Weekly Q&A — 11/25/14 Answers

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! In today’s Daily News, I put together a list of what UCLA football has to be thankful for this season. Hope you all have a great holiday.

On to the Q&A …

Q: If Brett Hundley and Marcus Mariota swapped teams, who do you think would be more successful? Where do you suppose UCLA and Oregon would be ranked?

A: I’d go with the team that has the likely Heisman winner, and swap UCLA and Oregon in the rankings.

Q: How much of an impact has running backs coach Kennedy Polamalu had on Paul Perkins becoming the league’s leading rusher?

A: Multiple people have said that Polamalu’s biggest effect on the running back corps has been their pass blocking, which I think has allowed Perkins to stay on the field much more — even if he’s not getting the carry. That was the edge that Jordon James had through the offseason, and the reason I thought the senior would get every chance to win the starting spot. Perkins looked like he would beat out Jordon James for the starting spot at some point this season; I just didn’t expect it to happen so early, and for James to look so poor through the first two games.

(It’s also worth mentioning that Perkins’ conference lead is very slim, and he isn’t facing as much competition for the rushing title as recent backs.)

Q: What is the nature of receiver Thomas Duarte’s leg injury suffered in practice on Tuesday?

A: He looked like he tweaked his hamstring, which has given him trouble since training camp in San Bernardino. Duarte’s limp was barely noticeable on Wednesday, though, so he should be good to go by Friday.

Q: Do you think Brett Hundley’s comment about “achieving everything I wanted to at UCLA” will cause distraction this Friday against the Cardinal, or is the media making a non-story a story?

A: No. I have no clue why this is a story. He literally said in January that this would be his last season, but I guess everyone forgot/didn’t care. Continue reading

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UCLA moves up one spot to No. 8 in playoff rankings

This wasn’t a chaotic week in the College Football Playoff rankings, but UCLA nevetheless continued its climb — inching up one spot to No. 8 following a 38-20 win over USC.

The Bruins are now the nation’s best two-loss team in the eyes of the selection committee. Those two losses came against other top-25 teams: No. 2 Oregon and No. 25 Utah, which is the only four-loss team to appear in the latest rankings. The order of the top seven remained unchanged, however.

UCLA’s path is still clear. If it beats Stanford on Friday, it will earn a second shot at the Ducks in the Pac-12 Championship. Given the committee’s friendliness toward the league, the Bruins will have a good chance at a playoff berth if they can win their first conference title since 1998 — even if one-loss teams such as Ohio State and Baylor don’t drop another game.

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Stanford’s Ty Montgomery to miss UCLA game with shoulder injury

UCLA’s defense will have one less concern this Friday, as Stanford receiver Ty Montgomery has been ruled out with a shoulder injury.

The 6-foot-2, 220-pound wideout and kick returner produced a season-low 87 all-purpose yards against the Bruins last season, but is a dynamic player who is hard to bring down in the open field. The senior leads his team with 61 catches this season (for 604 yards and three touchdowns), which accounts for 28.5 percent of the Cardinal’s reception total. He also has 429 yards on 17 kickoff returns.

Montgomery’s absence will rob an unremarkable Stanford offense of its biggest playmaker. Without a powerful lead back to lean on, quarterback Kevin Hogan has not been able to progress beyond his game-manager role. After averaging 8.9 yards per pass attempt last season — good for 13th in the country — the redshirt junior has dipped to 7.6.

UCLA’s pass rush has picked significantly this month, getting a season-high six sacks against USC. Combined with an improving secondary, the Bruins are now allowing just 6.3 yards per pass attempt — good for second in the conference and 25th nationally. However, defensive backs Ishmael Adams and Priest Willis are questionable with ankle and head injuries.

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VIDEO: Offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone scouts Stanford defense

The biggest worry for UCLA this Friday is Stanford’s defense — by far the toughest on the Bruins’ schedule. The Cardinal have no obvious holes on that side of the ball, ranking third nationally in opponent yards per pass attempt (5.4) and 15th in yards per carry (3.18).

Asked what in particular is challenging about the Stanford defense, UCLA offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone quipped: “What isn’t challenging about the Stanford defense?”

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Eric Kendricks named Butkus finalist, Pac-12 Player of the Week

Eric Kendricks’ stellar season is garnering more and more recognition. UCLA’s senior linebacker became a Butkus Award finalist on Monday, and also picked up his second Pac-12 Player of the Week honor.

Kendricks is the second Bruin in as many years to be named a finalist for the Butkus Award, given each year to college football’s top linebacker. No UCLA player has ever won the Butkus; All-American linebacker Anthony Barr lost out to Alabama’s C.J. Mosley last season.

This year, Kendricks’ stiffest competition is likely Washington linebacker Hau’oli Kikaha, who has 23.5 tackles for loss and 17.5 sacks. Kendricks has the edge in tackles (128 to 63) and interceptions (three to zero), but has just seven tackles for loss and two sacks. Continue reading

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Brett Hundley (again) says he is likely declaring for NFL draft

When Brett Hundley announced in January that he was coming back to UCLA for his redshirt junior season, he made clear that this would be his last run with the Bruins.

“We won’t be here doing this again next year,” the quarterback said then.

Since then, he’s said a few more times that nothing has changed. But just in case anyone is keeping track of how often Hundley needs to tell everyone he’s gone, here’s the latest.

“There’s a really good chance that was my last game against USC,” Hundley said on The Jim Rome Show today. “The conversation keeps coming up. I’ve got my degree. I’ve done everything I wanted to do here. I’ve left something really, truly great, and I feel good. That’s probably my last one against USC.”

Hundley has a chance to beat Stanford this week and Oregon in the Pac-12 title game — two teams that have haunted him — but said after practice today he isn’t worried about how that affects the scope of his career.

“I think I’ve done a lot throughout my career here,” he said. “Hopefully, we pull out this win on Friday. You can’t worry about what you have done, what you haven’t done.”

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UCLA defensive back Ishmael Adams still limited by ankle injury

UCLA defensive back and returner Ishmael Adams injured his ankle in Saturday’s 38-20 win against USC, and remained limited during Monday’s practice.

However, head coach Jim Mora sounded optimistic about Adams’ chances to return against Stanford this Friday to help the Bruins clinch the Pac-12 South. The 5-foot-8 corner has returned two interceptions for touchdowns this season, as well as 100-yard kick return score. He also has 33 tackles and four pass breakups.

“He came out and he moved around,” Mora said. “I didn’t see much of a limp. Continue reading

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Notes: UCLA’s win over USC featured several milestones

Brett Hundley celebrates UCLA's 38-20 win over USC on Saturday, a game in which he threw for three touchdowns and ran for another.

Brett Hundley celebrates UCLA’s 38-20 win over USC on Saturday, a game in which he threw for three touchdowns and ran for another.

» I mentioned it in my story from UCLA’s 38-20 win over USC last night, but it’s worth repeating again: For the first time ever, the Bruins’ football program has three straight nine-win seasons.

Several times before, UCLA had gotten close. The Bruins had back-to-back nine-win seasons in the mid-1950s, but those were bracketed by a eight- and seven-win campaigns. Tommy Prothro opened his tenure a decade later with eight, nine and seven wins. And from 1982-88, Terry Donahue had five nine- or 10-win seasons broken up by seven wins in 1983 and eight wins in 1986.

Last month, Jim Mora got particularly defensive about the Bruins’ lackluster midseason performances, and challenged everyone to find a stretch of UCLA football that’s better than this one — considering youth and turnover. With UCLA potentially in line to win 11 games for the first time, his argument looks stronger by the week.

» How much has the rivalry swung? UCLA hasn’t won three straight games over USC by double digits since 1952-55, when Red Sanders coached the Bruins to 13-0, 34-0, and 17-7 victories.

» Brett Hundley finished the game against USC with all types of new UCLA records, passing Cade McNown to become the new career leader in total offensive yards (11,353) and extending his own mark of 300-yard total offense games to 19. He had his 10th career 300-yard passing game, and needs just one more to tie McNown. He ran for his 28th career touchdown, which breaks his tie with John Sciarra and puts him alone in second behind Gary Beban (35) among Bruin quarterbacks.

But despite finishing 22-of-31 for 326 yards and three touchdown passes, it was not an overly impressive game for the redshirt junior. He didn’t see the defender on his early interception near the sideline, and it was the type of coverage that had cost him turnovers before. A lot of his longer passes also benefited from yards after the catch by his receivers, or poor coverage by USC, or both.

It’s clear, however, that he trusts his offensive line more and more — something offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone confirmed after the game. He has good reason. UCLA has allowed 32 sacks this season, but just eight in its last five games. That stretch coincides with when Conor McDermott taking over as starting left tackle.

» The defensive line played its best game of the season, finally generating the type of pass rush that defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich had promised would come for most of the season. Continue reading

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