As usual, drop your questions below and I’ll post answers Tuesday. Thanks in advance.
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
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
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
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
Note: Presumably to keep the status of Brett Hundley’s injured left elbow under wraps, UCLA has shut down access almost entirely this bye week. Not only are practices closed, but the practice times have not been released.
Q: Did the running game and OL have a breakthrough against Texas which may bode well for upcoming games, or was Texas just gassed at that point?
A: I think it was a legitimate step forward for the offensive line and running back Paul Perkins. UCLA only had a slight edge in time of possession (31:12 to Texas’ 28:48), so I don’t think the Longhorns defense was particularly worn down. Texas’ offense actually held a significant 10:56 to 4:04 edge in the second quarter, then came out of halftime to give up that 58-yard run to Perkins that set up the Bruins’ first touchdown.
But left tackle Malcolm Bunche injured his left foot; he reentered the game, but was seen on crutches afterward. Conor McDermott would likely start in Bunche’s place if needed.
Q: What do you think is going to happen with Asiantii Woulard? Jerry Neuheisel seems to have gotten a firm grip on the backup quarterback spot and Josh Rosen is coming in. Unless he makes a leap soon, is he the odd man out?
A: That’s going to be the big question heading into spring. Right now, Woulard isn’t in an ideal spot. I think Woulard will at least stick around and compete for the starting spot through spring. If he loses out, he could decide to stick around anyway, change positions or transfer — but it’s a bit early to say at this point.
Q: Do you think maybe UCLA has been playing with too much restraint and not enough heart through the first three games and Neuheisel the Younger stepping in uncorked their emotions? Continue reading