With just four games left in the regular season and a game against Oregon State on Saturday, the Bruins control their own destiny in the Pac-12. But coming off a narrow victory over the Buffaloes, there are a lot more questions than answers about where our football program is heading this November and beyond. Bruins Nation writers and editors share their thoughts about UCLA's defeat of Colorado and the Bruins' prospects for the rest of the season.
1. Who was your standout player for their performances against Colorado?
MexiBruin: I'm going with Ishmael Adams, largely due to that 96 yard Pick Six. We haven't seen a lot of Ish since his suspension, so it felt to me like he has finally hit his stride as far as being in game shape, and timing etc. And, while not nearly as electric, he did have a kick return and a punt return. For me, it's good just to see him contributing again.
orlandobruin: Jayon Brown. The guy had 18 tackles vs. Colorado, a team high on the season. He was a second stringer before the injuries. Jayon Brown stepped up big time in the recent past, and especially last weekend.
gbruin: Jayon Brown. Playing 110 plays in a game is incredible. Playing them at linebacker is even more so. Honorable mentions to Cameron Judge and Matt Mengel for playing their best games of the season.
Bruinette88: Jordan Payton and Jayon Brown had tremendous games, but I'm going with Kenny Clark. In my opinion, Clark is the best player on the field week after week.
Joe Piechowski: I'm going to go with Matt Mengel. A week after being benched in favor of having Kenny Walker punt, Mengel came back and had his best performance of the season.
beer&math: Kenny Clark. This guy is the true hero of the UCLA defense. His actions exude leadership. Will really miss him after he leaves for the NFL.Lots more deserving candidates but I'll highlight only KC.
2. Among the many players that have stepped up to take on bigger roles because of the cascade of injuries, who among them has impressed you most?
Mexibruin: Since the Defense has been the hardest hit by injuries, I'm going to assume we're talking about a defensive player. So, I have to give Jayon Brown his propers with 12 tackles and 6 assists to lead the team. Randall Goforth, played really well, but I don't think that's unexpected. So, for honorable mentions I'll shout out John Johnson and Marcus Rios.
orlandobruin: I first noticed John Johnson in the Cal game. He played really well. Then, in the Colorado game, I actually saw him read the receiver's eyes, turn around, and make a play on the ball! Some of the other guys in the secondary could learn a thing or two from him (and, yes, I am tired of pass interference calls where the DB never even turns around, which seems to have plagued the Bruins since the days of Sheldon Price. Honorable mention to Darren Andrews.
gbruin: I already mentioned Jayon above, so I'll add John Johnson. IEAngel has been raving about this kid and it's easy to see why. Randall Goforth's versatility has been really impressive. Also, Kolton Miller has done a very nice job filling in on the offensive line when needed.
Bruinette88: John Johnson has really stepped up and produced some strong performances, and Jayon Brown has made a big impact, particularly against the Buffaloes. But I'm going to go with Kolton Miller. Miller is just a redshirt freshman, but he is playing with the confidence and composure of a veteran.
Joe Piechowski: I think John Johnson is the guy who's been most impressive. He was nearly my standout player in question 1. It just seems like he's been making a lot of plays in the secondary.
beer&math: John Johnson by far. His technique is flawless and really looks like one of the best players in his position. Let's hope he can stay healthy. I know this is the Colorado roundtable but Isaako Savaiinaea (my favorite name since Owamagbe Odighizuwa...yep, still fun to type!) has impressed me since he improved each and every game since coming in at the difficult middle linebacker position. Jayon Brown keeps getting better (almost always uses good tackling technique) and after reading a bit about his story, it just feels good to see him have some success and playing time. I'll also mention Aaron Wallace. The dude is a football player and has been making big plays for the defense at critical times, especially since he is a (rare) RS senior. I have to wonder what took him so long to emerge?
3. One of the consequences of having to use so many different players this season is that we've been able to better gauge the strengths and weaknesses of the players that will play larger roles next year and beyond. With that in mind, which units do you think should be the focus of Coach Mora's recruiting efforts (i.e., where do we need the most help)?
Mexibruin: I don't think it's wise to micro focus. We need help everywhere. That being said, I'm going to go with the Line. And yes, I'm being ambiguous. OL and DL seem to be the most in need of help whether that be due to injury or poor coaching, I cannot say.
orlandobruin: Defensive line. We thought we would be loaded this year. Then, one guy (Ellis McCarthy) leaves early and another guy (EV4) gets injured. Kenny Clark will probably declare after this season. If Eddie does too, we are "young and inexperienced" again, just like that.
Bruinette88: Defensive and offensive line. If our football program is going to join the ranks of the nation's elite, we need to be able to win the battle in the trenches consistently. We can't afford to have ANY games where we surrender 300+ rushing yards, and similarly, we can't expect to win consistently if we can't control the clock with long, sustained drives that at the very least give the defense a chance to rest.
Joe Piechowski: I'm going to agree with both Mexi and orlando here. If we lose Vanderdoes and Clark to the NFL, our defensive line will be hurt. Our offensive line seems to always need help. They've played well and did a nice job recently when they were on the field, but you can never have enough depth on the offensive line.
beer&math: We desperately need DL (like everyone says) and LBs. Kenny Young and Isaako Savaiinaea are doing good jobs but we need more elite depth to push them (especially Young) and in case of injury.
gbruin: I agree with orlando. D Line is going to be a big area of need from this season to next. Offensive line will be a big need the year after so it's time to get on that now.
4. Based on what you've seen from the Bruins in the past five games, which do you believe is a greater source of concern this Saturday against the Beavers: the inability of Coach Mazzone's offense to sustain long drives, or the inability of Coach Bradley's inexperienced, thin defensive unit to get off the field?
Mexibruin: Tough Question!! But, if I'm going to be honest, I'm more concerned with the Defensive side of the ball. The most alarming aspect of the Colorado game was watching CU run the ball at will. They actually shot themselves in the foot by trying to keep their offense balanced. If they had decided to pound the rock, I don't think we could have stopped them. I expect everybody we play moving forward to pound rock.
orlandobruin: Short term, I am worried about the defense simply because of injuries. Long term, I am worried about Coach Mazzone's offensive play calling.
gbruin: I'm more worried about the offense. I think the defense will be solid if healthy and playing on its own terms, and can go into survival mode if necessary and the talent on that side of the ball will be good enough to get the job done. The offense relies on having a good structure and game plan and play to play direction with calls, and the inconsistency in that area worries me more than the defense by a long shot.
Bruinette88: I'm worried about our offense. I think our defense will get the job done if it doesn't have to be on the field for 40+ minutes. Our offense should be able to establish the running game, hold the ball for more than 19 minutes, and use a balanced attack to put plenty of points on the board.
Joe Piechowski: I agree with orlando. The immediate concern is getting the defense off the field. The long-term issue is Mazzone.
beer&math: I agree with Bruinette88. Coming into the season we expected an experiences OL and deep stable of running backs to lead the way and this hasn't happened as expected. Sure, the running game is above average at #42, slightly above mediocre, and Paul Perkins even at 70% does some jaw dropping things, but I expected more. If you think about it, it really is Mazzone's fault. IEAngle, in his excellent Eye Tests, has taught us that the failed running plays are usually doomed before they are even ran due to Mazzone failing to place enough blockers to counter the players on defense crashing down.
5. The first College Football Playoff rankings are out, and the Pac-12 doesn't have a team in the top-10. On a scale of 1-10, how do you rate the Pac-12's chances of placing a team in the College Football Playoff?
Mexibruin: I'm not as concerned as others are about this because the SEC, B1G, and Big 12 teams still have lots of time to beat each other up, and eliminate somebody. I think Stanford will still beat and eliminate Notre Dame, and run the table in the Pac 12. BOOM. Pac 12 gets a representative.
orlandobruin: I'd say 50/50 right now. Lots of football left to be played. I've said if before and I'll say it again: Notre Dame needs to lose again; otherwise, I think they get in and it would be hard to choose a one (or two) loss PAC 12 team over undefeated (or one loss) teams from the other Power 5 conferences.
gbruin: If either Stanford or Utah win out, then 10. If U.C.L.A. surprises and wins out (hey, a guy can dream), then it's more like a 7 or 8. Two losses will be tough to overcome for any non essss eeeee seeee team.
Bruinette88: I'd put the Pac-12's chances at about a 6 right now. I'm still not convinced by Utah, so I think it comes down to Stanford. In my opinion, if Stanford wins out, the Pac-12 sends a team to the College Football Playoff.
Joe Piechowski: There's sooooo much football still to play. I put the Pac-12 chances of getting a team into the CFP at 8.5 out of 10, if not higher.
beer&math: Ditto to what Bruinette88 said. Stanford is the only team I think that can reach the playoff and actually compete with the top teams. Utah, UCLA, and others just seemed flawed in one way or another.
6. In your opinion, what is the likelihood that the Pac-12 South title will still be up for grabs when UCLA plays Southern Cal?
Mexibruin: ‘Not Likely.' I don't see anybody tripping Utah up between now and then. And, I think SC takes another loss to Oregon before we square up.
orlandobruin: I agree with Mexibruin. Too many variables in the next three weeks and both teams have "Jekyl and Hyde" personalities.
gbruin: I definitely think it'll be up for grabs in the final weekend. I just have no idea who will be there for the grabbing.
Bruinette88: About 50/50. In spite of Utah's large home field advantage, I'm not convinced that the Utes can win out. If the Utes pick up another loss, the Pac-12 South winner will almost certainly be decided on the final weekend.
Joe Piechowski: Ask me again after the Utah game. Seriously, I'd say it's 50/50. The Bruins control their destiny. If they can win out....
The key is that the defense needs to play like it did against Cal and not like it did against Colorado. Having heard Coach Bradley explain what happened during the Colorado game, I'm willing to give the defense a pass, but they clearly need to take some time to teach different positions to guys just in case. We can't have another situation where the number of our defense schemes are reduced to 2 because of personnel issues. I mean, that's less creative than Mazzone's offense! (Of course, the lack of creativity on the offensive side of the ball has to do with the guy calling the plays and not restrictions based on personnel playing out of position.)
beer&math: 100% :) Just kidding, I have no idea what to expect.
7. The extra point - final thoughts?
Mexibruin: I had an interesting time at the game. I went with two buddies from work. One, a Bruin who played football in the early 90s, and a Wisconsin Badger. Our buddy the Badger, commented that we have a terrible fan base and we will never contend for National Championships while this is the case. We talked openly about the kind of Bruins that have to be reminded to stand up on 3rd down. The Bruins who ask you to sit down while you're trying to make noise. We all know the stereotypes. And, yet it is still an unpleasant surprise when you hear it from an outsider.
He also called the Rose Bowl an albatross to our program. In his opinion, outsiders love to come to play in the RB, because of it's history and destination status. In his opinion, opponents should hate coming to your stadium. And, he dropped this nugget, completely unsolicited: "You guys should build a stadium on your campus." SMH~FML
My buddy the Bruin mentioned (And, I don't know where he heard this) that Mora hates being on the sideline facing the sun. He feels we should set up on the opposite side, in the shade of the press box. Then we talked about having the students being set up behind the opposition bench.
So, all in all, everything that falls on the Morgan Center, and has been true since way before Guerrero came along to screw things up in his own unique way.
orlandobruin: Nobody received a perfect score in last week's Pregame Guesses. Soso Jamabo did not rush for more than 100 yards (both Paul Perkins and Nate Starks each played more than Soso). Colorado rushed for considerably more than 130.2 yards, pounding out 242 yards. UCLA scored less than 42 points, with a total of 35. A few were correct on the latter two questions but thought (like many) that Soso would get more touched because Perkins and Starks were banged up.
gbruin: Can I just cc Mexi's comments? The truth hurts, but it's still the truth. Actually, I remember a story when Mora was first hired and a fan asked him about moving to the shaded side and he thought that was a great idea until some Morgan Center suit intervened and said that was impossible for unstated reasons. Typical bureaucratic lazy/easy-to-say-no attitude that contributes to U.C.L.A. falling short of being a top tier program.
As for football, I think we'll play pretty well this weekend. We seem to follow our flops with reassuring performances (Stanford or Oregon games excepted). It's the problem of sustaining that focus after solid wins that is our undoing and is the obstacle that keeps us from sustained excellence.
Also, Ka'imi Fairbairn is on pace to become the Bruins all-time leading scorer in the next 2-3 games. What a great story and example of hard work and perseverance.
Bruinette88: I hate to end on a negative note, but the need to address our penalty problem isn't going away. Last week it was 10 penalties and 101 penalty yards. That means that at our current pace, we are getting worse, not better. It's time for Coach Mora and his staff to take this problem seriously and make the necessary corrections. Playing aggressively doesn't mean playing with a lack of discipline. Coach Mora has to find a way to get that message across and get the problem solved.
Joe Piechowski: Well, it's now a four-game sprint for the Pac-12 South Championship. Slip up and it's another year down the drain. Win out and it's Santa Clara here we come. All we can do is hope that the team focuses on the opponent at hand. If they look ahead this week to Wazzu, the Beavers could beat us. Then they can't overlook the Cougs. Or the Utes. November is going to be tough.
beer&math: Injuries keep piling up. I hurt my back this week and have been struggling to keep up my day to day tasks even while taking lots of pain medications. And, I can't even blame the IM fields or Sal Alosi!