UCLA Head Coach Jim Mora met with the media after practice on what looked like a decidedly un-Southern California sort of day. The wind kicked up in Westwood this morning and made hearing the interview difficult at times, and weather.com tells me it was in the low 50s this morning at practice time. That's low 50s Fahrenheit, not centigrade. Really? Brr! The coach seemed a bit chippy with the questions at times, tending to disagree with any assertions implied in the phrasing. I'm not sure if that reflected any unease by the coach or if the chilly weather just made everyone uncomfortable. Dang, 50's and windy? Even after almost 20 years of exile in the Great White Mountain Time Zone, I'm still a soft sunny California boy at the core, so I'd be irritable as hell being outside in that weather without 4 layers of Gortex and a pair of Atomic Nomads to justify it. It was a pretty icy - pun intended - and funny interview this morning in that regard.
The biggest issue on the minds of Bruins fans going into Saturday's game is the health and availability of several players, and the media dutifully offered Mora a chance to comment on how running backs Paul Perkins and Nate Starks are "coming along" this week.
Uh, ok. Thanks, Jake, from State Farm.
Our friend Chris Foster at the LA Times made it a bit more blatant and asked if those two will play this weekend.
We'll see. We'll see at 12:07 kickoff.
But finally Mora expounded and we got some encouraging news.
I would assume that both of them would play. You know it looks like they're both on track to play so I'm not too worried. I was more worried about Paul earlier in the week, but he's done fine, so we'll see.
With the information avalanche gaining some momentum, the media pressed its luck.
He's practiced. He practiced yesterday and practiced today.
Mora went out of his way to say that it's not clear that whether Fuller had a concussion or some other head injury, but that he is confident in whatever decision the medical staff makes regarding his availability for Saturday.
We'll see on Saturday at 12:07 if number 44 is out there.
Conor's practiced all week. Looks good.
Mora ejected from the interview with a smile and a laugh shortly after that having probably given away more than he intended, but it does sound like good news for at least several of our battered Bruins.
Getting McDermott back seems especially important, though Kolton Miller played a nice game in his first start filling in at left tackle last Thursday. Soso Jamabo also showed he can be a reliable plug at running back, though Paul Perkins is still just on another level for running backs right now. Jack Wang at InsideUCLA noted that the Bruins should have some success on the ground no matter who is carrying the ball
How much the two backs play remains to be seen. The Buffaloes have what is statistically the weakest rushing defense in the Pac-12, allowing 209.5 yards per game and an average of 5.06 yards per carry. UCLA could very well decide to give more carries to freshmen Soso Jamabo — the team's leading rusher in three games this season — and Bolu Olorunfunmi.
Similarly, the Bruins are able to cover for Fuller pretty well, too. Expect to see our punter running more patterns this weekend.
The biggest concern for me is Isaako Savaiinaea. The Bruins are already thin at LB with Myles Jack gone, Jayon Brown recovering from a back injury that caused him to miss some time, and Deon Hollins still nursing a knee injury. Hollins did dress for Cal but didn't play, but I'd expect that after almost a week and a half that he'd be that much more ready to go. Aaron Wallace had a really good game last Thursday, but having more healthy and capable bodies in the linebacking crew seems to be the biggest issue for the defense right now. We'll see.
Saturday at 12:07, to be exact.
Mora also addressed his team's mindset going adjacent a CU program that has been down for several years, claiming he doesn't have any idea who is favored in this game and insisting they are just focusing on film and preparation. He complimented CU's new defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt, saying the Buffs defense is sound and plays aggressively and tackles well. He expects to see a lot of man coverage from Colorado.
He complimented the play of the O line for the offensive success under Josh Rosen this season, calling it "the key" (that's close, coach. It's "Line wins games"). The Bruins have allowed only 9 sacks this season which is tied for 26th in the country, and is an enormous improvement over previous years, and that has undoubtedly contributed to Rosen' comfort and proficiency in the pocket this year.
Mora also spoke specifically about Caleb Benenoch's NFL prospects, saying he'll have that opportunity but he's got a lot to work on now, and Tahaan Goodman's development as a nickel linebacker and safety (but not mini backer!), complimenting his versatility and physicality in variety of roles.
While the Bruins pass protection has seen a great improvement this year, the Bruins pass rush under the guidance of DC Tom Bradley hasn't been as productive as we'd hoped. Until Cal came along, anyway. The Bruins had a season high 5 sacks in the game and was a big reason that Jared Goff and his potent passing attack never got on track. Joey Kaufman at the OC Register had a nice article on the sudden appearance of the the Bruins ability to get to the quarterback.
Even after last week's surge, UCLA's season total of 14 ranks 10th in the Pac-12, its struggles to generate pressure [exacerbated] by injuries. But the latest effort gave the No.24 Bruins (5-2, 2-2) some optimism.
Coaches said they did not bring more pressure against Cal, but instead, disguised some of their defensive fronts.
They stunted, switching defenders before the snap, in an attempt to confuse Cal. At other times, they used just two or three down linemen, an attempt to conceal from where pressure might come.
On some plays early in the game last Thursday, the Bruins didn't have anyone on defense in a down stance. That might be a good example of some of the more exotic features we expected to see from a Tom Bradly-designed defense, and it worked very well against Cal. Bruin fans should have reason to think that pattern can continue, too. Colorado has allowed 20 sacks so far this year which ranks them 9th in the Pac-12. Hopefully the Buffs' pass protection will be an area the Bruins defense can exploit this weekend.
Saturday at 12:07.