Bye Week: Five Things to Watch

SEP. 16 -- We have five questions to answer in the bye week before the Arizona State game...

1. If Brett Hundley gets completely healthy in the next week, and Jim Mora doesn’t say a word about it, does it really happen?

Hundley’s elbow injury on Saturday did not look good live, but the initial reports have indicated that it wasn’t particularly serious, just a minor hyperextension. That said, even if it is simply a minor hyperextension, there’s no guarantee that he’ll be ready to play a football game in nine days. Even though it’s his non-throwing arm, taking a hit soon after a hyperextension/dislocation does not sound ideal.

The interesting part for members of the media will be how Mora addresses, or doesn’t address, Hundley’s health. He told us on the Sunday teleconference that he’d provide no updates up until game time of Arizona State, but there are certain things that can be easily gleaned from sitting outside of practice (for example, whether or not Brett Hundley goes into Spaulding Field and what sorts of things he’s wearing on his elbow). Whether he actually practices, though, is something Mora will have to address, and if we had to guess, he will stick to his statement on Sunday, and not say a word about it til game day.

2. If Hundley can’t go, who’s the backup?

We’ve speculated before that if Hundley were out for an appreciable amount of time, a greater effort might be spent trying to get Asiantii Woulard up to speed to see if he can take the reins of the offense. While Jerry Neuheisel played very well last Saturday, there’s a big difference between being the unknown backup in a non-conference game and being the known starter heading into a conference game. It’s a good bet that Todd Graham and his defensive staff will have a good idea of what Neuheisel’s strengths (poise, accuracy) and weaknesses (inability to throw with power beyond eight yards downfield, lack of athleticism, and the occasional tendency to throw into traffic) are, and exploit them with plenty of pressure and press coverage.

Woulard, though he doesn’t yet have the poise or feel that Neuheisel has, isn’t physically limited in the same way, and would be more difficult for Arizona State to game plan against. What’s more, if you were handicapping which of the two has a better chance of holding down the starting job next year, it’d be Woulard, so it might make sense to get him up to speed and have him play against Arizona State (again, if Hundley isn’t ready).

It’s an interesting conundrum, and, again, one we’re likely not to have much clarity on until at least next week.

Myles Jack.
3. Will Myles Jack’s offensive role expand or contract?

Last year’s Arizona State game was the first and only game last year where Jack did not play on defense, and there’s some belief, including in the mind of the head coach, that the decision to play Jack exclusively on offense cost the Bruins the game. This year, Jack has had a built in role on offense through the last two games, and it looked like the package expanded a bit between the Memphis game and the Texas game. As the package has expanded, though, you could make an argument that Jack’s play on defense has dropped off somewhat, with the last two games only being so-so in terms of his performance. It might be simple correlation, rather than causation, but it’s something to monitor.

It’ll be very interesting to see what happens between now and the ASU game. Jack’s speed and instincts were sorely needed last year against the misdirection and trickiness of Arizona State’s offense. Offensively, while Jack has provided a few critical first downs, and one great touchdown run this year, he hasn’t yet had one of those epic runs he had at multiple points last year. In addition, the Bruins are in a much better situation at running back than they were during the game against the Sun Devils last year. Now that Paul Perkins has really solidified the position, and Jordon James and Nate Starks look like legitimate second and third running backs, perhaps Jack can focus much more exclusively on defense.

4. Will Simon Goines make his return?

As we’ve said a couple of times, we’re still somewhat skeptical that Goines will make it back to full health this year, with the number of leg injuries he’s had over the last couple of years. That said, if he’s going to fit into the timeline that was given to him after ankle surgery in fall camp, this week would be where he starts to make some strides.

Fitting him into the offensive line, if he does get back to full health, would probably allow UCLA to move Scott Quessenberry to second string and slide either Malcolm Bunche or, more likely, Caleb Benenoch inside to guard. Goines hasn’t gone through a full practice in a long while — I believe it’s almost a year — but he’d at the very least provide some legitimate depth for the Bruins going forward.

5. Can the secondary get healthy?

We’re just three weeks into the season, and already UCLA has suffered injuries to three of its four starters in the secondary. Randall Goforth’s injury is the most serious, with his shoulder separation forcing him out for the Texas game and potentially forcing him into surgery at some point soon. Anthony Jefferson sprained his ankle in warmups before Texas, and it’s unknown how severe the sprain was. Fabian Moreau hurt his elbow during the game, but managed to play through the pain and finish the game.

While Jaleel Wadood, Tahaan Goodman, and Jalen Ortiz all played well in relief of the starters at points during the game, UCLA will face a much more dynamic offense next Thursday in Tempe, and getting, at the very least, Moreau and Jefferson back will be of paramount importance.

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