Game Week: Five Things to Watch

SEP. 29 -- We have some questions about the secondary and the pass rush heading into the Utah game...

1. Will the Ishmael Adams/Anthony Jefferson switch be permanent?

Flipping Ishmael Adams and Anthony Jefferson on Thursday night against Arizona State worked really well, with Adams looking pretty natural at safety and Jefferson doing a more than credible job covering Jaelen Strong. The question now is whether it was just a switch to cover Strong with a taller cornerback, or if Jefferson and Adams will more permanently switch positions.

Ishmael Adams.
We’ve been proponents of Jefferson at cornerback since spring of 2013, when he finally started to get healthy after years of injuries. While he’s been a good and effective safety, we’re intrigued by the idea of him making a more permanent switch to corner. And with Adams, while we like him as a corner, his height does present the occasional matchup issue, and his nose for the ball makes him an interesting fit at safety.

2. Who will step up in Alex Redmond’s place?

While Jim Mora didn’t have an update on Redmond’s status on Sunday, our guess is that he’s out for a while. He was on crutches and in a walking boot on the sideline toward the end of the game, and the injury itself didn’t look great. In his stead, Kenny Lacy did a very good job, looking like a polished player in his first real game action as a Bruin. He got to the second level on running plays and did an admirable job in pass protection.

While Ben Wysocki, Najee Toran, or even a double switch of Conor McDermott in at tackle and either Caleb Benenoch or Malcolm Bunche dropping to guard could be possible, we’d have to imagine Lacy will have the inside track to start next Saturday. Given the way the offense performed with him in, it’d be hard to go away from that lineup.

3. How quickly can UCLA get Takkarist McKinley up to speed?

Watching the 4th quarter over again, it was clear that McKinley is a very good athlete with some natural pass rush abilities. He nearly had a sack, and pressured the quarterback twice on just 10 plays or so. He also looked fast and powerful on special teams coverage, and should be a menace there with his size.

Given that UCLA has had some issues getting sacks this year, McKinley could be the answer, so we’d have to imagine UCLA spends a good amount of its prep time this week getting him up to speed on the defense. Adding him to the rotation would give UCLA a real pass-rush threat when Deon Hollins and Owamagbe Odighizuwa are out of the game. While we wouldn’t expect him to be fully versed in the defense and all of his assignments by the Utah game, getting him ready for Oregon in two weeks would seem like a realistic and important goal. Now with Kenny Orjioke likely out for some period of time with a knee injury, McKinley's development becomes even more critical.

4. Will Brett Hundley try to ditch the brace this week? Will that have an effect on him?

The quarterback certainly didn’t seem hampered by his elbow brace against Arizona State on Thursday, considering that he had probably his best passing game as a Bruin, but he told us afterward that it did cause some issues for his weight distribution. He also said he didn’t want to get used to the brace, because it could affect his muscle memory, so it’s pretty obvious he’s going to look to take it off as soon as possible.

Brett Hundley.
The question is, should he? First, there’s the obvious concern of re-injury, though that does seem minimal considering how apparently minor the hyperextension was. Second, and this is probably a stretch, but might there have been an element where he was more patient in his reads and progressions because he had the brace on? While he didn’t show much trepidation about running the ball, there were a handful of times where his primary and secondary options weren’t open, and in the past, Hundley likely would have tucked and run at that point. Instead, he stayed in the pocket, and continued to read the defense, and more often than not, completed a nice pass downfield. Like we said, it’s probably a stretch, but it might be something to consider.

5. Will UCLA look past the Utes?

UCLA under Mora hasn’t shown a real propensity for looking past opponents, with only a few examples from 2012 as real evidence that it has happened (looking at you, Oregon State, California, and Baylor). That said, if there was an opportunity for that, it’d be this week. The Bruins are fresh off a huge win over Arizona State and have a titanic matchup with Oregon in two weeks. Utah, meanwhile, is fresh off a demoralizing defeat to Washington State at home, but is a dangerous enough team, with a solid defense and excellent special teams. If this were 2003 to 2011, we’d already be chalking this game up as a loss.

That said, we really doubt UCLA will have that sort of letdown. Utah has given the Bruins fits each of the last two years, which should be fresh in the minds of most of the players. If UCLA is going to have issues with mindset, we’d guess those issues are much more likely to present after Oregon than before it, against a somewhat dangerous Cal team.

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