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Spaulding Report: UCLA Football Focused on Beating the Cardinal & Eric Kendricks a Butkus Finalist

We have news and notes from UCLA football practice and elsewhere as our UCLA Bruins prepare to meet the Stanford Cardinal on Friday. Coach Mora, Brett Hundley, and Butkus Award Finalist Eric Kendricks speak to the media about the upcoming game, the last game, and UCLA legend Sam Handler.

The defense line "terrorized" the opponent on Saturday!
The defense line "terrorized" the opponent on Saturday!
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

It is not often in life that you get a second chance to achieve the same goal.  Well, the UCLA Bruin football has worked hard to earn that second chance, playing with more focus, discipline, and rhythm.  The play calling, while not always to everyone's liking, has improved giving our offense more opportunity to succeed and our defense more opportunity to utilize the amazing talent they have at every level.  In the game against Southern Cal, the defense was able to sack the opponent's quarterback six times.  It took UCLA five games to accumulate six sacks (Virginia 0, Memphis 1, Texas 2, ASU 1, Utah 3).  The Bruins are playing hard nose football on both sides of the ball and it's really paying off.  On the other side of the ball, the UCLA offense is protecting Brett Hundley much better.  You may remember in the same five games, UCLA gave up 5, 4, 3, 1, and 10 sacks.  Against the much heralded Southern Cal defensive line he was sacked twice.

One of the poster men for UCLA's physicality is Eric Kendricks.  Today it was announced that Eric is a Butkus Award finalist. From UCLA's press release:

Kendricks leads the country in solo tackles and ranks fifth in the nation in total tackles. The Fresno, Calif., native has tallied 128 tackles on the season, including 89 solo stops and seven tackles for a loss. The 6-0 linebacker has also added two sacks, three interceptions, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.

The award's recipient will be announce on December 9th.  There are four other finalists, Hau'oli Kikaha (Washington),Denzel Perryman (Miami, Fla.), Jake Ryan (Michigan), and Jaylon Smith (Notre Dame).   This is an incredible honor and well deserved.  Congratulations to all the finalist, but especially to Eric!

Today, the Bruins are not wasting this opportunity for a second chance and have, since Saturday night, put all their focus on their next opponent, the Stanford Cardinal.  As we know, the Cardinal has been able to squash UCLA dreams the last two seasons and Jim Mora and the players know it.

According to Coach Mora, the Bruins came out and practiced with great focus both yesterday and today.  Mora said the focus is not about revenge, but about coming out and playing their best football this Friday.  He knows this defense is really tough, solid, physical, and disciplined and that UCLA's offense will have to really execute to get yards against them.  Mora says that he is not comparing this year's Stanford team to last years or to other teams.  Rather he breaks each opponent down, each year.  Coach Mora says scheming for Stanford is really different than any other team.  Their dedication to pounding the ball, using extra offensive lineman, and to running the ball is different than any other they have seen this year.

When asked, Coach Mora acknowledges that something did happen to the team after the Oregon game and that he is glad to hear the players say that that game relieved the pressure and got them back on track.

Coach Mora was really glad that someone finally recognized that Myles Jack played safety, nickel, and linebacker on defense against Southern Cal.  (Of course our incredible commenters have been talking about it, but I am sure he doesn't have time to read all of them.)  He describes the only other time he has done something like this and that was in the NFL with pro-bowler, Julian Peterson.  Myles and company did an incredible job on Nelson Agholor, limiting him to just three catches for 24 yards.  Owamagbe Odighizuwa is really impressing Mora not just with his pass rushing, but with how he is playing the run.  He says the defense are a confident group because they work hard, are good players, and study the details.  Devin Lucien has really been tested this year so Mora said the whole team rejoiced when Devin finally got to have a recorded touchdown reception.  Mora says it is great to see him plugging away even when things are tough.

Coach Mora was asked about Marcus Rios and the secondary.  He said the personnel we put on the field really depends on the best way to scheme against a particular offense.  He said Marcus Rios is doing really well.  Mora gave a bit of an injury report.  Ishmael Adams tweeked his ankle is doing better than Mora thought he would be doing at this point and worked with Sal Alosi today.  He will be a  "before the game time" decision.  Priest Willis got a head trauma and he is following the protocol with the best doctors the country has to offer.   If he is cleared to play,  he will play.

I am so glad someone asked Coach Mora about Sam Handler.  Mora didn't even hear about the logo stance until midnight. He called Sam to ask him what had happened.  Sam said that as our team was leaving the field, it looked like that guy was about to stab it, so he knew he had to do something about it. This just makes the whole thing so much better.  Not a rehearsed, planned stand.  But a spontaneous act of courage and knowing the right thing to do.   Mora has heard Sam has become a UCLA folk hero!

Here is the full interview, courtesy of Ryan Kartje of the Orange County Register:

Brett Hundley and Butkus Award Finalist Eric Kendricks also spoke today about the focus on the Cardinal.  Hundley agrees that the UCLA offense has improved to the point where a mistake won't completely ruin the game.  They have built confidence so they can overcome these mistakes, which hopefully they don't make.   About the run blocking and pass protection, Brett praises the great job they have been doing, giving a shout out to the o-line leader Jake Brendel.  Moving on to Stanford, Brett focuses on what UCLA needs to do.  Focus on "our game".    About the defense Hundley says, they are intelligent, physical and really execute well.

Eric Kendricks continues the theme of the focus being on what UCLA needs to do. About the shortened week, he says they have the maturity to do what they need to do and that they are on their normal game week clock now.  "A lot of runs, a lot of power, some physicality up front that we haven't seen in the Pac-12 yet"  is how Kendricks describes the Cardinal offense.  Eric knows what to expect from past years, and is sharing his knowledge with the younger Bruins.  He agrees with Brett, that they are physical, intelligent, and execute well.  But so are the Bruins:  "we like to hit, we like to run around,... we're going to practice our butts off".   Eric says running-back by committee is a challenge, but that "we're ready".  Eric gives shout outs to the d-line and to Kenny Young (who he can feel is listening to him).  Kenny is a smart one, listening to the right mentor!

Here is Brett's full interview:

And here is Butkus Award Finalist Kendrick's interview:

A huge thank you to Ryan Kartje, the OC Register for both videos.

The Bruin team is rightfully not soaking in the sun of the last victory.  But we still can.  Ryan Kartje and Bruin Sports Report's Ed Lewis did a fun wrap-up of the game against Southern Cal (where the defensive line "terrorized" u$c), in The Cover Two recap.  "They were throwing around usc's offensive line like rag-dolls".  They sing the praises of everyone on UCLA's roster, coverage, offensive line, every one.  I love how they address the excuses the opponent keeps giving and the impact these victories are probably having on recruits.

Peter Volk of our mother ship, SB Nation talks about the three things they have learned from the Bruins victory on Saturday, including this very cool gif:

Chris Foster reminds us of that tragic day in Miami, noting that things have not been this good for Bruin fans since.  His knee was definitely down. If you have not yet checked out the L.A. Times photo gallery of the game (embedded in the same article), I highly recommend it.  No surprise, but Brett Hundley will probably make this his last season with UCLA as reported by Fox Sports, saying to Jim Rome:

There’s a really good chance that was my last game against USC. The conversation keep coming up. I’ve got my degree. I’ve done everything I wanted to do here. I’ve left something really, truly great, and I feel good. That’s probably my last one against USC.

Audio: hundley-brett-ucla-last-season-with-bruins-11-24.0.mp3

Congratulations on your degree Brett and thank you for all you have done for our team and our school!

Have a great week and as always...

Go Bruins!