If football is really just eleven one-on-one battles (and, it isn’t quite, but go with me here), the one-on-one battle you’re going to want to keep an eye on throughout the game on Saturday will be the one going on between Texas A&M DE Myles Garrett, considered the best pass rusher in the country - and possibly the best defensive player outright - and UCLA OT Conor McDermott.
"It’s a good challenge for me and him. Just gotta work on my technique every day, challenge myself to work hard every day, and get ready for that competition," McDermott said of going against Garrett on Monday.
Garrett marked 11.5 sacks as a true freshman in 2014, and had 12.5 in John Chavis’s defense last season. He has improved his run defense, and reminds some NFL scouts of another Aggie pass rusher: Super Bowl MVP Von Miller.
Mora didn’t tap any single player to simulate the play of Garrett on scout team in the Bruins’ first official game week practice of the season.
"We just try to bring them in waves and we’re lining them up a little bit offsides to give them that extra jump," he said on Monday.
McDermott elected to put off playing on Sundays for one more year and come back to UCLA after being part of an offensive line that gave up only 14 sacks in 2014, the second-lowest sack total in school history, to protect Josh Rosen’s blind side.
He’ll get to see if he can protect against the high-level pass rush that NFL front offices swoon for this Saturday.
But don't expect McDermott to be outmatched. This is going to be a duel of strength vs. strength -- the country’s best edge rusher against one of the country’s best left tackles.
"Conor has great feet. He has great length and arms. He’s smart. He’s disciplined. He has very good height and you can trust him," junior linebacker Kenny Young said of the redshirt senior.
"He’s the guy that you want as a left tackle."
The offense is perfecting a silent count to prepare for the noise at Kyle Field.
"If we’re able to execute with a silent operation, it’ll take a lot of the crowd out of the game," center Scott Quessenberry said after practice.
"And we’re working on a whisper count as well."
A whisper count? Cool.
Kenny or Isaako? Isaako or Kenny?
Linebackers Kenny Young and Isaako Savaiinaea rotated with the first team defense at middle linebacker throughout spring and fall camp, and still neither player knows who will start on Saturday against the Aggies.
"Whoever the starter is, it really doesn’t matter, we can play ball from start to finish, overtime, whatever it is, we can play four quarters of solid football and get this team the W and that’s the ultimate goal," Young said on Monday.
"This is a team game. It’s not tennis."
Who’s In, Who’s Out
Mora updated the media on some injuries. TE Austin Roberts participated in practice in a red jersey, but should be a full go for Tuesday. DE Deon Hollins and FB Cameron Griffin are doubtful for Saturday with concussion-like symptoms. OL Paco Perez (knee) and DL Marcus Moore (back) are out. LB Mique Juarez still has his excused absence and will not play until his status has changed.
Head Coach Jim L. Mora:
Senior OT Conor McDermott:
Junior C Scott Quessenberry:
Junior LB Kenny Young: