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UCLA's Jordan Payton: "It's Unbelievable to Come to This University"

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In today's Spaulding Report, UCLA football players talk to the media as they prepare for this week's showdown with USC. Another win against USC earns the Bruins a place in the Pac-12 Championship game on December 5th.

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Well, most of us felt our Bruins would be in the Pac-12 Championship game this season, but few would have guessed it would happen like this. Unlike last year, when the deciding game came after the u$c game, this year's deciding game will come against the team Jim Mora's Bruins have seemed best prepared for.

I was at the Rose Bowl last year when a mediocre Stanford team strolled in and walked away with that game. In the stands, on the field, probably in UCLA heaven, you could feel the post $c let down. The week before - the crowd was loud, I mean really, really loud and jumping and up and crazy; the players were pumped, I mean really, really pumped; and the intensity was so think you could probably have stuck a fork in it and had a meal. It was such a blast. And, it left the Bruins in a place to determine their own destiny.

Well, this year is different. The team the crowd gets loud for, the team the players get pumped for, and the team that the heavens frown upon, will be on the field as this year's Bruin football team plays to earn a berth in the conference championship game. Their team is probably better than last year, but so is ours. Their team will be playing at home, but we do better away. Their team has a new coach - well, that's nothing new! So this game should be set up for the Bruins - opportunity, passion, intensity, u$c.

But therein lies the rub! Will the Bruins rise to meet this opportunity head on? Or will they let another one pass them by. I am glad the deciding game is against the Spoiled Children - that is when Mora's Bruin teams have played their best. I am also concerned that this deciding game is against the Spoiled Children - deciding games, seem to be when Jim Mora's Bruins play their worst.

So which will it be? Our best or our worst?

The players had their say today, as many got a chance to speak with the media:

First, we have LB Kenny Young who had five tackles, including one tackle for loss, against the Utes. Kenny talked about how guys like Nate Meadors and Jaleel Wadood stepped up to help the Bruins get the stops in the red zone, not allowing Utah to score any touchdowns. Kenny also compares the LSU/Alabama rivalry to the UCLA/$c rivalry - and loves the energy our fans bring to the contest. Interestingly enough, Kenny didn't know anything about UCLA until his Junior year in high school. Kenny praises Jayon Brown and talks about the new practice philosophy under Coach Scott. "We're a lot faster and better as linebackers." Scott changed the whole practice routine - and Kenny thinks it's really helped. He also talks about how the defense adjusted to all the changes, in coaches and player personnel.

Speaking of linebackers, Jayon Brown has been killing it on the field for the Bruins. Against the Utes, he led the way once again with 10 tackles, including half a sack, and half a tackle for loss. Did I mention he recovered a fumble to put the game away? Jayon won't be talking to any of his own pals over at that other "school" this week. About the rivalry: "Winning this game is everything, it shows who runs L.A.". What does UCLA have to do? Limit their points and force turnovers. He says the run defense is a lot better than when they met Stanford. Against the Utes, the Bruins held their gaps better and the adjustments really helped. Here's Jayon:

As we know, UCLA's linebackers seem to have their way the trogans. I know we're all looking forward to seeing some more of this on Saturday:

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The linebackers can't show their greatness without an effective defensive line. Eli Ankou said the line found a rhythm against a really good Utah O-line and a really good running quarterback. He thinks the challenges this year have brought the defense even closer together. Eli has watched some $c film on his own but won't say more than that - he has seen some things - "they have good players". That's right Eli, this is not the time to be letting the trogans know their weaknesses.

Now, to the offensive side of the ball.

First, Paul Perkins talks about how big this game is to him and how he is so much more invested in rivalry now that he lives in L.A. He says he's not thinking about the future, instead he's living for this moment. He can now see how we're affected by whether UCLA wins or loses to $c. Actually, Paul, you have no idea how we act when we lose this game! Thank you Paul Perkins era Bruins! Here's Paul:

Next, the offensive line's leader Jake Brendel. I was looking at some stats on the Pac-12 website and saw that UCLA is #1 in sacks allowed this year, with 11 all season. Stanford is second with 17. I think a lot of Jake's coaching early in the season had a big impact here! As for playing $c with so much on the line this year: "It's all that we ask for. We always love playing those guys."  Jake said they had a difficult time getting five guys out there towards the end of thegame against Utah - the Bruins had to use everyone. He talks about how the Bruins have consistently gotten better, even if some of the numbers don't show it. During the week, Jake says he is always very vocal in practice, making sure every guy who could play is prepared. Great job, Coach Brendel. You and your fellow fourth year Bruins have a chance to go 4 and 0 against Southern Cal!

"Thomas Duarte's always open" and this week I am looking forward to see him cut up the trogan backfield. About "one of the greatest rivalries", Duarte remarks that UCLA has more respect now than when he arrived. Thomas says Josh and everyone else is preparing for this game like the others - focused, watching film, "we're going to be ready for it, we're happy". Duarte talked about the adjustments Utah made that allowed UCLA's running game to open up in response to why the passing game slowed down. About Josh and whether his ability to get the td pass to Duarte was a surprise: Josh is smart, he knows what to do with the ball,.. he puts it places where only we can get it, i.e. it was no surprise. Throw it to Duarte!

UCLA's all time receptions leader, Jordan Payton, must be feeling the specialness of the moment and needs to be quoted at length:

It's been an amazing four years. It's unbelievable to come to this university. Its just a tremendous honor for me. I love every minute of it. I'm sure you guys saw I love playing, I love being around these guys. Coach Mora is a fantastic person. I've made some great friendships here. It's exciting, its cool. Not a lot of people get these opportunities, for me to come here, to solidify my name like I did, it's unbelievable, it's truly unbelievable, I'm truly blessed for that.

But saying that, there's still games to be played, so for me it's still about catching the ball and getting first downs and scoring touchdowns. So come back for work. Get ready for a big one.

Payton credits Coach Alosi for preparing this team for the adversity they faced this year. He says the team trains specifically for adversity and with great intensity. So adversity: "It's kind of like our backbone". The team knows something's going to go wrong, but their training prepares them for it. "Winning is always the greatest" and Jordan says playing in this rivalry game is a great honor. He "grew up down the street from here" and he knows in this town you're either a Bruin or a trojan. Watching and listening to Jordan, on and off the field, is such an honor for me.

Thank you to Ed Lewis and Bruins Report Online for access to all these videos with these incredible Bruins!

If you can make it, the bonfire will be tomorrow night at 7 pm.

Have a great week, and as always ...

Go Bruins!

Beat $c!