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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