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Spaulding Report: UCLA Football Getting Caught Up and Dragged Down

The Bruins are looking forward to a must win game against Utah this Saturday while they are still getting asked about last Saturday's loss to WSU.

Opponents have found a way to hold Deon Hollins in check, literally, this year.
Opponents have found a way to hold Deon Hollins in check, literally, this year.
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Watch the first minute and a half of this interview from yesterday.

The pained smile and the frustrated laughter coming from Deon at 1:15 when he knows where the question is going says it all.  Thank you to Edward Lewis and Bruin Sports Report for the video.

Deon Hollins has been a star for U.C.L.A. in every way, both on and off the field. As a player, he has made tremendous leaps in his game at outside linebacker from his early days lined up as an undersized defensive end with struggles in the run game to becoming a senior leader at outside linebacker who is a key every down player. He has gained strength and is solid on the edge against the run and still possesses one of the best pass rushes in the country. He plays hard and with great intensity but I can't recall ever once thinking any play he made was dirty (the same unfortunately can't be said for many of our players).

Off the field, I've never once heard anything but positive raves about how Deon handles himself, whether it's with fans in San Bernardino or the media after practice. He is a tremendous gentleman, and I personally witnessed this in the story I wrote about Deon after last year's Colorado game. His mom has written eloquently on this site numerous times about Deon's very very early beginning in life to his dedication to this game and his team. On the field and off, the kid is class.

So when senior linebacker and team leader Deon Hollins went out of his way yesterday to publicly rail about the lack of holding calls against him this year, it stands out. I've watched probably every post practice interview from Deon at U.C.L.A. and he speaks so professionally and maturely, and it's never been in his character to say anything publicly that isn't a great representation of himself and his team. So when he went out of his way to rant about the horrific officiating, it carries a lot of weight, and it demonstrates the massive level of frustration he has to be feeling. Considering the numerous times we have seen it live on TV and ranted ourselves in the game threads, and the mileage this photo has racked up bouncing around the internet, it's pretty understandable.

The Pac-12 officiating is absolutely terrible, and every school in the conference has it's share of horror stories. My concern right now though is that with all the noise U.C.L.A. is making publicly, the referees will actually go out of their way to prove they aren't being swayed by pressure or admitting that they suck by throwing even fewer flags in our favor this Saturday. To wit, the Pac-12 Vice President of Officiating appeared on the Pac-12 Network today and spoke out about the Bruins' game on Saturday, focusing on the targeting play by Tahaan Goodman that went unflagged. To the credit of virtually everyone here at BN, we have all said that was a terrible play by Goodman and he should have been ejected for the game and disciplined by the staff. We know at least one of those things didn't happen. But at the same time, the irony that the officials and Conference Network chose to highlight that play without addressing Deon's concerns or the replay issues or the other hundred glaring errors by the conference's referees isn't lost. In short, don't expect anything to even out for the Bruins at this point.

Such is U.C.L.A. Football. When one of our most mature and talented players, not just in Jim Mora's era, but ever at U.C.L.A., is getting dragged down and distracted by the refs and by undisciplined plays and recurrent underachieving performances that are brought on primarily by the coaching staff, it shows that there still exists just enough dysfunction in this program that it's hard to see us ever getting over the hump.

And they've got a big hump coming up this weekend in Salt Lake City. Hollins spoke very highly of Utah's stud RB Devontae Booker and even had a laugh thinking back to some of the private chats they had at Pac-12 media day. The Bruins D has had some struggles against the run this year, particularly in the 3 game string against Arizona (353 yds), ASU (192 yds) and Stanford (311 yds), and Deon addressed that, noting that the inside linebackers have improved lately and the defense is getting more comfortable with DC Tom Bradley's system. He also talked about the team's relative success on the road as opposed to home, saying the team feeds off the opposing crowd noise.

Hollins has been one of the Bruins premiere pass rushers this season, but he's getting big time competition from defensive tackle Kenny Clark, who had another great game against Washington State. Clark racked up a personal best 3 sacks, including this beast effort that IE included in the Eye Test this week that shows his incredible combo of speed, power, athleticism, arm strength, and a whole lot of motor. What would it take to keep this kid another year to play alongside a healthy Eddie Vanderdoes for a whole season? Yeah, dreams.

Clark also talked about Utah's running game calling Booker the best running back they've faced all year. Though Booker is still listed as questionable for the game after suffering a mild leg injury last week, Clark expects to see him Saturday, saying, "This is it for us, this is it for them". Well put.

Thank you to Jack Wang at InsideUCLA for the video.

Defensive coordinator Tom Bradley is the man responsible for teaching and utilizing these great defensive players properly, and he has come under some fire recently for some underwhelming performances. He's going to have to really dial up his game this weekend against a very good Utes offense.

He talked about the challenges of going against Utah's "powerful offense" which takes advantage of a strong run game to open up play action for QB Travis Wilson, whom Bradley praised for making "tremendous decisions". Utah seems like an offensive style that Bradley might have some more familiarity with from his Big Ten days, and he was asked about how Pac-12 offensive styles differ from the offenses in the Big 12 and Big Ten. He noted that every team has its own wrinkles and style and so it's hard to really compare one team to another, and frequently the talent on a particular team makes more of a difference than the offensive schemes.

Bradley complimented Kenny Clark's contributions in the pass rush, specifically crediting his academic approach to the position. Clark's physical attributes are obvious, but Bradley cited Clark's study habits, noting he comes out early every day and that he studies protections well and understands splits, and that preparation combined with his "relentless effort" has made him a growing threat from his defensive tackle position.

Bradley chose not to comment on the lack of holding penalties against his defense. That's ok. We had Deon answer that one honestly already.