Game Week: Five Things to Watch

OCT. 27 -- UCLA has some questions to answer heading into the final third of the regular season...

1. What will UCLA do with Alex Redmond and Simon Goines?

As Jim Mora has intimated over the last two weeks, and as Redmond showed on Saturday, both players are close to full health and readiness. Redmond came in for a series on Saturday in place of Malcolm Bunche, which was his first game action since being injured against Arizona State. Goines has not yet played, but he suited up this week, and looks like he’s more or less back to full health.

The question is whether UCLA wants to upset the current dynamic on the offensive line, which actually seems to be working out relatively well. With Conor McDermott emerging over the last two weeks as a legitimate left tackle, which allowed Bunche to slide down to guard, UCLA’s offensive line has actually played well. Inserting Redmond or Goines at this point might upset the cohesion to a certain extent, which could be reason for caution. That said, for once, UCLA actually has options on the offensive line, with Kenny Lacy, Redmond, and Goines all having shown the ability at one time or another to be Pac-12 level starters.

2. Will Takkarist McKinley get back into the heavy rotation?

One of the stranger aspects of Saturday’s game against Colorado was how little McKinley played, given how well he played in considerable time against California. We’d be a little surprised if he played more than 15 or so snaps on Saturday, after he probably played 40+ against California. With the success that UCLA’s defensive line had rushing the passer against Cal, especially compared to the inability to do so in the second half against Colorado, we’d have to figure that working McKinley in more heavily will be key this week. Arizona’s offense requires that the defensive line get a good, quick pass rush to upset Anu Solomon’s timing.

3. Will Nate Iese be featured more?

Nate Iese.
In watching both spring practice and fall camp, it became pretty obvious that Nate Iese was a significant weapon out of the backfield, with big, soft hands and great athleticism. As a pure dump-off receiver, he was excellent, and generated significant YAC with his strength and speed. Then, when a play was actually designed to get him the ball in the seam, he looked completely natural catching the ball.

So far this year, we’ve seen him factored into the game sparingly, occasionally making an impact for a sequence and then disappearing from view for the vast majority of the game. He has developed as a blocker, so he does add value there, but we have to imagine he could be used as more of a security blanket for Hundley in the passing game than he is currently.

If not, as some have opined, it might make sense to put him back on defense, where his athleticism might be utilized to a greater extent.

4. Can Thomas Duarte get healthy this week?

Duarte sat out most of the California game, and then sat out the entirety of the Colorado game, leaving his status in question for this week. From what we know, he suffered a hamstring injury against the Bears, and has had a few hamstring issues in the past. He’s UCLA’s main option on passes over the middle, and without him on Saturday, it did look as if Brett Hundley was a little skittish throwing over the middle.

We like Mossi Johnson a lot, and he actually played pretty well against Colorado, aside from the one crucial drop of a sure first down. But Duarte, with his size, athleticism, and hands, is a critical piece of the offense, and getting him back could do a lot for Hundley’s confidence.

5. Can Brett Hundley hit his end-of-year stride?

?In each of the last two years, Hundley has hit a bit of a lull toward the middle of the year and then has closed strong. Will the same thing happen this year? Since being sacked 10 times by Utah, Hundley has struggled a bit (somewhat understandably, given that he probably still has visions of Nate Orchard dancing around Malcolm Bunche in his head). Shaking off the last four games and playing an inspired final four games would push UCLA into real contention in the Pac-12 South while also likely helping his draft stock.

Arizona doesn’t have a great defense, so if he’s ready to have his late-season surge, it should start this week. The road doesn’t get any easier afterward, with Washington, USC, and Stanford all having decent-to-good-to-very-good defenses. If he’s going to flip the switch, the time is now.

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