questions about the resurgent Cougars.

1. Washington State lost to Portland State and nearly lost to Rutgers. How did this same group of players nearly upset Stanford on the way to what is now a 6-3 record?

Heading into this season, there were many pieces in place for the Cougars to show significant improvement: returning all five offensive linemen, a veteran receiver corps, lets of returners on defense.

But WSU also had a new defensive coordinator who had never had the reins to his own defense before, and a sophomore quarterback in Luke Falk with just three career starts under his belt.

Falk did not exactly put up Air Raid numbers in the nonconference games, throwing for 303 yards or less in two of WSU’s first three games. But he hasn’t thrown for less than 389 yards since and the WSU offense has seen its scoring average rise from 28.3 points per nonconference game to 39.3 against Pac-12 opponents.

The offensive uptick has coincided with the defense finding its footing under Grinch, making the Cougars a much more dangerous team than they were at the start of the season.

2. Mike Leach-coached quarterbacks always put up big numbers, but are often dismissed as system guys. How does Luke Falk compare to “Air Raid” predecessors such as Connor Halliday?

While Falk doesn’t have Connor Halliday’s bionic arm, he may be a better pro prospect than most of Leach’s QBs. Continue reading

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