Weekly Q&A: Cal answers

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Happy Thanksgiving, friends! I’m thankful for this space that allows me to do a job I love and interact with you. 

Firing Jim Mora before the end of the season (let alone at all), and being a finalist and perhaps winner in the Chip Kelly sweepstakes vs. an SEC powerhouse just doesn’t seem very UCLA-like. An SEC team might operate like this, but historically not UCLA. And not Dan Guerrero. What’s different now at UCLA? Who poked the Bruin Bear?

In short: money. Specifically, Casey Wasserman’s money. I think it’s telling that Wasserman is involved in the search committee. (More on his role here.) As an outsider who moved here only a few years ago, I’m more and more fascinated by his influence in this city every day. He helped bring the Olympics to Los Angeles so if there’s anyone who can will UCLA football to prominence, he would be a very good bet. He put his name on the $75 million football facility and he doesn’t want it to languish away in mediocrity. (I wouldn’t be surprised if Under Armour’s money also has a big influence in this.) So Wasserman, and other high-powered donors/alumni, likely wanted to move quickly and gamble on a big-name coach like Chip Kelly, despite the disruption the mid-season fire caused for the players and the staff. The higher-ups likely heard that Florida was starting to move on Kelly and they knew they needed to make a bold move. It’s a high-risk move, to go all-in on one coach, but it seems that the group has a fair chance to pull it off. Continue reading “Weekly Q&A: Cal answers” »

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Weekly Q&A: Cal

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It’s win or go home Friday as the winner between UCLA and Cal at the Rose Bowl clinches bowl eligibility. Both teams are looking for their sixth wins and the Bruins are trying to prepare on a short week amid coaching turmoil. If you have UCLA football questions, leave them in the comments below — or shoot me an email at thnguyen(at)scng(dot)com — and I’ll post answers THURSDAY.

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Weekly Q&A: USC answers

UCLA walk-on Sam Handler tries to prevent the USC marching band from stabbing logo at midfield in 2014. (Photo by Keith Birmingham/SCNG)

Brett Hundley was 3-0 against USC based mainly on his running ability. Is Sam Darnold a bigger threat to UCLA than Ronald Jones? Does UCLA play the beef on defense to counter Jones with more playing time for Lokeni Tailoa and Mossi Johnson over Jaleel Wadood or do we want a faster lineup to defend Sam Darnold? Pick your poison?

UCLA has a lot of difficult decisions to make on defense because it really does seem like a “pick your poison” type of game. But this week, Rick Wade and Tom Bradley said they’re going to gamble on Sam Darnold. The defensive end and the defensive coordinator both said the key in this game (and any game) is to stop the run and force the team into a passing situation. So that’s what the Bruins will try to do.

I think Ronald Jones is probably the bigger threat to the Bruins. It was his 60-yard touchdown run on third-and-1 in the second half that signaled the beginning of the end of UCLA in last year’s game at the Rose Bowl. His opportunities could be huge facing a defense as bad as UCLA’s.

I like the physicality with which Mossi Johnson plays, but if Jaleel Wadood is healthy, I expect them to go back to him. For Wadood’s mistakes, the coaching staff still trusts him. I don’t expect them to put Lokeni Toailoa in on defense much, if at all, because his playing time forces Kenny Young out of the middle linebacker spot. We’ve gone over that already here. Continue reading “Weekly Q&A: USC answers” »

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Weekly Q&A: USC

UCLA has lost two straight games to USC and is a 16-point underdog in this weekend’s edition of the crosstown rivalry. The Bruins are one win away from bowl eligibility and have two weeks to get it between Saturday’s game at 5 p.m. at the Coliseum and next Friday’s matchup against Cal at the Rose Bowl. If you have UCLA football questions, leave them in the comments below — or shoot me an email at thnguyen(at)scng(dot)com — and I’ll post answers THURSDAY.

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Weekly Q&A: Arizona State answers

It seems like Jim Mora has almost overnight become very forthcoming about player injury information, contrasted with his tight-lipped approach over several seasons. Is he now attempting to play the “injury card” to explain away the team’s dismal performance this season and to save his job? Have any reporters called him out on his newfound approach to dealing with injury information?

I’m not sure what his approach was in the early years of his tenure because I wasn’t here. But from what I understand of his policy, he’ll say if a player is out for a significant amount of time or the rest of the season, if a guy has a more minor injury, then he won’t give specifics about exact availability, usually deferring to the “hopeful” line. Depending on his mood, he might let it slip what the injury is, but he still won’t say that a player is doubtful/probable/out.

I think for the most part, he’s been true to that standard this year. It may just seem that he’s being more forthcoming with injuries because the Bruins have suffered so many season-ending injuries this season. For example, he was never particularly expansive about Jaelan Phillips’ status week-to-week when he was dealing with that ankle injury that eventually kept him out for more than a month. Each week, he mainly just said that Phillips was working hard to get back and they would see where he was on game day.

There have been some inconsistencies with some of his policies though, most notably this past week with Josh Rosen. One of the policies is that media can’t report who is and who isn’t practicing on any given day. But Mora was forthright about Rosen’s practice status this week (he practiced on Tuesday and Wednesday) and he wasn’t even really coaxed into giving up that information. The standard around Rosen has always been different, though. Such is life with a hyper-talented quarterback. Continue reading “Weekly Q&A: Arizona State answers” »

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