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Spaulding Roundup: Mazzone On Virginia Tech, Devin Lucien On Confidence And Motivation

A daily roundup of news surrounding UCLA football as the Bruins prepare for their Sun Bowl contest against the Virginia Tech Hokies.

Harry How

The Bruins are now a couple of practice deep into the first week of preparations for the Sun Bowl against Virginia Tech. As of this posting there is no video of a press conference post-practice from Jim Mora, but there is this video taken of offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone talking about a few topics noted after the jump:

(credit to Ryan Kartje for posting the video)
  • Mazzone touches on a few basic things about Virginia Tech's defense. Just repeating what everyone knows about the Hokies, lots of turnovers and talent on defense with one of the better defensive coordinators in the NCAA. Brett Hundley and crew will have their hands full with this group, as by Football Outsiders, the Hokies have the #1 defense in the country by multiple measures. I'm a big fan of the analytical work Football Outsiders, so I vouch for the data they have.
  • He also answers a question about Devin Lucien winning the Most Improved Offensive Player Award at the UCLA banquet a few days ago and attributes his late season success to a pretty amusing analogy that's worth listening to if you get a chance. It's been a long road back to the forefront of the offense for Lucien and no one is expecting anything but continued improvement from him.
  • Transitioning to more Devin Lucien news, Jack Wang of Inside UCLA posted a great interview with Lucien after practice that goes a long way to support the quality of person that UCLA has on the football roster. Difficult to watch this and come away as anything but impressed with Lucien. It kind of weirds me out watching Lucien play/talk because he looks and sounds a lot like an old college teammate of mine, but this is cool to watch because he's a sharp, engaging and surprisingly self-aware interview subject. Check it out below:

  • Seriously might be my favorite interview of the year, worth every one of the seven minutes. It would shock me if Lucien doesn't end up at least getting a shot at the next level. Not just off talent, which he has a ton of already and even more that is as of yet untapped, but that drive is a rarity in people. He's a crazy emotional player and we've seen that all season, he's nearly broken down on the sideline about 4 times that I can remember. Just a matter of channelling all of that into a finished product, and he'll get every opportunity with the departure of Shaq Evans, Grayson Mazzone and Darius Bell leaving about 75 catches, around 120 targets and around 1000 yards of receiving up for grabs.
  • In more direct Sun Bowl news, there is a great piece by The Key Play on UCLA's front seven on defense. It's a little lengthy, but if you soldier through my pieces and come away interested, than you will enjoy that one. Really great to get an outsider's view on the defense, especially from a group that has as good of a defense as VT's. Basically helps validate everything I and others have been saying all season, this is one of the best front sevens in the NCAA and probably the most talented linebacking core of anyone. The writer also points out the weaknesses of each player up front, limited though they may be. The UCLA defense struggles against athletic lines because Eric Kendricks and Jordan Zumwalt sometimes have problems shedding blocks and getting to their gaps, the defensive lineman sometimes go out of control and lose gap integrity and the way that the defense approaches the read option/jet sweeps is confusing. I'm excited about this game and really look forward to seeing how the defense is prepared for VT.
  • Xavier Su'a-Filo received some good news today. Winning UCLA's first Morris Trophy (award for best offensive lineman in the Pac-12, as voted by opposing lineman) since 2003 and the Bruins' 4th overall recipient. The other four guys all had long and successful NFL careers (Jonathan Ogden in 1995, Kenyon Coleman in 2001 and David Ball most recently in 2003). So just another reason why the future is bright for XSF whether or not he comes back for his senior year as a Bruin.

So there you have it. Bowl games start up this weekend, so the break from college football is nearly over. With the bowl games and the upcoming high school All-American and state title games and the impending recruiting season, there will be plenty to distract from the basketball program, which is what I'm planning on helping out with in the upcoming months.
Until next time, Go Bruins!