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Spaulding Roundup: Bruins Focusing on Own Issues

Coach Mazzone and Coach Spanos met with the media to discuss the Bruins' preparation for Cal

Eric Kendricks and the LB crew will meet a stiff challenge in the UC Berkeley offense
Eric Kendricks and the LB crew will meet a stiff challenge in the UC Berkeley offense

There were times past when we thought we had it rough.

Cal is starting a true freshman QB, playing a wide receiver at corner, has allowed the second most points per game in the country, and is off to a 1-4 start.  Their only win was a close game against lowly Portland State.  But don't look to the Bruin coaching staff to feel sympathy or to take this one lightly.

After a practice in full pads today, Offensive Coordinator Noel Mazzone and and Defensive Coordinator Lou Spanos met with reporters after practice today, and while the media tried to get the coaches to bite at suggestions that this game would be easy, the coaches focused on their own issues with the Bruins, which are certainly a bigger challenge than the records would suggest.  We all remember what happened last year when we travelled to Berkeley and how a listless and underprepared team got embarrassed by a Bears team with plenty of talent.  The only clear difference between the setup for this year and last is the location.  Luckily, both the OC and DC remember last year well.  Said Mazzone:

They whooped our butt last year.

Simple enough.

Mazzone has plenty of his own concerns on offense.  When asked about the Cal defensive woes, he said he is just focusing on his own guys.  His first concern is the replacement of starting running back Jordon James, who suffered a severe ankle sprain last week and is still doubtful to return this Saturday.  At least in this area, Mazzone has plenty of options to fall back on, namely Paul Perkins and a deep group of running backs who should be able to fill in the hole left by James' absence.

I like how he [Perkins] runs behind his pads.  All our backs, they've all got their their own different styles.  Jordon's kind of a stop and cut guy and make you miss.  I like the way Paul and Malcolm get behind their pads and lower their pads and are more physical.  And now we got Thiggy coming back, so there a guys whose got some quickness.  So I was happy how Paul stepped up when Jordon went down and went in there and made a lot of good things happen.

The bigger problem for Mazzone is the loss of tackle Torian White for the season due to a broken bone in his ankle.  On an encouraging note, White had surgery yesterday and we have heard that it went very well.  We hope Torian has a smooth recovery and takes advantage of pounding the books instead of defensive linemen for the next 2-3 months before he can get back to full speed.  Get well soon, Torian!

But now Mazzone and OL Coach Adrian Klemm have to juggle an offensive line which has been fortunate in its relative consistency through last season and up until now.  Simon Goines will move over to the all important left tackle spot and true freshman Caleb Benenoch will step into the right tackle, giving the Bruins a pair of true freshmen on the right side of the line.  Mazzone joked that this will change his approach on offense.

We're just gonna run left all day.

No, I got total confindence in those kids.  They're gonna have their learning curve.  There are gonna be some things they miss...Both the kids are more than physically, more than adequate to get the job done.  They're lucky they got Jake there.  It's not very often you got two true freshmen on the same side. That's kind of unusual.  I feel good about both of them.

The O line did struggle some last week, and it sounds as if the Utah defensive scheme took advantage of the inexperience along the line.

He [Benenoch] came in and did a really good job.  He missed a couple things.  And a lot of times is not so much as them missing it physically but just him and the communication between him and Alex over those guys getting on the same page.  They're still on the Green Eggs And Ham book, you know Dr Seuss reading. They haven't progressed enough to see that....

And what was a little bit tougher on them against Utah, I thought the defensive staff of Utah did a great job against us.  Up to that point they were a 10% blitz team.  Mostly everything we saw was stuff we hadn't seen on film.

First it was Pokemon and now it's Dr Seuss.  Mazzone added that he expected Cal to try the same things that were successful for Utah, namely, blitz a lot.

Hell, after last week I would.  They're going to do it until you prove that they can't.
You can see all of the interview with Coach Mazzone here.  Thanks to Ed Lewis with Bruin Sports Report.

Coach Klemm spoke with the great Ralph Irvin after practice in more specifics about the offensive line and how the injury to White will affect things this week.  As opposed to the Utah game, where adjustments had to be made on the fly, the Bruins do have the luxury of getting Beneoch and the revamped line reps in practice all week long as well as the chance to walk through their own game plan, and this should help the line be better prepared for the Bears.  Klemm talked about getting the new lineup ready to go:
Just tons of reps.  Not treat them like freshmen.  Expedite their maturation process.  The only way to do that is to get a ton of classwork in with them and give them as many reps as possible next to each other so they get used to playing next to one another.
He notes that Conor McDermott may also see some playing time this week.

You can see the whole interview with Coach Klemm on the Official Site:

Over on our defensive side, the Bruins look to have a much more serious challenge, as the "Bear Raid" offense has been pretty prolific so far.  The Bears are led by a true freshman QB in Jared Goff who is currently third in the nation in passing yards per game and is putting up numbers that belie his age.  Spanos talked about the Bears and Goff in particular.
You got a lot of young players who are contributing early.  I think he [Goff] started school there early and he got a head start.  Shoot, he's ready.  He's a veteran.

He's thrown the ball and he's put up a lot of yards. He does a great job keeping plays alive.  He throws the vertical routes excellent.  They got a lot of playmakers all around on the offensive side.
There is going to be a lot of pressure on the entire Bruins defense this week, from the defensive line to get pressure on Goff and not give him time to make decisions to on the LB crew to keep Goff from scrambling while covering short routes to the young secondary to stay with a very talented group of receivers.  Spanos felt that getting to play a pass happy spread offense against Utah last week provided some valuable experience for his defense, but feels this will be the best receiving corps we have seen this year.
Oh yeah.  Yeah, by far.  They're tremendous kids.  They got speed.  They got some size. too.  They'll give us a great challenge.

Utah, we were fortunate enough that (they are) similar offenses, meaning, you know, a four receiver package, and we're going against another team with likewise.  With that, it's always a great experience for a young defense.
You can see the entire interview with Coach Spanos here.  Thanks again to Ed Lewis with Bruin Sports Report.

Our friend Chris Foster at the LAT wrote an extended piece on our Fab Four Bruin linebackers yesterday that is definitely worth the read.  Yes, I included "LAT" and 'worth the read" in the same sentence, but it's really true.  We know how indignant some schools got in the preseason when LB Coach Jeff Ulbrich talked about U.C.L.A. wanted to become #LinebackerU.  Well, I don't hear them complaining now. Here are some highlights, but really, go read this one.
Jordan Zumwalt says playing linebacker for UCLA is a lot of fun. He just has an unusual definition of what fun is.

Fun, he said, is "making the guy across from you feel like he doesn't want to be hit anymore. It's making the other guy feel inferior. Whenever you stop a team, that's fun. Whenever you hear the crowd cheer for you, that's fun. Whenever you look around and see nothing but bodies, that's fun."

Confirming something we suspected after the first two games, Foster notes how Barr sacrificed his sack numbers to do what the team needed.
Barr blossomed in 2012. His 13.5 sacks were second in the nation last season.

But it was what he did the first two games this season that impressed Ulbrich. The Bruins faced Nevada and Nebraska, teams with elusive quarterbacks.

"We told him, 'Don't pass-rush, don't do what you worked the entire off-season to do, don't do that thing the entire country said made you an elite player,'" Ulbrich said. "We wanted him to hold the edge and not let the quarterback out. He did. It was a huge indicator of an unselfish player."

The New Mexico State game followed and, Ulbrich said, "It was time to go."

True freshman Myles Jack is earning raves from teammates and coaching staff alike.
"He's our X-factor," Ulbrich said of Jack. "You see glimpses of things I wish I could take credit for, but I can't."
"To move as quickly and compactly as he does, and then put his foot in the ground to change direction with that kind of power, is pretty rare," Coach Jim Mora said.

Said Zumwalt: "Everyone knows he's a supreme athlete, but I wouldn't say he's raw talent because he understands football."

Eric Kendricks quietly goes about his job in the middle, and continues to do it better than anyone else in the conference.
Kendricks is a prototypical middle linebacker, but with a twist, Ulbrich said.

"He is physical and tough, and the icing on the cake is he has the range and speed to cover receivers," Ulbrich said.

Kendricks intercepted a pass against Utah and also had 13 tackles. This was nothing new. It was the 10th time in the last 13 games that he has had 10 or more tackles.

Zumwalt is the loose cannon who combines great athleticism and fearlessness.
Ulbrich was asked how he would describe Zumwalt.

"He might be crazy," the coach joked.


"I think so," Barr said.

Jack had an example: "Taking on offensive linemen at full speed. Jordan likes to do that."

Good work.  These four are really an outstanding unit and Ulbrich has done a fine job with them.

UC Berkeley alum Jack Wang also wrote about the upcoming superstar Myles Jack today, and in particular, about how he developed his passs coverage skills.
Coming out of Bellevue High, recruiting websites gave pointed to pass coverage as one of Jack's weaknesses. Four games into his college career, he's tied for second in the Pac-12 with seven passes defended.

Jack's cover ability comes from less than a year of work. Through high school, he was primarily a rusher, using his 200-plus pound frame to knock down opponents. It wasn't until he was picked for January's Army All-American Bowl that he decided to work on defending the back end.

He knew that blitzing wasn't allowed in the upcoming event, so he worked on pass coverage with the help of teammate Budda Baker and step-brother Stanton Truitt. The former is a four-star safety currently chased by UCLA; the latter is a four-star Auburn commit.

"They're way faster than me," Jack said. "In the beginning, it was terrible. They were killing me. ... I had to learn quick, especially going against those two guys."

We're gonna need all those defensive units to really click this Saturday against Cal.  What the Bears lack on defense right now, they make up for on offense, and the Bruins don't need them hanging around and trading scores and find things close in the 4th quarter.