UCLA 40, Colorado 37: Head coach Jim Mora

UCLA barely escaped Colorado on Saturday, needing a Brett Hundley keeper in double overtime to finish out the 40-37 win. It was just the latest closer-than-expected performance in a season that has seen the Bruins struggle to close out against lesser teams.

Asked what needs to change, head coach Jim Mora said: “You mean winning? Well, we’re 6-2. So I hope nothing changes. I hope we keep winning. ‘Cause winning is the objective in competitive sports and we won. We will go back and evaluate everything, but boy — I hope nothing changes in terms of the result because I like winning.”

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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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UCLA’s Marcus Rios recovering from life-threatening illness

The biggest moment of Marcus Rios’ football career happened last Saturday, when his late interception clinched UCLA’s 36-34 win at Cal. His ongoing battle back from a rare fungal infection is even more impressive. Here’s columnist Vinny Bonsignore’s story on the redshirt sophomore, who had his latest surgery less than a month ago.

“It had been a long, long time since I saw him smile on a football field,” said Rios’ father, Richard. “So to see him smile like that Saturday, it just really put into perspective everything he’s been through. It’s been an incredible ordeal.”

Rios was also featured on Wednesday night’s episode of Pac-12 Networks’ “The Drive,” teased in the video above.

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VIDEO: Offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone on UCLA turnovers

UCLA offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone talked on Wednesday about freshman receiver Mossi Johnson, running back Paul Perkins’ pass-catching — and finally, the Bruins’ recent spate of turnovers.

The team has lost 10 turnovers this season, coughing up five of them against Oregon and Cal.

“It’s like that thing you don’t talk about, right?” Mazzone said. “Hope it goes away? Protecting the football, it’s all about the ball. … Over the past two weeks, that’s something that’s hit us.”

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UCLA’s Eric Kendricks named a Lott IMPACT Trophy quarterfinalist

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UCLA linebacker Eric Kendricks has been named a quarterfinalist for the Lott IMPACT Trophy, which former teammate Anthony Barr won a year ago.

The senior is one of 20 players still short-listed for the award, given each season to a top defensive player. The award purports to “give equal weight to personal character as well as athletic performance.”

Seven quarterfinalists hail from the Pac-12, more than any other conference. With 77 tackles this season, Kendricks is on pace to lead the league in the stat for the second time in three years.

Barr — who became a consensus All-American and the No. 9 overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft — displayed the award in a ceremony at the Rose Bowl on Oct. 4, during the Bruins’ 30-28 loss to Utah. UCLA received a $25,000 check toward its general scholarship fund.

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First look: Colorado Buffaloes

No. 25 UCLA Bruins (5-2, 2-2) at Colorado Buffaloes (2-5, 0-4)
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 25, 11 a.m. PT, Folsom Field (Boulder, Colo.)
TV: Pac-12 Networks (Kevin Calabro, Yogi Roth, Lewis Johnson)
Radio: AM 570 (Chris Roberts, Matt Stevens, Wayne Cook)

Coach: Mike MacIntyre oversaw an impressive reconstruction in his three years at San Jose State, going from 1-11 in 2010 to 10-2 in 2012. That earned him a shot at an even more difficult task: rebuilding a Colorado program that had averaged just 3.8 wins in the last six years.

That remains an uphill battle. MacIntyre took the Buffs to four wins in his debut season, but their lone conference victory came against a Cal team that finished 1-11. They are still searching for their second. That very well might not come until 2015: four of Colorado’s last five games are against top-25 opponents, with the lone exception being a five-win Washington squad.

Key players:

QB Sefo Liufau, So., 6-4, 230 — 211/323, 2,030 yards, 21 TD, 9 INT
– He’s improved almost across the board from his freshman season and is on pace to set a new Colorado single-season record in passing yards, but has already topped his interception total from last season. His nine picks rank last in the Pac-12. Continue reading

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UCLA’s Takkarist McKinley scouts Colorado offensive line

Colorado has only given up 12 sacks this season, good for the second-best mark in the Pac-12.

UCLA defensive end Takkarist McKinley said the key to besting the Buffs is to rely on get-off and speed rushes — as well as using his hands to avoid chop blocks.

“When they try to chop block you, they try to tear your ACL,” McKinley said. “To me, that’s dirty. To them, it’s their job. But to me, it’s pretty dirty.”

Asked if he’d noticed any other Pac-12 teams use chop-blocks, McKinley pointed out Utah — which beat UCLA 30-28. Oregon and Arizona State, on the other hand, weren’t major offenders. “Cal, their running backs did it a lot,” he continued. “I’d come in there full speed, and their little running backs just might go straight for my legs. So did the little tight ends they have.”

RELATED:
» A couple of Bruins are already familiar with Colorado receiver Nelson Spruce.
» Brett Hundley’s turnovers have been particularly untimely for UCLA.

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Weekly Q&A — 10/20/14 Answers

Q: Based on what you’ve observed way back in spring practice through fall camp to today, seven games into the season, would you characterize the 2014 Bruins as a squad that was seemingly overrated on the basis of talent? Or were the general preseason perceptions of UCLA’s talent not that far off base and this has been a case of consistent poor execution on game days?

A: I think there was a solid argument for UCLA being a playoff contender, but even that was optimistic. Once people started picking them to win the national title, that’s when the hype really got out of control. The media wanted to look for a trendy dark-horse pick; coming off a 10-win season bearing star power in Brett Hundley and Myles Jack, the Bruins fit the bill.

This team should be better than it has been based on talent alone, but that wouldn’t necessarily be enough for it to win the Pac-12 title. It’s hard to knock off Oregon when they have a guy like Marcus Mariota who almost never makes mistakes. Still, a UCLA team functioning closer to its ceiling should have been able to beat Utah at home, and should have come out and trucked Cal in the second half. This hypothetical team might still fall short in the Pac-12 title game, but just getting there at all shouldn’t be as difficult a road as it now looks.

Q: Do you think Brett Hundley would ever consider coming back again for next season? Or is he pretty much done after this season?

A: Gone. He was emphatic that this would be his last season at UCLA even right after he announced his decision to stay back in January, and nothing has changed since. Assuming he continues playing at the same level he has so far, I can’t imagine him staying.

Q: Do you think a two-loss Pac 12 champion can make the four-team playoff? Looks like every team (except FSU) will have at least one or two losses by the time its all said and done. And yes, I’m talking about UCLA — if they can win out and finally get their act together (and Utah loses twice and ASU once). Continue reading

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Jim Mora: Tailback Paul Perkins ‘doing well’ after wrist injury

Running back Paul Perkins missed the fourth quarter of UCLA’s 36-34 win at Cal last Saturday with a right wrist injury, but practiced with it wrapped on Tuesday and appears on track to play at Colorado this weekend.

Bruins head coach Jim Mora said the tailback is “doing well.” Perkins is third in the Pac-12 with 116.6 yards per game, and also had four receptions for 75 yards and two touchdowns against the Bears.

Cornerback Fabian Moreau practiced after suffering what Mora originally called a “stinger.” Inside receiver Thomas Duarte is still limited after tweaking his hamstring, and did not practice in full on Tuesday. Unsurprisingly, Mora also said they were “doing well.”

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