All the talk, all the interviews, all of the long practices are coming to a head. Game day is Sunday, and it cannot get here soon enough for Bruins Nation and UCLA. Sunday’s game is an appropriate measuring stick kind of game for both teams. Both teams have talent. Both teams have many questions. And, both teams seem to have some questions surrounding the long-term viability of their respective head coaches. The oddsmakers see the game as pretty even as well, with UCLA currently favored by 3.5.
Let’s take a quick look at what’s been said so far this week. On Tuesday, Jim Mora met with the media for the first time in almost a week.
Mora opened talking about the overall health of the team. He said that, aside from Kenny Lacy, Dechaun Holiday and Alex Akingbulu, the team is pretty healthy. While news broke yesterday as to who the A&M starting QB might be, as part of Tuesday’s presser Mora spoke about how the team is prepared to face each of the Aggies three quarterbacks. He also mentioned that the families of Najee Toran and Will Lockett are safe from Hurricane Harvey and that Stefan Flintoff will be the Bruins’ starting punter at least to start the season. But, of course, the coaching staff needs to do their best to keep Flintoff off the field.
After practice on Wednesday, three of the coaches met with the media along with Josh Rosen and Najee Toran. All of Wednesday’s
First, here’s Defensive Coordinator Tom Bradley. Coach Bradley spoke about how the defense prepares for the first game of the season and for unscouted stuff like the possibility that they could see more than one quarterback.
Next is his offensive counterpart Jedd Fisch. Fisch shared some info about how much input Josh Rosen will have as far as what plays get called during the game. Fisch explained:
Josh has a ton of input. My goal is to not call play on Sunday that he's not comfortable with. That’s the ultimate goal that if we can get through the whole game and that he knows what's getting called ahead of time and that he feels really good about everything that we called and he has the the final marker. He has the final ability to say on Saturday night this week, normally Fridays, “Coach, I don't like that play.” And, by that point, I just say “Okay, take it out and move on to the next.”
Fisch also seems to understand the need to improve when it comes to two areas where the team struggled last season — the running game and the offensive line. Fisch’s comments echoed the wait-and-see attitude many Bruins fans have when he spoke about where he thinks the running game and the offensive line are:
I feel good about the way the running game looks. I like the way that our runners are running. I like the way that our offensive line is coming off the ball, but, you know, until we see it on a game day and until we see it throughout the season not just one a game but throughout the season, then we'll really know you know what type of running team were gonna be. But, it matters to us. So, we better run the ball well.
Speaking of the offensive line, coach Hank Fraley discussed the state of the offensive line. He spoke about losing Kenny Lacy as well as how he views his job as being a teacher. He said his biggest challenge has to do with how to “get them to understand what you want and teach them what you need.” He concluded talking about how hard Michael Alves worked during Spring and Training Camp to earn his first-team reps.
Sticking with the offensive line, Najee Toran also spoke after practice Wednesday, who spent most of his interview discussing the situation near his family’s home in the Houston area. The thoughts and prayers of all of Bruins Nation go out to the families of Najee and Will Lockett as well as everyone affected by Hurricane Harvey.
The final interview from Wednesday is Bruin quarterback Josh Rosen. Rosen didn’t give the media any new red meat, which, of course, is a good thing, but he did speak about the game planning process which Coach Fisch had mentioned as well as some things he learned after getting hurt last season.
Finally, we have yesterday’s post-practice interviews.
First up is UCLA TE Austin Roberts. One of the highlights of the interview with Roberts centered around Roberts being asked if it’s nice to start the season against the same team that gave UCLA an opening loss last year. Roberts’ answer was the type of answer that I would give if asked that question and doesn’t follow the sometimes “canned answer” that some athletes would have given this question. Roberts said:
You know, honestly, with that situation I kind of look at it as a blessing in disguise like it’s something I'm gonna carry with me, you know, for the rest of my life. You know you're gonna have success, but there's also going to be some downfalls and I just truly believe like, you know, me going through that valley was kind of helping me as a football player and as a person as well just be able to look the ball in, especially this summer.
The next interview was with UCLA Linebacker, Kenny Young. One thing you can tell from this interview is that Kenny is definitely ready to “get things rolling.” Young provided an interesting answer to a question about the progress of the team’s defense during training camp. I also loved his answer to a question about what UCLA’s defense will do if Texas A&M comes out with an unscouted look. Young said:
Just react and respond. There's nothing new. We know how to respond we’re prepared for it and it’s football. It’s fun we don't panic or anything. We just execute and just make the adjustments that need to be made in a calming matter and everything'll be alright.
We’ll wrap up yesterday’s interviews with Coach Mora. It was a much shorter interview than earlier in the week. There were a few highlights of the interview that stuck out to me. First, last year, we all sat back and scratched our heads with some of the strange substitution patterns for two specific positions, running back and receiver. Mora mentioned that the substitution patterns for those positions will be tightened up because it’s a different system.
Next, Mora highlighted the one thing that stuck out to him from this year’s training camp. “I like the team chemistry,” Mora said. “I like the way they work together. I like the way they compete against each other, but have stayed close and I think that’s very important to any successful team.”
Mora also addressed the question about opening the season against the same team from a year ago, and let’s just say that his answer didn’t match Roberts’ answer.
Lastly, I know this information has been shared, but it cannot be shared enough. UCLA will be doing a fundraiser for Hurricane Harvey Relief on Sunday.
UCLA will provide two complimentary tickets to its game against Hawaii on Sept. 9 at the Rose Bowl to fans who donate at least $10 to the relief efforts. In order to receive the tickets, fans must display their donation receipt at one of three customer service booths on the Rose Bowl concourse before the end of the third quarter Sunday.
Fans will be prompted to text keyword “HARVEY” to 75759 during pregame and in-game announcements and video board reminders. Fans can help before the game by visiting www.redcross.org, calling 1-800-RED-CROSS or texting “HARVEY” to 90999 to make a $10 donation, which will be billed to their cellular provider.
The Bruins and the Aggies will also wear special helmet decals Sunday depicting the Texas state outline embedded inside a hurricane symbol, with a red heart placed over the Houston area.