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Pregame Guesses: Bye Week II Edition

With the non-conference schedule complete, we recap where things stand going into conference play.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Mills Brothers - How'm I Doin', Hey, Hey (via SyberkaPL)

(This week’s video is dedicated to my good friend Fox71. Fox never seems to like the music videos I pick, nor does he understand my posts or, for that matter, approve of my semi-alcoholic lifestyle. As an olive branch of peace, I’ve chosen a video from the Mills Brothers. The song is How'm I Doin', Hey, Hey. I don’t know if Fox71 likes the Mills Brothers, but they were John Wooden’s favorite musical act and legend has it Coach and Nell saw the group on their honeymoon. So, there’s that. I don’t know much about the Mills Brothers, but they sort of seem like their generation’s Boys II Men or One Direction – basically a boy band from the 1930s. Simon Cowell’s grandfather probably would have had them on the radio verion of X Factor. Rock on, Fox71.)

I got to watch part of last week’s game from the luxury suites in the Rose Bowl press box. A father of one of my kid’s friends – the kind of person you become sort of forced to become friends with whether you like it or not and then you’re happy that he’s actually a pretty decent guy – got four tickets from someone he worked with and we got to go up there for a bit.

Pretty swanky, I must say. Nice buffet spread and (don’t look Fox) cold beer in a mini-fridge. We stayed up there for the first half, then went to our regular seats. I was very disappointed that I didn’t run into Dan Guerrero or, more importantly, Sean Combs who apparently watches games from a suite when he’s in town. For all I know they were both up there, but I didn’t see anyone I recognized.

The game really was a blur, even though I only had one Corona all night. New Mexico State is not a very good football team; they seem closer to dropping their program than they do to actually improving. And sometimes when you play a team that just isn’t any good, you lose focus and make mistakes.

Which is exactly what UCLA did.

We’re not a good enough program yet ourselves to feel bad about a rout with a seriously unbalanced box score, but the truth is we could easily have scored 80 points if we played our best. But we didn’t and we didn’t right from the start.

Stephen Manfro had a long kickoff return to start the game and then on the first play (which we played with ten men to honor the missing Nick Pasquale – and I totally missed that detail because I was too in awe of the fact that our suite had Dish Network and we were able to see the game on the Pac 12 Network while we were watching it live) we fumbled and turned the ball over inside the 10 yard line. We would go on to commit to more turnovers in the red zone, both interceptions by Brett Hundley. That’s 21 points right there.

Eventually things got on track and our talent advantage just took over. I actually felt a grudging respect for the Aggies. I mean, they love to play football just as much as our guys, but they just aren’t as big or as fast and it must be hard to go out there and get beat every week. I know that Coach Wooden teaches us that success is related to effort and not the final score but it still can’t be easy to get beat and beat bad every Saturday. I hope they came out of the game healthy and that all their seniors graduate.

We’ve reached the end of the non-conference season and are 3-0. We’re 6-1 in non-conference games during the Jim Mora era, the lone defeat coming in the Holiday Bowl to Baylor last December. Baylor, if you haven’t been paying attention, is a good team again this year; Art Briles has that program going in the right direction.

Here are some of my impressions of the team going into conference play next week (and as I type that sentence I realize that I now will have nothing to write about next week before the Utah game).

It’s borderline cliché to note this, but we might just go as far as Hundley takes us. There are times when the guy is simply in total command of the offense – in charge at the line of scrimmage as he barks out the plays, making split decisions after the ball is snapped, handing off or making the right throws or tucking the ball away and running with it to pick up a first down or more. Stylistically, he’s quite different than Cade McNown and Noel Mazzone’s offense is not reminiscent of the Bob Toledo/Al Borges scheme that McNown thrived in, but there is something about Hundley that reminds me of McNown, the way they both handled the offense the way a race car driver handles his car or a jockey handles his mount.

However, like McNown in his second year as a starter, there are times when Hundley struggles a bit. Maybe all quarterbacks do. But you can just sense the times when things are a little out of sync, when the sophomore’s hesitation becomes palpable and the offense sputters just enough to notice. Those are the types of growing pains to be expected with a young quarterback with less than 15 games under his belt. I only take note of them because the margin for error in conference games is narrower than they are when you play non-conference games.

I like what I’m seeing at running back. We surely miss Johnathan Franklin just a little bit, what school wouldn’t miss their all-time leading rusher. The thing about Franklin is that he did most everything well by the time he was a senior: hit the holes hard for the tough yards, bounced things outside and outran people when he found a seam, picked up blitzing linebackers in passing situations. His replacement, Jordan James is not there yet, though James is definitely getting better and racking up lots of yards.

But it’s going to be a bit of running back by committee as the season rolls on. Paul Perkins is providing nice change of pace. Manfro is running the ball well, too, he might be the shiftiest runner in the bunch. And I can’t move on from the backfield without taking note of Malcolm Jones. Jones has returned seemingly with a vengeance (though it’s tough to know how much of his late game success against NMSU was due to the fact that it was late in the game against NMSU). He looks like he might be our best or strongest inside runner and maybe he should get more touches as the season goes on?

My impression of the receivers – and these are just my impressions, I’m not going back to check on statistics or anything, just relying on my memories after watching all three games – is that they’ve played well as a unit but that no one is standing out. For whatever reason, I’m impressed with what Jordan Payton is doing, he seems to be catching more balls than before. Shaq Evans is a quality receiver, but I didn’t notice him that much in the last game. He gets open a lot, but Hundley seems to be either not seeing him or just finding other open receivers on the same plays Evans gets free. We haven’t missed Joseph Fauria yet, but it’s still possible we might. Devin Fuller, Darius Bell – they’re playing well, too. At this point, the receivers are a solid, more than solid, group with no one emerging as the absolute go-to guy. They haven’t had to make too many great catches or grabs in traffic, they’re just getting open and Hundley is for the most part finding them.

One last thing on Hundley and the receiving corps: They seem to be a step or two out of sync on the deep passes.

I have to skip the offensive line because I’m just not the type of football watcher who rewinds games on the DVR and focuses on line play. If you’ve got some thoughts on it, put it in the comments section. I’ll just note that they seem to be playing well because the running backs have holes to run through and Hundley typically has plenty of time to throw the ball.

My analysis of the defense will be similar. I don’t spend much time watching individual players on the d-line so there isn’t much I can add here.

I do look at Anthony Barr a lot because he lines up in open space. The guy is obviously a great player and he’s forced a bunch of turnovers in just three games. Sometimes, though, it just looks like he’s not making an impact, but I feel now that’s just because the other teams are running away from him and sometimes his job is just to drop back into coverage and play his zone. The sack against Matt Barkley must have spoiled me a bit because I am expecting him to wreak havoc every time I watch him. That’s on me, though, not Barr – the kid is playing great.

Who else is catching my eye on defense?

Randall Goforth had a great game against New Mexico State. Cassius Marsh and Eddie Vanderdoes are tough. Anthony Jefferson has made some plays. And Myles Jack, oh man, Myles Jack. That kid is such a stud. When I compared him to Carnell Lake, some people rightly noted that he’s a lot bigger than Lake. Carnell, if you don’t quite remember him, was a running back from Culver City High School who Terry Donahue converted to linebacker and he ended up a Pro Bowler at both safety and cornerback in the NFL. Lake played linebacker at about 205 pounds (which is why he ended up a DB on the next level) and that’s clearly smaller than Jack. But it’s the way they both combined that running back quickness with wide receiver speed that leads me to the comparison and what should be viewed as a compliment to Jack. That guy is going to be All Conference someday.

The veterans are playing like veterans – Jordan Zumwalt and Eric Kendricks are just two tough as nails linebackers. I feel we have the best linebackers we’ve had in a long, long time.

It’s going to be an interesting run through conference play. More on Utah next week, but they look pretty good so far this season. Didn’t they route BYU? Then comes Cal at home and we owe them big time.

After that – it’s the most important eight day stretch I can ever remember: the back-to-back road games in Palo Alto and Eugene.

But, let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. So far, we’ve taken care of business. We fans can kick back this weekend and reacquaint ourselves with our families and get some honey-does done. Personally, I’m going to visit my mom on Saturday, she’s laid up with some sort of leg injury.

Final point: Feel free to comment on anything I’ve written above – agree, disagree, whatever – in the comments below. Sure, respond to the guess, but feel free to tell me I’m full of crap, too.

Cya next week.

And with that, here are your Pregame Guesses, Bye Week II edition:

  1. Other than the Stanford-Oregon gauntlet, what conference game is most on your mind and why?
  2. What aspect of the UCLA football to this point is most surprising to you?
  3. Do you follow the NFL? If yes, what team and players do you follow?