Oct 3, 2013; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; UCLA Bruins running back Steven Manfro (33) catches the ball and runs up field against the Utah Utes in the second quarter at Rice-Eccles Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports
We have a 12-pack of questions with the chief editor at Go Joe Bruin and Fansided’s very own Keith Olbermann, Joshua Davis about this Saturday’s game between the UCLA Bruins and the Cal Golden Bears.
Golden Bear Lair: UCLA has been really bad starting games. So far this season, they’ve scored 24 total points in the first quarter. They were held to a season low 3 points in the Nebraska game. Why do you think UCLA has been so bad this season when it comes to starting the game?
Carlos Sandoval: I honestly don’t know. It’s funny because last year, UCLA started games quickly and fell off until very late in games. I think they’ve been a bit overconfident although that doesn’t explain the Nebraska game. The coating staff is pretty good with halftime adjustments but if they don’t figure out their first-half woes, the big dogs in the PAC-12 will eat them alive.
GBL: Brett Hundley has been great all season long, but it seems that at times has relied on his legs more than his arm. Is that a fair assessment? If so, why do you think that is?
CS: I’d disagree. Last year, I think this would be more accurate but I’d attribute that to a shoddy offensive line and a lot of inexperience on Hundley’s part. This year, he’s had so much more time to drop back and throw, and he’s done a good job at it. He’s very poised in the pocket and doesn’t get antsy, and again, I’d attribute that to a much-improved line.
GBL: Historically, UCLA is very meh in terms of producing top notch receivers. Is this years crop different, or is the heightened production at the receiver spot due to the talent around them?
CS: I think it’s more the system they’re in than the talent they’re surrounded by. Noel Mazzone’s offense encourages spreading the ball around, and though some receivers will get more touches than others, it’s rare when only six guys get to touch the ball. The receivers are talented but when they’re put into open space to make plays, you would have to thank the system for that.
GBL: I personally believe that UCLA should be renamed Tailback U because of the amazing amounts of talented running backs the program has been able to churn out over the last three decades or so. Do you believe that this years crop (which is 14th in the nation in rushing yards per game, and as a group has produced 1,039 yards with 14 touchdowns) is a group that is as good as they’ve played (against lower-end competition) or are they helped by the non-conference opponents being unspectacular?
CS: I think RBs are the easiest players to produce and this isn’t a knock on Johnathan Franklin, Jordon James or what have you. Last year, though, I definitely think Franklin succeeded despite his line woes. Conversely, UCLA has had a wide array of backs run well and for that, I’d credit a solid line. I think a lot of programs can make an argument for “Tailback U” and I’m sure most fans are honored just to be in that discussion.
GBL: Defensively, UCLA boasts the best defensive prospect in the nation not named Jadeveon Clowney in Anthony Barr. What makes him such a special player?
CS: I would argue that Barr is a better defensive player than Clowney and, if we’re honest, stats don’t lie. Barr is an athletic freak, is unbelievably fast, and horrifyingly aggressive. The crazy thing is that he’s still relatively raw, though he’s improving rapidly. Sadly, we’ll forget about him when Myles Jack takes over the linebacker corps and emerges as the best defensive prospect UCLA has ever produced.
GBL: UCLA’s secondary really played spectacularly against Utah this past weekend. They picked off Travis Wilson six times, and really won the game because of it. Tell us what the Cal offense needs to be worried about when it comes to the secondary?
CS: Well, it’s funny because we thought our secondary would be an absolute mess. They’ve stepped up and it appears that UCLA has weathered the storm, transition-wise, from a crappy defensive backfield. I really love Anthony Jefferson and Fabian Moreau. Love them. I do think they’ll give up yardage vs Cal since their offense has a tendency to get theirs.
GBL: UCLA hasn’t really been tested this season (outside of the Utah game). Why should we believe that the defense’s amazing play thus far wont change when they go up against Oregon, Stanford or Washington later this season?
CS: The defense is going to struggle more against the good spread offenses than the good pro-style/drop back offenses. A lot of UCLA’s talent is up front and Oregon gets the ball out way too quickly to put pressure on Mariota. It’ll be a nice test vs. Cal. But I like UCLA’s chances against slow-ass Stanford, mainly because they do rely on their offensive line being great all the time.
GBL: How is this year’s defense better (or worse) than last years defense, which had trouble when it met very high-powered offenses?
CS: those cornerbacks are gone. That’s the primary reason this defense is better. The secondary proved to be one of the worst in the country, and though Sheldon Price and Aaron Hester were talented, their inconsistency damned UCLA. The group now — Randall Goforth, Anthony Jefferson, Fabian Moreau — is young but has been fully immersed in Jim Mora/Lou Spanos’s scheme for over 18 months now.
GBL: Jim Mora is in season two in Westwood. He had been met with some negativity by the UCLA fan base because he wasn’t the guy UCLA wanted when the coaching search happened. Is the feeling about him the same or different in Westwood?
CS: Obviously different. So different. He’s gone from also-ran to possibly the best coach in the conference. (Suck it, David Shaw.)
GBL: Do you believe in Mora and his coaching style?
CS: Sure do. He’s really good at adapting, changing, and fitting his style with what’s at his disposal. He’s not afraid to play freshmen and he’s a ballsy decision-maker. He’s also a player’s coach but one that’s incredibly tough on his kids. I also think he’s a wonderful human being who has made real connections with these kids.
GBL: What players do we need to watch for this upcoming game?
CS: Hard to say. There are so many and one can explode any given game. Outside of the obvious ones — Barr, Hundley — watch for Keenan Graham, a defensive lineman. Also, be sure to watch Myles Jack, a freshman linebacker, although I’m guessing he will be hard to miss. And keep a mindful eye on Moreau, who is seemingly always step-for-step with his man.
GBL: UCLA WINS IF…
CS: If they show up. Sorry, Cal is awful.
Make sure to tune into Saturday’s game. Kick off is set for a 7:30pm (PT) live from the Rose Bowl in beautiful Pasadena, California. The game will be aired on ESPN 2 (the Duce). You can catch more analysis about the UCLA Bruins at Go Joe Bruin!