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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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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Weekly Q&A — 10/14/14 Answers

Q: Who is going to play left tackle this week?

A: Probably both Malcolm Bunche and Conor McDermott. The latter seems like UCLA’s best option for shaking up its offensive line, but Jim Mora said on Tuesday that it still may be difficult for McDermott to play a whole game. The staff has been working the 6-foot-9 redshirt sophomore back gradually following his shoulder surgery last November — not his first operation — and used him through the first half of the season mostly in jumbo packages. But the fact that he subbed in for Bunche in the fourth quarter against Oregon seems like a sign that a change is coming sooner or later.

Q: Why has UCLA struggled at making in game adjustments this year? In my opinion that was one of the strengths of our coaching staff in previous years (e.g. Nebraska and ASU last year). Also, why do you think defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich continues to refuse to dial up blitzes? While the loses of Anthony Barr, Cassius Marsh, and Keenan Graham hurt us, there’s no way that we don’t have enough talent to manufacture more sacks than we have this year.

A: There’s no question that Ulbrich has been outcoached for the last few games. He even sort of admitted that after UCLA’s closer-than-expected win over Memphis, saying afterward that he made the scheme too simple. But despite him arguing that the sacks would tick up soon, nothing has really changed. I think part of that might be Ulbrich being a bit stubborn about a scheme/strategy he believes in. Continue reading

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Weekly Q&A — 10/6/14 Answers

Q: Did you see enough from Steve Alford’s first year as basketball coach that warranted a one-year extension?

A: No. A Sweet Sixteen in his first season was probably a better result than anyone could have imagined a year ago, but Alford was already being handsomely paid on a contract that retained him through the 2019-2020 season. But that contract — which contained an unusual mirrored buyout that gave him extra job security — also stipulated that he and athletic director Dan Guerrero will meet each year to discuss to “option” of an extension.

I can see an argument for an extension if he only had, say, three years left on his contract. But setting up an agreement where he could potentially be extended every single year seems unnecessary.

Q: What are some of the keys surrounding the offensive line’s poor performance? It’s astounding that a unit with so many four-star athletes could give up 10 sacks in a game. Is there a schematic issue here or a lack of player development?

A: Brett Hundley could have done much more to avoid some of those sacks against Utah. But the offensive line also did little to block off the edge. Even while attributing sacks to “all 11,” Jim Mora admitted that the team struggled on the edge, and that “a couple guys that usually play pretty darn well didn’t play as well as they’re capable.” Continue reading

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