Head Coach Jim Mora started off his Thursday comments by talking about some special events Saturday night.
It will be Senior Night for the Bruins as this is the last regular season game at the Rose Bowl for the senior class, and the players and their families will be honored at the start of halftime. Coach Mora asked that fans stay in their seats as it will be a short but special ceremony.
One of the families present will be the Pasquale family. This would have been Nick's senior year, and the coach noted that Nick had a tremendous impact on the team and his family has continued this since, so there will be a special presentation for them.
Continuing with the Veteran's Day commemorations this week, the Bruins will honor the military by paying tribute to the Navy SEALs wiith whom they have worked the last 2 seasons. Seals personnel will be included in team activities this weekend the Bruins will wear a bone frog sticker, one of the Seals' unofficial logos, on their helmets in the game.
Also, barring a shutout by Wazzu, we ought to see Ka'imi Fairbairn set a new U.C.L.A. and Pac-12 record for the all-time scoring leader.
And there's the matter of a football game. The Bruins still control their destiny in the Pac-12 South but have no room for error and need to win out to guarantee a shot at the Pac-12 championship. WSU is just one game back of Stanford and is tied with Oregon for second in the Pac-12 North, so they are looking good this year and want to ensure a high place in the conference for themselves.
While Mike Leach coached teams aren't normally, or ever, known for their defenses, the Cougars' defense under first year DC Alex Grinch (best name ever for a DC?) has improved greatly from last season. Mora complimented their defensive front and schemes.
On the other side of the ball, Mora said that the Bruins defense has to be smart about how they pressure the WSU passing game. WSU QB Luke Falk is the leading passer in the country and will get the ball out of his hands quickly, so the Bruins will have to mix up their coverages and blitzes while being prepared for their tendencies.
Mora was asked about John Johnson's play this year and how happy he is for him. He knew about his talent and potential, but seeing him go through two shoulder surgeries and have to wait to get back on the field and now to see him excel on the field is really gratifying.
Mora also talked about Takkarist McKinley, noting how raw he was when he arrived partway through last season and had to learn the scheme on the fly, and how a year of experience is really showing in his performance on Saturdays.
Mora said that Isaako Savaiinaea, Josh Woods, and Devin Fuller are not expected to play. Thomas Duarte and Steven Johnson haven't practiced this week but they are not ruled out for Saturday. From Joey Kaufman at the OC Register:
Receiver Thomas Duarte had the flu this week and did not practice. Mora said he didn't know if Duarte would be able to play against the Cougars. He's questionable, as is receiver Stephen Johnson (undisclosed). Johnson has practiced, wearing a red no-contact jersey
Hopefully Duarte is recovered well enough by Saturday to have an impact, because he has been one of Josh Rosen's favorite and most dependable targets this season. It's not like the Bruins haven't already lost their share of players this season that now a silly virus has to take down one of our best offensive threats. Our friend Chris Foster wrote a nice article on Duarte today.
Duarte, a junior, is 6 feet 2, 225 pounds, making him a tough physical matchup for defensive backs. He also has deceptive speed.
His sure hands and precision route running make him a favorite target for Josh Rosen, UCLA's freshman quarterback.
Duarte has 46 receptions for 666 yards and a team-best eight touchdowns.
"This is what I always thought he would be, the prototype for that flex tight end," said Noel Mazzone, UCLA's offensive coordinator. "That's what I saw when we signed him."
In the article Foster writes that Duarte's nickname is "Smooth". As long as Soso Jamabo doesn't steal that one away, it fits. There was some talk about Duarte following last week's game and how he compares to some of the great receiving tight ends at the next level. I threw out Shannon Sharpe. He came into the NFL at 6-2 and 225 and was really a tweener between TE and WR. He wasn't much of a blocker early in his career but he put on some pounds and worked hard to become a serviceable blocker in his career, and he did block for 2 different 2,000 yard rushers. His specialty though was as a receiver and he was one of the first TEs who regularly flexed out from the end of the line and ran great routes downfield as a receiving threat, exactly the way Duarte is now. Sharpe is wearing one of those ugly yellow jackets given to NFL Hall of Famers, so if Duarte is following in those footsteps, he's on a good path.
It doesn't sound like Duarte has Sharpe's legendary propensity for talk, however.
"Everything is this smooth operation with him," receiver Jordan Payton said. "He's not pushing himself by being fanatical. He just gets in and out calmly. His emotions are balanced."
Payton saw that when he hosted Duarte on his official recruiting visit.
"I can't remember any stories about him because he never really said much," Payton said. "I kept asking him, 'You all right? You good?' because he didn't talk."
Duarte still doesn't talk much. He just snags passes.
Get well soon, TD!