With three NFL draft picks and a defensive coordinator gone, how has the UCLA defense fared relative to your expectations?
Patroclus: Since one of those guys was replaced by a similarly talented player who sat out last season due to injury (Owa) and the second had lost his starting spot in the middle of last season to then-freshman Kenny Clark, the question really boils down to the impact of losing Anthony Barr and the elevation of Jeff Ulbrich to defensive coordinator for a squad that returned 8 starters from last year. There is no question that Barr is an exceptionally gifted athlete whose impact was never going to be replaced by one player. The expectation was that while the guys filling Barr's old spot couldn't replace his production, the expected elevation in play from the returning starters and rotation players would make up for that dropoff. That simply hasn't happened, as you can guess just from looking at a statsheet displaying the lack of sacks of other indicators of QB pressure. For the other major defensive change... Jeff Ulbrich had done a nice job coaching our linebackers and running the special teams, but Coach Mora's decision to elevate Ulbrich after just 2 years as a position coach was a huge gamble. Through 6 games of unimaginative scheming, lack of in-game adjustments and players seemingly unprepared for big games, the gamble looks to have blown up in our faces.
The UCLA line has gotten plenty of flack for their failure to protect Hundley when he passes, but how has the run blocking been?
gbruin: Better. Because of injuries and other attrition, the line is sort of playing with 4 guards and a center, as opposed to having prototype tackles on the ends of the line of scrimmage. That has been part of the problem in pass protection, but it has worked okay for run blocking and that particular aspect of the line has improved all season. Paul Perkins ran for 187 yds and the team ran for 328 yards against Oregon last week. The offense has put some more emphasis on the run game in recent weeks too, and if you know linemen, they love to run block, so that increased focus on the run game has seen an improvement in their play in that area.
Is there a sense that this year is a now-or-never season with Hundley likely to leave, or that UCLA has the talent on hand to contend next year and into the foreseeable future?
gbruin: Maybe not now-or-never, but now-more-than-ever-before, for sure. It's rare you get a returning QB the caliber of Hundley, so Bruin fans knew this was a golden opportunity to become one of the elite teams in the conference and beyond, and plenty of national media saw that same opportunity. We do have the #1 QB recruit coming in for next year and there should be a lot of returning talent, but you just never know how things will play out. Our hand was loaded this year so it seemed fair to put a lot of stock into this season and not play wait 'til next year.
UCLA is the sole focus of The Drive this year. How does this show (assuming that you watched it) impact your views of Jim Mora and the rest of the UCLA staff?
uclauv: I have watched The Drive and it hasn't impacted my view of the coaches. Basically, The Drive is a superficial human interest show, and it doesn't offer anything material to the football related issues with the team or coaching staff. We have watched these coaches in many situations and I would say that what we see in The Drive is no different than what we see in other settings. I have also been able to see them in person on several occasions, and again, The Drive hasn't shown them in any different light. I think what really comes through with Coach Mora and some of the other coaches, is the personal relationship they have with our players, especially with Coach Mora. You can see how well he knows each of his players and how well they regard him. We knew that, but only from afar. To see and hear some of their interactions close up just validates what we thought. I think our main concerns with our coaches have to do with what is happening on the field, the kinds of questions that won't be addressed in a program like The Drive. The concerns around issues of player development and play calling and our view of the coaching staff at this point are coming from what we are seeing on the field.
Latest news is that Eddie Vanderdoes is not going to be penalized at all for what looks like a punch. What is your take on that decision?
gbruin: He isn't being penalized by the Pac-12 Conference, which doesn't necessarily mean he isn't being punished by the team. In fact, the Conference announced they weren't punishing him right after meeting with Mora and the football staff, so it's possible that they were satisfied with whatever UCLA planned to do. Of course, no one has said what, if anything, that response might be. It wasn't really much of a blow, but it was still about the biggest fight the defense put up last weekend, so maybe he should even be rewarded. On one hand, he's a very good player and we really need him on the D Line, so the selfish side wants/needs him to play. But to be honest, I also realize that if were the roles were reversed, I'd feel some tangible punishment was justified. In the end, I expect we'll get an announcement near game time.
UCLA has not won in Berkeley in many, many years. Why would this year be different?
uclaluv: The current group of UCLA coaches and players have only been to Cal once, and they, of course, have only lost once up there. When we last came up there, Hundley was a red-shirt freshman playing in his 6th game as a college quarterback. His experience should eliminate some of the terrible mistakes we saw him make against the Bears two years ago. You have to remember UCLA committed six turnovers against you guys in that game. This year after six games, UCLA has committed seven. Unless there is something in the water that we don't know about, there is no reason why each trip shouldn't be different, including this one. I do think the fact that you might be using two different quarterbacks, each with different strengths, could be a challenge for us on this occasion. To this point, our defensive strategies have not adjusted within games to what is happening on the field. Our players and defensive coordinator have spoken about the transitions that may occur with your offense. Our defense has incredible talent, but has not adjusted within games nor between games to match what offenses have been throwing at them. Utah was the biggest example of this, and this is one of our biggest disappointments this year. Maybe with two bad loses in a row and a bit of in game friction between the DC and Mora, things are being addressed. We will not know until the Bruins hit the field. On offense, we have found a consistently good runner in Paul Perkins and Brett Hundley has become very accurate with his passing.
In light of UCLA on a current two game losing streak, how important is this game for UCLA's outlook on the rest of the season?
gbruin: I don't think this games carries any special significance at this point. As far as football goes, of course you want to win every game, but now that the high hopes for the season seem dashed, we'll just look at each game to see if there are signs that the defensive philosophies are improving and becoming more effective, or if the offensive play calling becomes more coherent and productive. If we lose this game, it's not a big surprise and doesn't affect the season. If we win this game, it's not a big surprise and it doesn't affect the season. Now, if the Bruins were living up to the preseason hype from all around the country, then this and every remaining game would mean a lot more. As it is, only Southern Cal, our big rival, carries any real significance, and that's more from an emotional standpoint than anything.
How would you grade Jim Mora now that you're in the third year of his regime? How about Mazzone as the offensive coordinator?
Patroclus: At this moment, I'll give Mora an incomplete. He is an upgrade over our last couple of head coaches, but that is a pretty easy standard to meet - Karl Dorrell was mediocre at best, while Rick Neuheisel was - as our colleagues at Football Study Hall showed - a Paul Wulff/Charlie Weis-level disaster on the sideline. Going by the numbers at College Football Matrix, an average D-1 head coach would have won 8 or 9 games if placed in charge of Neuheisel's final Bruin team. With the addition of Brett Hundley as starting QB and the return of Xavier Su'a-Filo to anchor the O-Line, Mora won 9 regular season games in year 1, repeated that this fall, and may not be able to improve this season going by the way the team has looked so far this season (ASU game excepted). On the plus side, the football program under Mora has seen greater structural improvements than had been evident under prior regimes - from a newfound emphasis on S&C to the planning for and imminent construction of a dedicated football facility. Another of our frontpagers has critiqued Mazzone's offense with much more detail and expertise than I am capable of doing, so I'll keep it simple by saying that I am not a fan of his offense/performance running his side of the ball.
Whom do you want to punch in the face?
gbruin: I would never publicly advocate violence like this. Having said that, I am really pissed at our chancellor, Gene Block. Some of the highlights of his "leadership" have been our drop in academic rankings, the loss of the world's preeminent neuroscience lab to a certain private school across town who offered far better support, persistent attempts to sell off the treasured Japanese Gardens in Bel Air which were previously gifted to UCLA in perpetuity, and the construction of a high rise hotel in the center of campus where if offers nothing tangible to the student body, though it will offer a perfect vantage point for virtually anyone to videotape our football practices in complete privacy. He also approved the hire of Steve Alford to coach basketball and then extended the contract of our AD Dan Guerrero, and you know how we feel about that guy. Bruins are not big fans of the chancellor.