With the bye week behind them, the Bruins are preparing to face the Sun Devils on Thursday night in Tempe.
Today, after practice, the focus was on defense. Ryan Kartje of the OC Register posted three videos featuring Defensive Coordinator Jeff Ulbrich, and linebackers Eric Kendricks and Myles Jack.
Let's start by hearing what Coach Ulbrich had to say.
When asked if the defense has found its identity during the bye week, Coach Ulbrich responded:
I think we've always known what we've wanted to be. Have we shown that on a consistent basis? No. Not yet. Not in the games. Not in practice. We've got to keep working. We're far from a finished product. I recognize it. I think every guy on the defense recognizes that. Every coach on the staff recognizes that and we just have to keep working. We've got to commit to this. It doesn't just happen on Thursdays or Saturdays. It happens right out here. We've got to commit to that every day.
In response to a question about what they worked on specifically, he replied:
Just getting better at everything...shoot...technique...fundamentals. That's kind of what we're based upon. We don't like to do a whole lot because I think we've got the guys who can knuckle up and just fight you and be successful at that. So, we're going to continue to be that. I refuse to be a gimmick defense. But, at the same time, give them a little more variety and some tools. Just working on everything. Trying to get better at everything.
He also spoke about Zach Whitley's development. He said that, in Zach's case, it's more a matter of continuing to get him adjusted to the system and the schemes, rather than issues on the field as he has been seeing playing time on Special Teams.
Ulbrich compared ASU QB Mike Bercovici to Taylor Kelly, saying they are both similar in terms of skills. He also noted that Coach Mazzne recruited him to Arizona State, implying that they know what to expect from him because of it. Ulbrich said:
I think this Offensive Coordinator wants it to look a certain way. They have a ton of confidence in this backup guy. Coach Mazzone worked with him when he was Arizona State. He recruited him. We know that he's a proven entity from that standpoint. He's a very effective quarterback. Quick release. Very accurate. Great thrower. Crafty athlete. So, he's very similar [to Taylor Kelly].
Ulbrich is right. Coach Mazzne recruited him to ASU and was the offensive coordinator during his freshman season. While Bercovici is now a redshirt junior, he didn't redshirt until his 2nd year in the program. So, Mazzne should be familiar with him at least a little bit. But this is a comment to remember as our defense plays on Thursday night. If our defense looks prepared for what Bercovici does, then Coach Ulbrich was accurate. But, with this sort of a statement, he also opens himself up for criticism in the event that the defense doesn't fare well on the Eye Test in areas like "Is our defense prepared for each and every team we play?" and "Do our players look like they know what they should be doing at all times?" So, this is definitely something to lookout for on Thursday night.
One of the last things Ulbrich talked about was how the defense can slow down a player like D.J. Foster. He stressed that it comes down to everyone doing their jobs and not trying to do too much. Initially, it may sound like typical coachspeak, but it's also a very accurate statement. When defensive players try to do too much, then they start neglecting their primary responsibility and that's when defenses break down.
Moving on to Eric Kendricks, here's what he had to say:
Eric Kendricks does a great job of echoing the same themes that Coach Ulbrich raises. The big thing he talks about is discipline. That goes right back to what Ulbrich was saying about guys doing their jobs. Kendricks says:
We've been practicing our discipline this week....For the most part, we just need to maintain doing our job. They're going to have their scheme. They're going to have their plays they make. But we're just going to focus on what we gotta do as a defense and focus on what we do well.
He didn't seem to dwell too much on last season's loss, but stressed that this is the team's "most important game this week." He concluded by expressing confidence in the job that the young guys in the secondary are doing.
Myles started off by expressing excitement about going up against D.J. Foster. He called him the "total back" because he can both run and catch the ball. He noted that he's one of the best running backs in the nation and he's excited to see where he stands with a guy like that.
He joked that playing defense against ASU is "new for him". Interestingly, he thinks that, if he had played on defense against ASU last season, he would have hurt more than helped because he didn't know what checks had been put into place.
He admitted that he needs to read his blocks better because teams aren't surprised when they see him anymore. He talked about how all three of Texas' linebackers were staring at him because they knew he was coming. He said:
[I need to rely] more on reading the blocks. That's really what I'm working on this year is just following my guys cause last year I could kind of feel my way and kind of make something happen. But now teams are filling gaps and I really gotta follow my blocks and hit it better. I put that onus on me. Guys are making their blocks. On a couple of plays, I'm missing holes here and there and just missing blocks that could result in really big plays. I'll get better at that.
Chris Foster of the LA Times has an article discussing Ka'imi Fairbairn's history with Arizona State. He talks about how, two years ago, Fairbairn kicked a game-winning 33-yard field goal and how, last year, he missed two attempts including a 33-yard attempt with about four minutes left that would have changed the game if it had been successful.
In the article, Foster gives us two of the most interesting stats to keep in mind. While Fairbairn is only 8 for 16 from 40 yards or more, he is also 23 of 28 from inside 40 yards. In other words, if the offense gets the ball inside the 30 yard line, the likelihood of Fairbairn kicking a field goal increase from 50% to more than 80%. That's a huge difference and one to keep in mind on Thursday night.
Lastly, we have some video of fullback Nate Iese, courtesy of InsideSoCal's Jack Wang. He has an article on Iese posted to InsideSocal's UCLA blog.
Iese spoke about the touchdown he had during the Texas game. He said that the Texas defense was so focused on biting up whenever the Jumbo Jack package came in, that it allowed the offense to open up a little.
They bite up on the run so much, the back of the end zone is always left open. We saw that early on in the game. So, we took our shot with it and the play ended up working.
Kudos to you if you clicked the link above for the Jumbo Jack. I couldn't resist throwing that in.
That's going to wrap things up for now. Thanks, as always, go out to Ryan Kartje and Jack Wang for sharing the videos.