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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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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VIDEO: UCLA coach Jim Mora previews Bruins’ trip to Stanford

UCLA head coach Jim Mora talked to the media for the last time before the Bruins’ 7:30 p.m. kickoff at Stanford on Thursday. Here’s what he covered.

— On whether or not Stanford represents a significant hurdle for the team: “I think you make a mistake if you look at it like that. I think you have to look at it like one game. That’s always been our approach. … Once you start making one game more important than the other, you open yourself up to inconsistency.”

— On USC firing Steve Sarkisian yesterday: “He’s a friend of mine. Certainly, my heart goes out to him. I wish the best for him. I care about him.” Continue reading

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UCLA CB Marcus Rios’ hospital stay not caused by fungal infection

Brigham Young wide receiver Mitch Mathews (10) catches a pass for yardage past UCLA defensive back Marcus Rios (9) in the first half of a NCAA college football game at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., Saturday, Sept.19, 2015. (Photo by Keith Birmingham/ Pasadena Star-News)

UCLA cornerback Marcus Rios (9) spent three nights in the hospital this week. He is pictured here defending BYU receiver Mitch Mathews during the Bruins’ 24-23 win on Sept. 19, 2015. (Keith Birmingham/Staff)

UCLA cornerback Marcus Rios spent three nights in the hospital this week, but still played sparingly during the Bruins’ loss to Arizona State on Saturday.

After suffering severe headaches and pressure on Tuesday, Rios was admitted for what head coach Jim Mora described as “issues in his sinuses.” Tests eventually revealed that he was not suffering from a recurrence of the fungal infection that threatened his life in 2013.

Rios was cleared to play and returned to the team on Friday evening. He recorded one tackle during UCLA’s 38-23 loss to ASU at the Rose Bowl.

“We would have never put him on the field if there’s even a minute chance that this was something that could be long term,” Mora said. “That’s just not how we operate.”

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UCLA spring camp position reviews: Defensive backs

UCLA Bruins defensive back John Johnson (7) during a NCAA college spring football game at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., Saturday, April 24, 2015. (Photo by Keith Birmingham/ Pasadena Star-News)

UCLA cornerback Johnny Johnson runs with the ball during the Bruins’ “Spring Showcase” at the Rose Bowl on April 24, 2015.
(Keith Birmingham/Staff)

Like UCLA’s offensive line, the secondary is a unit that has grown significantly during the Jim Mora era. Back in 2012, the Bruins were maligned for their pass defense, one that ranked eighth in the Pac-12. In the last two years, they haven’t ranked lower than fourth.

With every starter returning, there’s plenty of depth in the defensive backfield, one that has emphasized positional versatility to facilitate the use of shifting schemes and to better secure against injuries. This fall, the X-factor will be whether or not any one player makes the leap into becoming a dominant, shutdown corner.

The best candidate is likely still senior Fabian Moreau, who looked fantastic in spring and fall camp last year before a very uneven 2014 season. The former running back was burned repeatedly through the first half of his junior campaign, but eventually found more a rhythm as the year wound to a close. Position coach Demetrice Martin said in April that Moreau often appeared to be in great position for a play, then explicably stopped running all the way through. The Florida native has since made an effort to work on his ball skills and fix that habit. Continue reading

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