UCLA came right out of the gates and marched into the Top 25 before tripping up last weekend and falling out of the rankings. What's the pulse on the Jim Mora era so far and how are Bruins fans feeling about the start of the season?
Right now, I'd call it a distrustful optimism. If you offered Bruin fans a 3-1 record before the season began, most would have bought. However, last week raised some nagging questions from previous seasons, and the fans are understandably nervous whether anything has changed. In my mind, there has definitely been a move in the right direction. Jim Mora came to Westwood and recognized the "soft" culture around U.C.L.A. football and declared that would change. Through spring and fall camps, which included a 2 week stint in not-so-lovely San Bernadino in August, that new attitude seemed to prevail. Several players from last season opted out. Younger more talented and hungrier players were getting the nod over veterans. The players said all the right things are there seemed to be a genuine change in the mindset around the program. Then first 3 weeks backed up everyone's hopes. Last week's loss to OSU was a step back, but I don't think we ever would have seen the 3 big wins or the one close loss under either of the 2 coaches we had during the last decade. So like I said, we appear to be moving in the right direction. Whether that move will go far enough to satisfy the Bruin fan base remains to be seen. The roster is stocked and the schedule sets up so well for the Bruins this year (no Oregon, no UW, southern cal and Stanford at home) that the bar is pretty high. Nine wins seems more than reasonable. And it's past time to beat *$c.
What happened in the loss to the Beavers? Is Mike Reilly's team being that good, or does the loss fall more on UCLA?
Like any game, it wasn't all one or the other. It was really a mix of both. The Beavers have a great D line, and we were missing our best O Lineman. As a result, our run game never got on track and our offense was one-dimensional. Despite that, our QB passed very well for over 350 yes, but we also had 6 drops on the day. We left a lot of points on the field on offense. On the other side of the ball, the OSU offense was efficient, but one of our corners had an awful day, getting burned on 2 deep TD's and several other mistakes. We surrendered at least 14 points we shouldn't have. All told, this is a game the Bruins could easily have one with better overall play in just a few areas. But it's also the kind of game we are used to seeing, and losing, in Westwood. In the end, the Beavers were very well coached (they had 2 weeks to prepare) and they knew our weaknesses, took advantage of them, and executed better. They deserved the win.
Neuheisel redshirted Hundley because he didn't trust a true freshman at QB, and he believed in returning junior QB's Kevin Prince and Richard Brehaut. When it was clear he was on the hot seat, burning Hundley's redshirt must have been tempting for Neu, especially when the 2 juniors were struggling last year. So we give him credit for not wasting a year of Hundley's to try to save himself. With the new coaching staff and spread offense this season, all the QB's started out pretty much equally, with no one having any advantage from having played in the system before. During preseason camp, Hundley's athleticism and decision-making were cited as the reason he won the job. So far, it was undoubtedly the right decision. On U.C.L.A.'s first play from scrimmage this season, Hundley kept the ball on an option and went 72 yards for a touchdown. He has thrown for over 1,100 yards already, with 9 TD's and 3 INT's, and has a passer rating over 150. He has been surprisingly mature and patient for a redshirt freshman, and the team accepts his leadership. Johnathan Franklin, our senior RB has benefitted from a passing attack which was non-existent last year, though OC Noel Mazzone's spread offense should get a lot of credit too. Franklin has always been a step away from breaking big gains in previous years. This season, teams can't stack the box, and when healthy, the O line has been better, and Frankiln has broken lots of big runs. All this has translated to a balanced and potent offensive attack.
Who do the Buffaloes need to watch out for in the UCLA defense? How did Sean Mannion attack the Bruin secondary?
Anthony Barr has been the highlight this season, and not only because he is playing his 5th game ever at outside linebacker. He was recruited as a running back and was lost amongst the running backs until both he and Mora suggested the move to defense, and he has been a beast on the outside. His speed, size, and athleticism make him a tough matchup for an offensive lineman. Datone Jones at D tackle has started living up to his lofty expectations. The defensive line rotates 7 or 8 players, and Owa Odighizuwa and Cassius Marsh have looked good there, too. We knew that after safeties Tevin McDonald and Andrew Abbott, U.C.L.A. was thin in the secondary, and last week Mannion really picked on corner Sheldon Price. The Bruins will need to adjust personnel or coverages to give him some help, but pass coverage in the flats, short crossing routes, and deep on Price's side are vulnerabilities.
How do you see the game playing out? Think the Bruins will get it done in Boulder or are you a bit worried that Colorado will build off of the win over Wazzu?
Come on, Jon, you can't invite me into your house here and ask me that! Isn't it enough I'm rooting for CU every week but this one? Should I be a polite and gracious guest and say that the Buffs gutty comeback win at WSU showed tons of character and is just the kick start this team needs to get going, and that OSU showed everyone how to slow the Bruins' offense and make a game close? Or do I stand up for myself and say the Bruins have the talent and scheme to win the Pac-12 South title, and prior to last week looked very comfortable, and now they have a lot to prove after letting one get away last weekend? Hmm, which do I go with? Ummm...well, let me say this...I sure can't wait to see Ralphie run this weekend! I hope I can actually see it from my seat in the visitors section in 101. Honestly, if the Bruins play to their capability like they did for most of the first 3 games, I like their chances against anyone not financed by Phil Knight. But they also showed that if they aren't sharp or focused, then they can be the same old Bruins who can lose to anyone anytime. Like any long time Bruin fan, I'm praying for the first and dreading the second. You just never know.