Coach Mora spoke after practice today talking about how the team is trying to get better each day. This, inevitably, led to a question about what areas he wanted to see improvement in, but Mora didn't pinpoint a specific area, choosing instead to talk about a broad range of things he wants the team and the staff to get better at. Mora said:
I'd like to see our sideline operations get better. Our communication get better. I'd like to see us more effective in all areas. Eliminate penalties, eliminate negative plays, tackle better, better leverage and play entry, better gap control, improving our technique and our efficiency in everything we do. There is no one specific. There are a whole bunch of variables we want to improve on.
The biggest question (no pun intended) of the week has to do with filling the void left by the injury of Eddie Vanderdoes. Mora was asked what he wanted to see from Eli Ankou and Matt Dickerson, both of whom will see playing time in EVD's absence. Again, Mora spoke, in broad terms, about everything most coaches would ask of any defensive tackle:
I want to see them do a really nice job of holding blocks, of getting off blocks when they're supposed to get off blocks, of plenty of great gap control which means staying where they're supposed to stay and not popping blocks, freeing up our linebackers to play well again. I think we'll see that level of consistency. Obviously, we want to see them, when the situation arises, be able to put some pressure on the quarterback or at least get some push up the middle.
The second biggest question of the week focuses on how the team is preparing for a team with a new coach when there's only one game film of his team playing under the new coaching staff. As you can expect, it isn't easy to anticipate what UNLV will do all game. But, in the end, it comes down to playing fundamentally sound football. Coach Mora explained this in more detail:
It's hard. You go back and you look at what those coaches have done in the past at the places that they've been. You look at some high school film. But, it's hard. You just have to be prepared for unscouted looks which forces you to go back and pay attention to your rules. And, really that's what it all comes down to anyway. Just making adjustments through the game, as a coach [and] as a player and applying them as you go through the game.
Every coach has a personality and a philosophy. You can see it in high school and you can see it in the pros. And, then you look at the rest of the staff and where those guys came from and you just try to piece together things that might fit with their personalities. That's what we're trying to do. At the end of the day, it's about going out and executing and playing fundamentally sound and playing hard. That's really what it comes down to.
Coach Bradley also addressed the same two questions when he met with the media. He was asked about how they are preparing to face UNLV's new offense. Bradley sounded like there's a balance between what you expect and what they will actually do. Bradley explained:
It's hard to get a feel because it is the first game. Everyone adds from game one to game two. So, where they are headed with that offense, you're not sure yet. You do a little homework on where the coaches have been in the past, what they might do once again to get an MO of what they're doing, but you have to guess a little bit. You've only got so many plays to practice. You don't want to chase ghosts and you don't want to have your team not ready to see something.
Of course, the other question has to do with dealing with the injury to EVD. Bradley responded to discussing how the coaches are trying to build actual depth and experience rather than just a depth chart. The more I hear Coach Bradley explain things like this, the more I like him. It's because his experience really shines through when talking about these sorts of things. Bradley said:
We tried to get a lot of guys in there to get them to play a lot. That was our plan, knowing you're not going to make it through a whole season unscathed without losing somebody. The key thing is that you need to build up depth by playing guys. Sometimes, what happens is that everybody starts worrying about statistics. Statistics are for losers because we're trying to build a team and build some depth. So, you've got to get your guys in there. The only stat that matter is "Did you win the game?" If we get some people to play, they get more comfortable. It's only going to help us in situations like this as we start to build our depth. You can't just build a depth chart. You've got get depth in plays and get guys better by playing.
Meanwhile, Deon Hollins is focused on what UNLV is likely to do this weekend offensively. He knows they like to take more shots downfield than Virginia and that they will try to get the ball to Devonte Boyd.
But, in his post-practice press conference yesterday, Deon Hollins also admitted that it can be tough to stay focused against a team that's been down for a while like UNLV has been.
If any player tells you it’s the same, they’re lying. I think our coaches do a great job of having us focus on the right things and tuning out the noise.
That will be the challenge for the Bruins on Saturday night.
When Hollins was asked about the loss of Eddie Vanderdoes, he called it a "monster blow to this defense." He continued:
I don't think it's been stated enough, just what he can do against the run and how explosive he is. It was 2.9 a carry, I guarantee you, without him in the game, it's not 2.9. The young guys have to step up. Just applying to me, I have to shoulder some of that as well. I have to go out there and start making more plays as well.
Ultimately, Hollins thinks our defense will have some "favorable matchups".
Coach Mazzone also spoke after practice yesterday. He spoke a little bit about Josh Rosen's performance, Nate Iese and the performance of some of the other freshmen like Soso Jamabo, Bolu Olurunfunmi and Chris Clark, but the most interesting question was about what UNLV will do on defense to try to stop the Bruin offense. Mazzone replied:
Their [defensive] coordinator came from Colorado so, obviously, there is some carryover. We've had a chance to play against him before. Watching them on film, Tony has them playing hard. They're a well-coached bunch. It will be interesting to see how they decide, because we have the one film on them from Northern Illinois. We'll kind of see if they stay in that same mode or if they adjust things for us. Heck, I don't know what they're going to do. I just call plays.
The bottom line is simple: If the Bruins go in to Las Vegas, avoid the distractions and come out playing fundamentally sounds football on Saturday night, a win should be expected. That certainly seems to be what the coaching staff expects.
Hopefully, they won't get caught looking past UNLV because the Rebels are a team which played Northern Illinois tough last weekend and, if the Rebels come out focused and UCLA does not, it could turn into trap game. Of course, having a huge number of Bruin fans there should help the team stayed focused.
Finally today, I have a little nugget for everyone who is making the trip. UNLV has decided to make Saturday night a "Blackout" game, meaning they are asking their fans to wear all black.
They will also introduce their new black uniforms as part of it.
This means only one thing. Let's paint the town and Sam Boyd Stadium blue.
Don't wear white or gold or any other color. Especially DO NOT WEAR BLACK. WEAR BLUE. Think about how the players will feel if 60% (or more?) of the stadium is wearing blue and only 40% (or less?) is wearing black.
We're invading Las Vegas over the next few days and, come Saturday night, we will invade Sam Boyd Stadium. Let's all be wearing blue.