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Spaulding Report: Bruins Looking to Build on Impressive Showing Against Washington

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While they didn’t get a win, UCLA saw a lot of positives they can build on.

Washington v UCLA Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

Oh hey, this is new, a collected grab-bag of videos and interviews from practices the past few days. Let’s get into it.

Monday

We should, of course, start with the head coach, as Chip Kelly had his traditional media availability on Monday.

The main focus of the questions from this session seemed to focus on the defense, which makes some sense. UCLA’s defense has taken a few steps back from where they were at to start the season, either due to injuries (such as to Jaelan Phillips) or increasing levels of ineffectiveness (especially in the secondary). The pass rush in particular received a lot of attention, as Washington QB Jake Browning was able to operate from a relatively clean pocket for most of the game, especially on obvious passing downs. One of the more interesting moments was a quick aside that Kelly made about the secondary, when he stated: “I think we’re doing a decent job in coverage, but if we can cover for that long, then we need to get guys that will be able to get home.” I don’t think that’s necessarily untrue (though the performance of the secondary has left much to be desired) but it does seem to be a tacit admission from Kelly that the scheme may need to get more creative to generate more pressure up front and, subsequently, provide some aid to the secondary.

Another interesting moment came later, when the conversation turned to Dorian Thompson-Robinson and his seeming-reluctance to run with the ball. At first glance, it appears UCLA runs a ton of RPO-style plays where DTR either gives at the mesh point to the running back or keeps in order to pass, and rarely if ever keeps for a run. Yet Kelly stated that this is all by design rather than a decision on DTR’s part, mentioning that the Bruins “don’t run much of [read-option run plays], to be honest with you.” He elaborated further:

I think if you have a quarterback that can affect games with his feet, then you do that, but we’ve never been a team, and I’ve never been a guy, that said, “Hey, let’s run the quarterback,” you know? We’re not gonna run quarterback power and things like that where people have designed quarterback runs, because I’ve always believed that the best ability is dependability. And is he gonna be in there the next snap? So to have him be a running back is not what we’re trying to do.

Seems a bit counter-intuitive, but I’m also not paid $5 million to think about these things.

Here’s Coach Kelly’s full interview, courtesy of Tracy Pierson of Bruin Report Online:

After Monday’s practice, Atonio Mafi and Adarius Pickett met with the media. Mafi mentioned that he hadn’t been back to Northern California since he came to campus in June, and how he almost committed to UC Berkeley. He also echoed Coach Kelly’s comments about the pass rush needing to be better to help the secondary out, mentioning that the technique of the defensive line is something they want to improve on.

Thanks to Tracy Pierson of BRO for sharing video of Mafi’s interview:

Adarius Pickett’s interview continued the theme of Bay Area Bruins discussing how exciting it is for them to be going home and play in front of their families. A fun moment came when the reporters asked Pickett about his lack of pick-sixes despite his nickname, to which Pickett replied that his interception against Washington was actually his first interception where he was still on his feet when he caught the ball.

Pickett was also asked about his high number of tackles, including the fact that he currently leads the conference in tackles made. Pickett credited the coaching staff for putting him in the right position to make plays, and he did note that the staff is taking advantage of his high motor by putting him up into the box to defend against the run more often than he had in the past.

Thanks to Thuc Nhi Nguyen of the LA Daily News for the video of Adarius Pickett’s interview:

Tuesday

Two UCLA players spoke with the media after Tuesday’s practice, so let’s start with the man of the hour, Boss Tagaloa.

Football is a team sport, and outside of positions like the QB spot it’s hard to point out individual play as turning a unit around, yet it’s almost-impossible to overstate how much better the offensive line looks thanks to Tagaloa’s return from suspension and subsequent insertion into the starting lineup at center. That move allowed Christophany Murray to shift to right guard, and Justin Murphy (and Jake Burton upon Murphy’s injury) to right tackle, and the line has instantly looked rejuvenated. UCLA’s offense was able to break 150 yards rushing for the second straight week (along with helping Joshua Kelley break 100 yards for the second-straight week, which is the first time UCLA has had that occur since Paul Perkins did it in 2015), while the pass protection has noticeably improved.

The improvement thanks to Boss Tagaloa’s return is even more impressive because, as has been mentioned time and again, Tagaloa was playing defensive tackle for his first few years in Westwood, and only made the switch to center this Spring. Boss was quick to repeatedly credit his offensive linemates and Coach Justin Frye for the rapid improvements the line has made in the past few games:

I think a lot of just Coach Frye. Coach Frye’s been really good just being real with us, telling us what we need to hear and not what we want to hear. So I just think Coach Frye plays a really big role in how successful our offensive line has been doing.

Through 4 games, Coach Frye looks like the early front-runner for best assistant coach on the team, as an offensive line unit that looked to be a clear weakness coming into the season has slowly coalesced into a solid unit.

No one likes to talk about moral victories, but playing a competitive game against a top team like Washington is something that this team can build on going forward, which Boss was also more-than willing to point out:

It was gave us a lot of confidence just as an offense in general. The team in general, just seeing how well, like, if we all just focus in on doing our own jobs and not trying to do too much, just focusing on what we have to do, it shows just playing one of the top defenses in the country, one of the top teams in the country, showing us what we can do as a team when we all lock in, and just come out with energy and just focus on doing our jobs.

I found this whole response particularly interesting because it would have been incredibly easy for this team to stop responding to the coaching staff, especially the players who weren’t recruited by the coaching staff. To see upperclassmen talk about buying in, especially a player like Boss who was suspended a few game, is a huge step forward that can pay big down the line.

Thanks to Matt Joye of Bruin Report Online for sharing video of Boss’s interview:

I mentioned there were two players who were interviewed, so let’s get to Quentin Lake’s interview. Lake mentioned that UCLA’s issues on third downs seemed to be more mental than anything, as he felt that the Bruin defense was pressing rather than playing within themselves on those key plays. He also mentioned that he saw a glimpse of hope in the aftermath of the Washington game, echoing Boss’s comments that the team has way more confidence after playing a top team close.

Thanks to Thuc Nhi Nguyen of the LA Daily News for the video of Quentin Lake’s interview:

Alright, we’re all caught up for now.

Go Bruins!