Weekly Q&A — 12/23/14 Answers

Q: Brett Hundley is a great QB, but he didn’t seem to progress substantially from last year to this year. With UCLA starting a new QB next year and with Josh Rosen enrolling early, do you think they need more help in the QB coaching department going forward?

A: Hundley has not developed as much as some people may have hoped through his three years at UCLA, but I still wonder a bit whether that’s due more to the coaching staff or to Hundley’s own shortcomings. There’s no doubting he has all the physical tools and is capable of “wow” moments; he might just need some more time before everything clicks, and if that happens in the NFL, I think it would be an indictment on the Bruins’ staff not being able to do more with him.

But Rosen does give the staff another chance to prove it can mold a new quarterback. I think they deserve a year to show they can.

Q: Pretend like Hundley was coming back next year (I know he’s not). Is there any question that UCLA would start the year ranked in the top five?

A: Under the “Hundley returns” hypothetical, UCLA would have a chance at being a preseason top-five team if it puts a beatdown on Kansas State in the Alamo Bowl — but even then, I wouldn’t put money on it. Voters feel burned after buying into what was supposed to be a playoff contender, and wouldn’t be likely to pick the Bruins that high again for the second year in a row.

Q: Who do you think will be a bigger star next year, Paul Perkins or Jordan Payton? Continue reading

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Weekly Q&A — 12/16/14 Answers

Q: How is UCLA doing with their allotment of Alamo Bowl tickets? Any estimate as to how many Bruins will be in San Antonio for the bowl game?

A: I don’t have estimates on tickets sold yet, but the Alamo Bowl contract allots 6,000 tickets to the Pac-12 representative and 12,000 tickets to the Big 12 team.

Q: Has Jim Mora said anything about the ridiculous suggestions that he might be the next Michigan head coach?

A: He hasn’t made any public statements, but he’s not going anywhere. Don’t even worry about it.

Q: In your opinion, with regard to football, who was the most underachieving player and who was the breakout player this season? As of now, who do you think will the breakout player next season?

A: I think the biggest underachiever was Fabian Moreau, even though he turned things around a bit in the second half and was still made the All-Pac-12 second team. But he looked so, so impressive during camp, and coupling the eye test with the “All-American” hype that Jim Mora gave him just set the bar too high.

For simplicity, let’s define “breakout” as someone who played at least sparingly this season making a big jump — i.e., no Josh Rosen. It wouldn’t shock me if everything clicks for Moreau, but freshman Jaleel Wadood seems like a safe bet to take over Anthony Jefferson’s vacated spot in the secondary. I still like Thomas Duarte to put up some big numbers if he can stay healthy.

Q: Looking back on Stanford game week, did you sense any sort of letdown by the Bruins leading up to the game? Or did the Bruins simply suffer the misfortune of facing a Stanford team that everyone thought would show up before the 2014 season started? Continue reading

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Weekly Q&A — 12/16/14

For anyone that didn’t know, UCLA will resume formal football practices on Saturday after this finals week, then break for a few days for Christmas. The Bruins are scheduled to hold one more practice after that before flying to San Antonio on Dec. 28.

Anyway, comment with questions below and I’ll post answers tomorrow. Thanks.

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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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Weekly Q&A — 11/11/14 Answers

Q: UW is not a great team; rocked by injuries, dismissals and the travails of a first year coach … but yet the Bruin’s victory over UW is being billed as the Bruins first “complete game”. Do you think that will lead to overconfidence going into the SC game in a couple of weeks?

A: I don’t think it’ll necessarily lead to overconfidence given the stakes of the rivalry, but I do think that UCLA’s win over Washington has been a little overrated — particularly with the Bruins jumping seven spots to No. 11 in the playoff rankings. It was a solid victory, but UW wasn’t an overpowering team to begin with, had just dismissed its best cornerback, and was playing its best linebacker mostly at running back. That said, I do think UCLA is very much a top-15 team, just one that’s also benefited from a slight break in the schedule.

Q: After the last two games, I’m conflicted on Jeff Ulbrich. I had thought he needed more training in another job elsewhere before taking on the DC spot … but since Arizona, the defense has been playing better, meaning Ulbrich is adapting, learning … what’s your take? Should he be encouraged to go elsewhere or will his on-the-job training be a good investment?

A: Even when the defense looked worse at midseason, I didn’t think Ulbrich was/should’ve been at significant risk of being pushed out. Continue reading

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Weekly Q&A — 11/3/14 Answers

Q: What are the odds of UCLA winning their next three games at this point? Assuming that does happen, is it better for UCLA not to play in the Pac-12 title game enhancing their chances of landing a “New Year’s Six” bowl or wish for a rematch against Oregon but risk falling to the Alamo or Holiday Bowl with a third loss? Can UCLA even make the playoffs as Pac-12 champs despite an 11-2 record?

A: UCLA’s chances at winning out the regular season actually don’t look half bad given its defensive resurgence against Arizona. Stanford and Washington have both struggled on offense recently, and it’s hard to imagine the Bruins playing sloppily against USC — particularly considering that they get a bye week beforehand. Even a worst-case scenario for UCLA now looks like going 1-2 the rest of the way.

But the Bruins aren’t going to make it to a “New Year’s Six” bowl without making it to the Pac-12 title game. The Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl are playoff semifinal games this year, so they’re obviously out of the picture. The Orange Bowl still has tie-ins with the ACC and the SEC/Big Ten/Notre Dame. That leaves the Cotton Bowl, Fiesta Bowl and Peach Bowl — one of which will be filled by the highest-ranked “Group of Five” mid-major conference champion. With just five more spots, there’s almost no way the selection committee will pick a two-loss team that couldn’t make the Pac-12 title game.

As for the playoff … even assuming UCLA wins out convincingly and beats a top-five Oregon team at Levi’s Stadium, it’ll still need a lot of other teams to lose. It’s not impossible, but there’s little purpose in hoping for a playoff berth given where the Bruins currently stand. Continue reading

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Weekly Q&A — 10/28/14 Answers

Q: Jim Mora’s “50-0 ass-kicking” comment has caused a bit of a kerfuffle among the Bruin faithful… Can you provide some context to his comment? It sounds pretty defensive — what was going on in the press conference, and what was said prior to his comment?

A: The exact question that prompted the “50-0″ comment was a general one about depth. Mora said that the team has improved there, but then progressed into talking about how the team is still very young — and in light of that, how much it has been able to accomplish in 2.5 years.

There really wasn’t anything particularly contentious during the Sunday conference call leading up to that mini-rant, though. Mora was initially asked about the team’s health heading into November; he said he wasn’t happy with it, and named Darren Andrews, Steve Manfro, Kenny Orjioke, Randall Goforth and Johnny Johnson as some “big names” that aren’t playing. Then he took couple of questions about the offensive line, where he said was one spot where UCLA actually has good depth now. Then one question about defensive consistency, then the one that pushed him to bring up the 2011 loss to USC.

So it doesn’t seem like the actual questions on Sunday set him off. More likely, he had read/heard what people thought of UCLA’s struggles over the past couple of weeks despite its wins and some frustration bubbled over.

Q: To what extent do you think UCLA’s participation in “The Drive” has put a target on their backs, with opposing teams wanting to look their best on a show the entire Pac-12 is watching? It seems UCLA is surprised by what their opponents are bringing to the field every week.

A: I don’t think the show itself has been a significant factor in UCLA’s struggles. But all the preseason hype about being a playoff contender? Definitely. Reaching the four-team playoff was always going to be a best-case scenario even before this team’s flaws got exposed once the season started, but when ESPN started picking them to win the national title — that’s when it got completely out of control. The bar was set too high, though this team is still underperforming considering the amount of talent on the roster. Continue reading

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