Weekly Q&A — 9/28/14 Answers

Q: Do you feel the defensive issues have more to do with the loss of Lou Spanos, and Jeff Ulbrich being green as a coordinator, or does it have more to do with the loss of Anthony Barr, Cassius Marsh, and Jordan Zumwalt? Do you see the defense getting better this year?

If the DBs are so good, why don’t you trust the defense enough to bring more pressure?

A: I think it’s both, which always sounds like a cop-out answer but is more often than not the truest one. If Jeff Ulbrich had an All-American linebacker plus two more NFL draft picks back in this defense, he could probably afford to throw a lot more pressure. But Spanos also excelled at making halftime adjustments in a way that Ulbrich hasn’t quite done yet.

Giving up 626 yards to an Arizona State team running with its backup quarterback wasn’t good. But while yards aren’t completely meaningless, as Jim Mora may argue, that number doesn’t look as bad considering that the Sun Devils needed 105 plays to do so. (Why Arizona State was able to run 105 plays may be a better point of contention, even if the Bruins were merely trying to prevent a big play down the stretch.)

With a third of the regular season done, the defense looks like it’s going to rely on its defensive line to create pressure and stop the run, as well its knack for forcing timely turnovers. It’s probably not going to start throwing blitzes on every other snap — especially since the secondary hasn’t played particularly well and also lost safety Randall Goforth to shoulder surgeries. UCLA has given up 57 pass plays of at least 10 yards, more than anyone in the country except Washington, South Carolina, Cal, Toledo and Bowling Green.

Q: Any idea on when Simon Goines will be ready to play? Any news about Conor McDermott?

I don’t think anyone should be surprised if he ends up redshirting this season. Mora did say before the season that he wants Goines to play, and gave a tentative Week 3 return date then. However, he also picked his words carefully, saying he wanted Goines “ready to go” by then — as if referring to a mental mindset rather than being physical prepared.

Obviously, Week 3 has come and gone, and Goines remains limited in practices.

Conor McDermott played a bit already this season, but the staff is trying not to rush him back given his history of shoulder problems. Continue reading

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UCLA’s Saturday game against Utah to kick off at 7:30 p.m.

Fresh off a decisive win at Arizona State on national television, UCLA will spend another weekend in the spotlight.

After playing three of their first four games away from the Rose Bowl, the Bruins will return home on Saturday for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff against Utah on ESPN. UCLA moved up to No. 8 in the Associated Press poll after their 62-27 win over ASU.

The Utes’ promising start to the season was spoiled by Washington State’s 28-27 comeback victory in Salt Lake City. Utah had blown out Idaho State and Fresno State by 74 combined points to start the year, then beat Michigan, 26-10, on the road.

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Notes and quotes: Brett Hundley’s brilliance leads UCLA past ASU

In the second quarter of what would become UCLA’s 62-27 blowout of Arizona State, Brett Hundley showed everyone just how healthy he was.

On second-and-7 near midfield, the Bruins’ star quarterback capped a six-yard scramble with a hurdle, leaping over one linebacker before another came and hit him on his left arm. Hundley knew that this could happen — that by favoring thrill over caution, he could open himself up to defenders who were surely eyeing that heavy brace covering his left elbow.

He also knew he didn’t care.

“I’m playing football,” Hundley said. “I can’t not do what I like doing and how I like playing. … That’s what I wanted to do this game, is not come in and think that I’m limiting myself by not running. I wanted to show that I could still run the ball and still do all the things God has blessed me to do.”

Arizona State bore the brunt of all that Thursday night. This was as masterful a performance that Hundley has ever delivered in UCLA colors — one only highlighted by the fact that it came less than two weeks after an elbow injury that had fans holding their breath.

His final line was absurd: 355 yards and four touchdowns on just 23 pass attempts. He only had five incompletions, and two were dropped by receiver Kenneth Walker. He tacked on 72 rushing yards, punching in a one-yard touchdown for the final score, after the game was well in hand. In the end zone, he looked up at the stands and slapped his left arm.

His two 80-yard passes were a career-high, and marked UCLA’s longest pass completion since Drew Olson’s 91-yarder to Joe Cowan in 2005. He now has seven 300-yard games in his career four behind Cade McNown’s school record of 11.

In another blowout, UCLA might have already trotted out backup quarterback Jerry Neuheisel, the team’s savior in a 20-17 win against Texas almost two weeks ago. But Hundley wasn’t sitting this one out. Not in front of his hometown crowd, not when he had missed nearly the entire game against the Longhorns, and certainly not against the team that had beaten him a year ago for the Pac-12 South title.

“Brett, I’ve never seen him this hyped (as he was) this whole week,” said receiver Thomas Duarte.

» Someone scratched “UCLA” into Arizona State’s midfield pitchfork logo before kickoff, and the Bruins all but said that one of them was responsible.

Take it away, Brett Hundley and Thomas Duarte:

Mildly reminiscent of another midfield controversy, perhaps?

» UCLA’s offensive line played one of its better games of the season, allowing Hundley to get sacked just once despite losing starting left guard Alex Redmond in the first half. Continue reading

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UCLA 62, Arizona State 27: Quarterback Brett Hundley

Quarterback Brett Hundley put in a masterful performance in UCLA’s 62-27 win at Arizona State, finishing with 355 yards and four touchdowns on just 23 pass attempts. He talked to reporters afterward about how amped he was to be playing at home, and the “talking” that happened between the teams beforehand.

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What to watch: No. 11 UCLA at No. 15 Arizona State

UCLA starts Pac-12 play tonight at 7 p.m. with one of the most high-profile college football games of the week. No. 15 Arizona State doesn’t have starting quarterback Taylor Kelly, but remains the defending division champion.

Here’s are a few things to watch:

UCLA offense vs. Arizona State defense:

A lot obviously hinges on whether or not Brett Hundley plays after injuring his left elbow on Sept. 13, but it’s a good bet that the star quarterback suits up after practicing with a protective brace over the past week. UCLA’s coaching staff has insisted that the playbook doesn’t change with backup Jerry Neuheisel, but Hundley stretches the field with his arm and legs in a way that Neuheisel can’t.

Assuming Hundley goes, UCLA’s offense could be the first team that truly exposes an ASU defense that lost nine starters from its Pac-12 South-winning unit. The Sun Devils are still forcing takeaways — No. 7 nationally in turnover margin (1.67) — they’ve given up big plays despite a lackluster early schedule. ASU allows 5.41 yards per play, good for 74th in college football but a mark that looks far worse when you consider that it has faced an FCS team (Weber State), a below-average Mountain West team (New Mexico) and arguably the worst team in the Pac-12 (Colorado). Those latter rank just 82nd and 89th in the country in scoring, respectively, at 28.3 and 25.8 points per game.

So if Hundley avoids interceptions against a decent secondary, he should do enough to break open the game. He has a reliable No. 1 tailback next to him now in Paul Perkins — who’s coming off a career game with 195 all-purpose yards against Texas — and an offensive line that seems to be gelling more with each passing game.

If Neuheisel has to enter the game at any point, the matchup becomes a little more dicey. The redshirt sophomore perfectly fits the game-manager mold, and came through with a 33-yard game-winning touchdown against the Longhorns, but isn’t the dynamic threat that would scare a defense that has a full game’s worth of film on him.

Edge: UCLA

UCLA defense vs. Arizona State offense:

Myles Jack didn’t play linebacker against the Sun Devils last year, a tactical decision that Jim Mora still regards as one of his biggest regrets. Having him in this time on defense will be crucial against an Arizona State squad that has D.J. Foster — who could end up being an All-Pac-12 tailback at the end of the season.

Foster was a highly-sought UCLA recruit back in 2012, and UCLA’s coaches and players were happy to talk him up over the past week. He’s become a very effective runner and can grind out yards after contact, but is also a dangerous threat as a pass catcher. Continue reading

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Five questions: FOX Sports’ Tyler Lockman talks Arizona State

UCLA opens its conference schedule on Thursday with a big road game at No. 15 Arizona State — a primetime chance for the Bruins to prove themselves still capable of a juggernaut performance. FOX Sports Arizona’s Tyler Lockman answered five questions about the Sun Devils, who are without starting quarterback Taylor Kelly.

1. How do ASU fans feel about Todd Graham two-plus years in? Does he need to show progress after a Pac-12 South title to keep them satisfied?

It’s hard to imagine them feeling any better about Graham in year three. He has overhauled the program’s culture, taken the team to two bowl games, boosted recruiting and gotten unprecedented commitment — financially and otherwise — out of ASU’s administration. That’s all before mentioning the Sun Devils won the Pac-12 South and hosted the conference title game in his second season. On top of it all, he recently backed up his talk of a long-term commitment to ASU by donating $500,000 of his own money to ASU’s stadium renovation fund. How could ASU fans not be happy with him leading the program?

All that good will afford him some breathing room this season. Fans tempered their expectations a bit after ASU lost nine defensive starters to graduation and the NFL following last season, so while Graham and the players expect themselves to at least match last season’s 10-4 finish, fans would probably be pretty happy to see ASU finish with eight or nine wins in what was expected to be a bit of a building year.

2. How does ASU’s defense look after losing nine starters? Might it get exposed against a more potent offense?

It’s hard to tell exactly where the defense is because ASU has so far faced an FCS team (Weber State), a team that runs the triple option offense (New Mexico) and a team that has two conference wins in the past two seasons (Colorado). Continue reading

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Jim Mora: Lack of clarity on Brett Hundley doesn’t give UCLA edge

As he has for most of the past week, UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley practiced on Tuesday with a brace covering his left elbow — the one he injured in a 20-17 win against Texas 10 days ago.

And as he has for most of the past week, UCLA head coach Jim Mora didn’t offer many details: “He’s been limited. He’s done a few things. He’s worked a little bit.” He said again that he is relying on the team’s medical staff to determine if Hundley is ready — a decision that could stretch, naturally, as late as Thursday evening.

Mora added that the lack of clarity surrounding his star quarterback’s health doesn’t give UCLA any sort of tactical advantage heading into Thursday’s 7 p.m. kickoff at Arizona State, particularly given who the Sun Devils’ head coach is. Continue reading

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