Good morning. 24 hours to gametime. What better way to find out what the skinny about the UCLA Bruins is than to ask some experts?
We sent out a feeler to BruinsNation, the SBNation community for all things UCLA, and here is what they told us about their feelings going into the game.
1. This has been a trying week for UCLA, as the death of WR Nick Pasquale has seemingly rocked the team and the school. Besides Jim Mora having to deal with a NBC LA cameraman that wouldn’t just be quiet, how has the school and team seemingly responded?
bruinclassof10: The team is taking this very hard, as Nick Pasquale was very well-liked and well-respected by everyone from the coaches, to star veterans like Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks, to the other walk-ons on the scout team. A Bruin football flag was flying at half-mast on campus and there were signs honoring Nick.
gbruin: Since Mora closed practices this week and has not allowed access to the players, it’s hard to say, but I think his demeanor at the press conference and some of the glimpses we have gotten of the players have shown how hard the team is taking it. When the team’s middle linebacker and leading tackler (Kendricks) adopts the number of a walk on receiver, that tells you how close everyone felt to Nick.
Nestor: Obviously this has been a very emotional week for the extended UCLA football community. We have seen videos and images of players in tears and devastated. They are taking this hard. But IMHO it is difficult for us to get a sense of how they have been responding within the program because Coach Mora rightfully closed the practices on Monday. From what we have seen publicly Mora has appeared to make all the right moves. We will have to see how the players respond when we see them on Saturday and after they come back from the roadtrip.
2 It was just one game versus Nevada, but the Bruins looked like a pretty good team nonetheless. However, it seems when UCLA gets away from the Rose Bowl, they are a different team. What is the expectations going into Saturday morning against Nebraska?
bruinclassof10: Like every well-coached team on the rise, the Bruins expect to win, despite a hostile, yet very classy environment. Nebraska is no Nevada and the Memorial Stadium is no Rose Bowl.
Nestor: We expect the players to compete at a high level against a well coached football team in front of some of the best home atmosphere and awesome fans in college football. Perhaps it will be intimidating at first but we are hoping that UCLA will rise to the occasion on Saturday. What I really want from this team is a clean game where Bruins are executing well on both sides of the ball. They made lot of mistakes against Nevada (penalties were an issue last year as well). So hopefully they will improve and put themselves in a good position in second half to win the game.
3. Brett Hundley flat out destroyed the Blackshirts last year. What is the main difference between Brett from the Nebraska game last year to now?
bruinclassof10: The main difference? He’s bigger and better than last season. Last season, we had a patchwork O-line that consisted of 3 green freshmen (1 true, 2 redshirt). This season, the O-line should give Hundley more time, but he has gotten stronger and bigger after getting sacked way too many times last season.
gbruin: Hundley has also shown better decision making in the pocket, both in preseason and in the opener, with a greater willingness to throw a ball away rather than feeling compelled to make a play every time, which led to a lot of those sacks, and better reads of the defense when going downfield. I think the entire offensive unit feels more comfortable with the system this year. Last season, everything was brand new to them, whereas this year they are able to pick up from they left off last season. I think it’s made Hundley look more comfortable and confident as the leader on offense.
Nestor: looks like bruinclassof10 and gbruin have answered the questions well here.
Patroclus: Right, they have gotten the basics down. I imagine that at first glance, last season’s total of 52 sacks allowed looks a bit odd, given that Hundley is a pretty mobile player. Much of the ‘analysis’ that I have come across seems to place most of the blame simply on UCLA having had a bad O-Line that may or may not get any better. As classof10 noted, we started 3 frosh last season - actually 4 players who had not played college football the previous year after factoring in the LDS mission of Xavier Su’a-Filo.
Jon noted on Wednesday that the starting unit coming to Lincoln now has a combined 73 starts - aside from true freshman Alex Redmond (who looked nasty - in a good way for an O-lineman - in the opener) they are the guys who played together last season, and have had an offseason of learning and working on their skills and the benefit of a real S&C program (which UCLA really didn’t have until last year). Together with Hundley’s improved decision making and feel for the pocket, he should feel a bit more comfortable letting plays develop and testing the secondary.
4. Jonathan Franklin is gone, but Jordon James picked up the rushing slack well a couple of weeks ago. Describe the rushing attack you saw from the Offensive Line and James, and what makes James different from Franklin.
bruinclassof10: The o-line was nasty, as everyone looked a lot more improved than last year and true freshman guard Alex Redmond displayed that nasty streak that coaches love. They blew open huge holes for all of the running backs, James, Perkins, Manfro, Jones, Davis and Emesibe to run through. Franklin was a rock last season, breaking off long runs with his quickness and his ability to catch out of the backfield. James is different from Franklin because he’s more of a highlight reel guy with ankle-breaking, home run threat capabilities.
Nestor: The O-Line indeed had one of its best game in recent memory in this UCLA program. It was cool to see them gel in the first game. James is faster and more elusive than Franklin. But what Franklin was special at was recognizing the gaps and attacking them right away. JJ danced around a little too much behind the LOS in his early years. He seemed to attack the LOS with more determination against Nevada but is one game enough datapoint to know how he is going to respond to the Huskers in Lincoln? We will see.
We also have some good players behind James in Malcolm Jones (a blue chip recruit who was California’s POY). Jones is more of a load. He took a break from football because perhaps his heart was not in the game. But he has made a comeback and we are liking what we saw from him against Nevada and the reports we heard about him from practices. Manfro and Perkins are also players we are intrigued about this season.
5. 12 different players caught passes for UCLA. Talk about the wideout corp and what they will bring against the Nebraska secondary this year.
gbruin: Each receiver has his own particular specialties (speed with Devin Lucien, versatility with Shaq Evans, a big weapon from the slot in Devin Fuller, etc) so it gives the offense multiple options depending on down and distance situations. This diversity and depth keeps defenses from really focusing on just one or two primary targets. It also shows the confidence Hundley has in his receiving corps and gives him more options when he is in the pocket. All these things should help open the field for Hundley in the passing game, which already looked more better in the opening game than last season. Lots of the passes last year were short routes or swing routes parallel to the line of scrimmage, and Hundley is looking downfield much more this season.
Nestor: As gbruin said Fuller, Lucien and Evans are potent weapons for Brett. We also like the skillsets of Jordan Payton who is another promising receiver. Also, at the Y position we are excited to see what a true frosh like Thomas Duarte can do in the coming Saturdays.
6. Most everyone remembers Anthony Barr from last year’s game in Pasadena, as it seemed to be his coming out party. Even though Owa Odighizuwa is gone for the year, talk about the playmakers on Defense, and how they will go against a Nebraska Offense that has almost all the same skill players from last year’s game.
Patroclus: The defense, particularly the front 7, is pretty loaded. In terms of pure talent, I would actually put that group ahead of last year’s line and linebackers even considering Owa’s injury. Our true freshman class looks that special, and ready to contribute. Having read your site’s UCLA preview, you guys have a good idea of Eddie Vanderdoes, but Myles Jack is nearly as special a talent, and was just as impactful against Nevada playing inside and outside LB (and making plays in pass coverage - skip ahead to 3:12 in this clip for one example). I expect both to become starters in the coming few weeks. Kylie Fitts and Kenny Clark both featured in the D-Line rotation, and should continue to do so this weekend.
Nestor: Eddie V and Myles Jack had great debuts. I also enjoyed watching big Ellis McCarthy - a key recruit from Mora’s first year - who had a nice first game after having a so so freshman year. McCarthy can fill up the space and we like his potential. Also, while Anthony Barr deservedly has been getting all the publicity, we love our other LBs. MLB Eric Kendricks is perhaps the anchor of our defense. He is a tackling machine who always finds a way to get himself in right position. Jordan Zumwalt is another guy worth watching. I am sure you guys remember him from last year. He can "bring the pain."
7. What’s the feeling about the Bruin Special Teams from you all?
Patroclus: Uncertain. There are some consistency issues with the placekicking and punt return aspects of our special teams, and we have a new punter and long snapper who were not used against Nevada.
Nestor: Like P I am concerned. I don’t think our FG kicker is reliable. Plus we have no idea what we have in our new punter (as our previous guy - Jeff Locke - was a big weapon, who played a key role in last year’s game).
8. This is an early kickoff for folks from Los Angeles. 9am local kick, which means being up at 5am for the team. How do you think the team will look being up so early?
Patroclus: The team’s normal routine is to be up by 5:30 to start lifting, and our in-season practices are typically pretty early in the morning. One of the beat writers noted that Mora moved some of the practice sessions this week even earlier in the AM. I don’t think the team will be as affected as the Nebraska and UCLA Fans in Lincoln who will have to find enough tailgate/pregaming time before the 11am kickoff.
gbruin: Who scheduled this time anyway? Surely the Cornhusker fans wanted to get some more tailgating in, too, right? I’m more concerned about the team’s emotional state after this week than the early kickoff time. As long as they get to bed early on Friday, I don’t think the clock will affect them too much.
Nestor: Timing of the game shouldn’t be an issue for the team given they are used to getting up early and getting morning practices in. It is going to be about how they respond emotionally after a tough week.
9. Time for predictions. How do you folks see the game working out and a final score?
Nestor: Not going to bite here b/c I am terrible at this. Here is to a great game with no injuries.