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Spaulding Report: UCLA Football Mixing and Matching the Defense for Southern Cal

The Bruins got defensive with the media today as the head coach, D Line coach, LB coach, and star defensive tackle talked about getting ready for the rivalry game this weekend.

If Kenny Clark is getting doubled, players like Matt Dickerson will have more room to operate.
If Kenny Clark is getting doubled, players like Matt Dickerson will have more room to operate.
Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

It's Tuesday of Beat $C week...Go!!

Jim Mora started off the morning and spent most of the morning speaking about individual players. Though he didn't run down a list of specific injury updates, he mentioned while taking about Nate Meadors performance that Johnny Johnson is back and Ishmael Adams is feeling better (I don't know if that was injury or illness). We also learned that Isaako Savaiinaea was dressed last week so he should be closer to returning as well.

Mora spoke specifically about DB Nate Meadows, saying he had a "good game" and did an "admirable job" on Saturday but it sounds like they haven't determined whether he or Johnson will start at corner this week.

Mora was intentionally vague about the health of the offensive line, although he did comment that Alex Redmond was hurt when he left the game adjacent Utah (some questioned whether he was benched for performance). Conor McDermott also left the game with an injury, but Mora went out of his way to say that there was no guarantee there would be any changes to the OL this week, and then shifted to a conversation about center Jake Brendel who just became the Bruins all-time leader in career starts, complimenting him on his experience and stability and leadership on the line. If you want to read between the lines, that might have been an intentional change of subject.

Mora said that if Kolton Miller has to play this weekend that he was confident he would do well based on his performance and experience against good players so far this year. He is already looking forward to the battle between Kolton, Conor, and Caleb Benenoch for the two tackle spots come spring.

The coach talked about the role that ILB Jayon Brown had to fill this year after Myles Jack was lost for the year. Mora said the coaches saw Brown's potential in camp.

Mora went on to rave about Jordan Payton who put his name in the Bruins record book Saturday when he became the Bruins all-time leader in career receptions. Mora compared him to NFL players Anquan Boldin for his competitive attitude and toughness, and T.J. Houshmandzadeh in how he reads zones and runs routes.

Mora also spoke a bit about team and coaching issues this week, saying the Bruins are preparing like they do every week and they aren't trying to approach this game any differently from normal. Mora will be facing his 4th Trojan coach in 4 years on Saturday, which is stunning when you think about it. He doesn't know Southern Cal's interim coach Clay Helton personally but says the staff is just focusing on finding tendencies and trends since they don't have a long background to study, but he respects the difficult situation that Helton stepped into and how he has kept his team on track this year.

Thanks to Ed Lewis and Bruin Sports Report for the video.

Defensive line coach Angus McClure spoke next and said that the defense looked "good" and "spirited" this morning as they began installing the game plan for Saturday.

Most of the talk was about stud defensive tackle Kenny Clark and McClure said emphatically that there is no question that Kenny should be in contention for the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year. He pointed out that Clark stays late after practice all the time working on little things and that he has a great drive to improve. To wit, Clark was doing extra wind sprints by himself after practice today. If you want a glimpse what it's like to rush the passer as a DT, McClure gives a great narrative about facing a double team (about 600 pounds of enemy), fighting that resistance and feeling the pressure, holding the assigned gap and maintaining leverage while recognizing the movement of the O line as run or pass, and then getting upfield to get after the QB - all processed and executed in about the first half to full second after the snap. And sometimes Clark get triple teamed. Dude is stud.

McClure said Matt Dickerson had his best game of the year, complimenting both his recognition of what the offense was trying to do and his execution to make plays in response.

Thanks to Ed Lewis and Bruin Sports Report for the video.

Probably no Bruins coach has had a bigger challenge this season than linebackers coach Scott White. That group has had to juggle personnel and positions more than any other but has still been a generally effective unit on the defense.

White says he feels good about his players and that they have been able to settle into a position lately and that has allowed them to get more comfortable and improve on their responsibilities. Despite the injuries, his coaching process has stayed consistent despite the utter inconsistency of available players this year. He mentioned that Jayon Brown might not have had the best day today at practice but did not give details. He talked about working with Kenny Young to get him to go through his defensive keys instead of the natural tendency to peek at the QB and that is helping his recognition and processing so he can make correct reads and plays faster.

Hopefully White will have the welcome problem of getting to add a player back into his rotation if Savaiinaea is able to return this week.

Thanks to Ed Lewis and Bruin Sports Report for the video.

In case we hadn't talked enough about Kenny Clark lately, and how could you, considering the performance he's put in this year, Clark himself came out to talk with the media today.

Clark talked about the personnel on the Southern Cal O Line, saying they are definitely one of the most talented teams they've faced. One outstanding player he won't face however is Trojan center Max Tuerk who was lost for the year with an ACL tear earlier this season. Bruin fans ought to be able to sympathize with injuries, even for Southern Cal, and their offensive line has been shelled by injuries this season. That should offer an advantage for the Bruin defense and give Clark a lot of opportunities to make plays this weekend.

Clark laughed at the question of whether this could be his last SC game. He said he is just excited about the game and hasn't thought about anything after the season.

Good. Don't think about it. We'll see you and Eddie at spring camp, Kenny.

Thanks to Ed Lewis and Bruin Sports Report for the video.