Bruin Report Online: I think UCLA has done a pretty good job managing the distractions, but there have been a good number of issues, ranging from Adrian Klemm being suspended to Ishmael Adams being arrested on suspicion of robbery to everything that went on with Myles Jack [Ed: The drama began when a hip-hop mogul defended his nest]. The issue is more the injuries. With Myles Jack, Eddie Vanderdoes, and Fabian Moreau all sidelined for the season, UCLA is without a key starter at every level of the defense, and that has drastically reduced the potential of that side of the ball.
Vanderdoes was arguably the best run stopper on the team, and he leaves a huge hole in the middle of the defensive line that Eli Ankou and Matt Dickerson can only partially fill. Jack is the key loss, though, because without him, UCLA doesn't have the versatility to match up against every type of offense with the same personnel. There aren't too many players who are built like Jack, who can cover the way he does, and UCLA was starting to build its defense more or less around his versatility. Now, UCLA has to mix and match personnel groups a good deal more on defense, and that's a good deal trickier.
TB: Whose injury has proven to be the most detrimental? On the flip side, have you seen examples of unknown players who've emerged, or established ones who've thrived carrying the extra load?
BRO: Jack's injury was definitely the most detrimental because of how it changed the way UCLA can scheme on defense. The upside, if there is one, is that it has allowed Isaako Savaiinaea to emerge as a legitimate middle linebacker for the Bruins. Savaiinaea was buried a little bit last year, flipping between defensive end, outside linebacker, inside linebacker, and even fullback at times, but with Jack's injury and Kenny Young's ineffective play, Savaiinaea was given an opportunity to slide into the middle linebacker spot, and he has shined. He's led UCLA in tackles two out of the last three games, and has looked really disciplined in the middle.
TB: Stanford has a thin front seven alongside a talented (but very young) secondary. How do you envision UCLA attacking those weaknesses?
BRO: For once, I think UCLA should be able to move the ball on Stanford. What I'd like to see early is for UCLA to get Josh Rosen in a rhythm with short receiver screens to the outside to get UCLA in space against Stanford's young corners and safeties. Over the course of the game, that should open up some running room in the middle of the defense as Stanford compensates. Tempo will be key because of Stanford's lack of depth up front -- if UCLA can play fast and consistently get positive yardage, that'll wear out the thin Cardinal defensive line and give UCLA an opportunity for a big offensive second half.
TB: Have you seen any common ground, beyond Stanford's success on the ground, in these four straight losses for Mora against the Cardinal? What separates this Bruin team, for better or worse, from their recent predecessors?
BRO: UCLA has just been physically beaten up in every game they've played against Stanford in the last four years. Stanford, aside from stretches in the Pac-12 Championship Game in 2012, has dominated on both lines of scrimmage, preventing UCLA from running the ball. Now, UCLA is finally a mature team on both lines, so it might be a more even battle.
TB:Talk about how popular this team is now. Have these Mora-coaches teams set any attendance records? I don't remember even a Terry Donahue's best teams drawing so many crowds in the 60-80k range. How do you explain that?
BRO: This is probably the most popular that UCLA football has been in quite a long while, but I'm not sure about attendance records. Jim Mora has done a great job energizing the fan base, both by winning consistently on the field but also by being an active, visible presence in the UCLA community. Believe it or not, this is the first time in history UCLA has won at least 9 games three years in a row, so the fan base has responded. [Ed: “The Bruins might be the next team to move out of Los Angeles,” one L.A. scribe quipped in 1995, when a showdown with Oregon drew just over 42,000 at the Rose Bowl.]
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