Spaulding Roundup: Update on Baca, and Prepping for the Buffs

Gary A. Vasquez-US PRESSWIRE - Presswire

Latest news as the Bruins prepare for the CU Buffs

It's Friday morning, and while we are waiting for any comments from Coach Mora, I wanted to get us started with some of the news that is already out there.

We discussed yesterday that the Bruins will be without OLB Jordan Zumwalt as he recovers from a head laceration from a recent scooter crash. The Bruins will need to shore up that spot, in addition to cleaning up pass coverage as they prepare to face a balanced Colorado attack led by Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week Buffalo QB Jordan Mays. And the Bruins have not been very good in conference road games lately, winning just 3 conference road games in the last 4 seasons. Despite Colorado's awful start, Mora is appropriately taking this game very seriously. From Peter Yoon at ESPN-LA:

Colorado (1-3, 1-0) ... came back from a 17-point, fourth-quarter deficit at Washington State last week and Mora said that makes them as dangerous as any team.

He said the key for UCLA will be to keep the focus on playing well, paying attention to details and execution rather than trying to avenge a loss from last week.

"We try to keep the focus on us and the way we're playing rather than the opponent, where we're playing and what the game means in terms of rankings or bouncing back and things like that," Mora said. "For a coach there's a rub there because you want to emphasize that you have to bounce back, but you don't want that to be the emphasis. ... We have to play to our standard so you're always trying to balance that."

The last time U.C.L.A. played in Boulder, they lost a close game in Karl Dorrell's debut. I was there. I'm looking forward to seeing a very different team and outcome tomorrow.

If you want to learn more about the Buffs' football teamhere, AHMB did two great previews of the offense and coaching here and defense and special teams here this week. We also exchanged Q&A's with the great folks at Ralphie Report here and .

I've siad it a hundred times...Line wins games. As further proof, Chris Foster did another (wait...another? what the hell is going on?) nice piece on one of our Bruin players yesterday. Foster interviewed OL Jeff Baca on his recent medical issues, and discussed Jeff's importance to the young OL.. Foster writes that Baca expects to play, and that is sweet music to Bruins fans' ears.

We had heard from Coach Mora earlier in the week that Baca was not playing due to headaches, and the fear at the time is that these were related to recent concussion. Well, the bad news is that doctors feared something far worse than post concussive symptoms.

The last two weeks were an emotional roller coaster for Baca and his family. He missed UCLA's game against Houston on Sept. 15 because of constant headaches, something that worried his family. His father died of a stroke when Baca was 13.

Last Saturday, mere hours before UCLA played Oregon State, a doctor told Baca not to play because of concerns he might have arteriovenous malformation - an abnormal connection between arteries and veins - in his brain.

The test, which involved inserting a camera through an artery in his leg, came back negative on Sunday. He resumed football activities Thursday, after his leg healed. Baca expects to play Saturday, when UCLA travels to Colorado.

"The care he got was incredible," said Arlene Baca, his mother. "But it was very sobering. They already had a surgery plan in place. It was such a relief when everything came back clear. We all just hugged."

I'm considering Baca's clearance to play as an excellent sign. While headaches can be part of post-concussive symptoms, it appears that Baca has been evaluated very thoroughly, and the fact that he is back on the field suggests to me that the doctors are confident that the headaches are not concussion-related and that he is healthy and safe to return. That is good news for Johnathan Franklin.

With Baca playing right guard, the Bruins' run game was dominant in weeks one and two. With Baca absent, the run game struggled in weeks 3 and 4. Getting Heisman candidate Franklin back on track is critical to the success of the Bruins offense, and will be key to controlling the game this Saturday in Boulder. Baca's return will help reestablish the continuity and confidence of the other four youngsters along the line.

That climb-any-mountain outlook is what the Bruins are happy to have back for their journey to the Rocky Mountains. Baca, sandwiched between freshman tackle Simon Goines and freshman center Jake Brendel, has a father-figure effect.

"Jeff will see things I don't see," Brendel said. "The guy has been around the game forever. He's like 28 now or something."

Actually, Baca is a mere 22, but he's had plenty of ups and downs in his 35 college starts, and that experience means a lot to an offensive line that starts three freshmen and a sophomore.

"It shouldn't be like this, and when we mature it won't be, but as soon as Jeff gets in there's a sigh for the other guys," Coach Jim Mora said.

...

"He's like a second coach, a guy who can relate to us but is also a guy who has been around for a long time." [Said Brendel]

Which is why temporarily losing Baca was a blow.

Goines was visibly upset when he learned Baca would not play against Oregon State last Saturday.

"He gets you through games," Goines said. "Against Nebraska, I didn't see a linebacker who was blitzing. Jeff picked him up."

LOL at Brendel's effort to promote Baca to premature geezerdom. The article also talks about the influence that Jeff's late father had on him in developing his work ethic and how that helped direct him to U.C.L.A. instead of the other school across town. It is really a good read, and I actually recommend going over to the LAT page and checking the entire article.

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