Scrimmage: The Good, The Bad...

...but there really wasn't too much Ugly. Saturday's scrimmage at Spaulding Field illustrated some of the strengths of the team -- particularly the wide receivers and the defense -- as well as some of the concerns...

Saturday's scrimmage was almost a microcosm of fall practice so far, illustrating some of the strengths of the teams, not allaying many of the concerns about the team, and perhaps presenting a new concern.

The new concern would be turnovers. The scrimmage had a lot of them: seven fumbles and two interceptions. The problem was mostly ball carriers hanging onto the ball, which, if you want to be really optimistic, you could chalk up to the hard hitting defense. But if you want to be a little more balanced in your viewpoint, you would recognize that fumbling the ball was a problem as the scrimmage. But, you might also chalk up the sloppiness to the first scrimmage of the fall.

Let's get to the lingering problems first. Still the #1 concern is the offensive line. They are very inconsistent; in one instance opening up a pretty decent hole for a running back, but in the next couple of reps allowing some easy pressure on the quarterback. Again, it is still early and the line has yet to build cohesiveness, but it is a concern, and the #1 concern on the team.

The #2 concern on the team was also apparent: If Paus gets hurt, is there anyone who could step in and execute the quarterback position? Drew Olson didn't have a good scrimmage, unlike predominantly the rest of his week at Cal Lutheran. Could it be the live, game-like condition, with the speed and the tackling, that may change Olson's effectiveness? Or was it just a fluke of a mediocre day? This upcoming week will be critical in determining that, especially the closed scrimmage at the Rose Bowl Wednesday. John Sciarra, as we've been reporting, has made strides of improvement. He throws a pretty decent ball to 20 yards. But he struggles with throws beyond that, and if things break down in the pocket, so does he, to an extent. As we've maintained, Sciarra still appears to be a ways away from being able to contribute. Matt Moore, who it was looking like might be the fourth-string quarterback after the Cal Lu week, had a good scrimmage Saturday. He looked poised in the pocket and threw the ball under control and accurately. He was, though, competing mostly against the 3rd team defense. It will be interesting to see if these performances change the hierarchy that was developing the week in Cal Lu. I'd have to believe that it won't have much of an impact – that the coaches will have confidence in what they saw of Drew Olson for the last week.

The running backs, generally, are a concern. The year after losing a Heisman candidate-caliber running back like DeShaun Foster, you now have a stable of young running backs competing for the position, and you'd want one of them to step up and own the position. There was no real stepping up and owning Saturday. Perhaps more disappointing than Akil Harris' two fumbles was how quiet Manuel White was. He had a very impressive week at Cal Lu, but didn't do much in the scrimmage Saturday. Harris looked like he was pressing. It's difficult to take this scrimmage and draw any conclusion about the three redshirt freshmen running backs, since most of the time they were going up against the second- and third-team defenses. Tyler Ebell had easily the best run of they day, a nice 53-yard TD scamper, but (and I hate to discount it) it was against mostly walkons. Interesting that in some situations Wendell Mathis is lining up at the tailback position with Jason Harrison at fullback.

Cory Paus looked okay – not spectacular, but good. He looked better in the redzone drill (the offense starts from the defense's 20-yard line) than he did in the actual scrimmage. In fact, the entire offense looked sluggish until the redzone drill. Paus threw a couple of sharp balls, one interception on a deep ball to Tab Perry that was tipped up and grabbed by cornerback Ricky Manning.

The receiving corps looks like the strength of the offense, which is a great thing, since it will give Paus confidence that he has receivers to throw to, and give the coaches confidence to throw (In fact, the scrimmage was very heavily weighted toward the pass). Mike Seidman looks to be UCLA's #1 target this year. It's getting to the point that he's almost not coverable. He might be drawing some double-teams this year, which is fine. If your tight end is drawing double-teams, you've got a receiver open somewhere on the field. At the scrimmage, and in the redzone drill, he looked impressive. Marcedes Lewis had the best day among receivers, lining up as both a tight end and wideout. On sideline outs, Lewis is also close to undefendable. When he gets his big body turned, it's near impossible to stop him from catching the ball. And at this point he's much better at catching the ball turned sideways on an out than he is running downfield trying to catch the ball over his shoulder. Ryan Smith had a good reception on a throw from Paus for 27 yards. Junior Taylor also showed his flash, catching a receiver screen in the redzone drill and displaying some nifty moves to get into the endzone for a TD. And this was with the team's two top receivers, Perry and Craig Bragg, fairly silent. Bragg participated, despite a nagging hamstring. You also have to make note of Brett Mitchell, the diminutive, 5-6 walkon wide receiver, who made probably the best catch of the day, a finger-tip, lay-out grab across the middle.

But after going through the concerns of the offense, the defense's concerns aren't as pronounced. Overall, as I've said, the defense's speed has improved, and the scrimmage illustrated this pretty well. The defense not only looks quicker overall than in year's past, even last year, but also at individual positions. And then you're combining team quickness with a number of guys who are real hitters. There were some very serious pops at Saturday's scrimmage. Ben Emanuel seems to be on the delivering end of many, as does Jibril Raymo and Matt Ware. While they're young and prone to mistakes, these three could be the quickest and best-hitting group of safeties UCLA's had in a while. Then throw in Ricky Manning, who is a long-time hitter, and the developing cornerbacks. The freshman Glenn Ohaeri had a few good pops on Saturday, and has all week. He was known for his hitting in high school. With this defense, though, if a receiver catches the ball, he has so many guys flying at him and hammering him.

And then there's the defensive line and linebackers, who stood up a few ball carriers Saturday. The Ball brothers looked impressive. Mat Ball going against the second-string offensive line just plainly wasn't fair. He dominated on three successive plays, culminating in a quarterback sack. Steve Morgan had a number of nice stops. Sean Phillips just threw his blocker aside a couple of times, one time getting a sack out of it. Marcus Reese was involved in many tackles and had a fumble recovery. Kevin Harbour, the true freshman, had two sacks. And you have to give some props to walk on defensive tackle Matt Kocher, who had a sack and a stop for a loss on two successive plays. Overall, there was so much team tackling going on it was sometimes difficult to give credit to an individual.

Special teams is a lot like the rest of the team: Very strong in some places and then worrisome in others. The kickers, obviously, are very strong. But punt and kick-off return are a concern. Tyler Ebell had an interesting day returning kicks and punts, or should we call it "exciting." The first kick-off he put on the ground, picked it up and then juked his way for a 40-yard return. He bobbled a couple of other punts. He allowed one punt to bounce and be downed within the five yard line. And even when he caught a punt, it was an adventure, catching them up around his shoulder pads and with his shoulders turned. Ebell will probably have to show a great deal more consistency before the coaches will make him the #1 punt returner, but that's what they intend. If he does, and he can make the catch in the game, he can bring some much-needed excitement to the punt return team. Coach Toledo said tongue-in-cheek that Ebell is "exciting either way, either when he returns the punt he's exciting, or when he fumbles the punt he's exciting."

Stats for the day (not including the redzone drill):

Passing:

Paus, 3-4, 50 yards, 1 interception
Sciarra, 3-5, 36 yards
Moore 6-12, 65 yards
Olson, 1-7, 15 yards, 1 int.

Rushing:

White, 5 for 27
Harris, 4 for 8
Harrison, 6 for 18
Mathis, 4 for 28
Ebell, 7 for 81

Receiving:

Seidman, 1 for 16
Smith, 1 for 27
Lewis, 5 for 44
Groves, 1 for 14
Taylor, 2 for 19
Perry, 1 for 12
Mitchell, 3 for 31
Steck, 1 for 10

Other standout plays:

Boschetti, 51 yard interception return for TD
Ware, 53 yard int. return
Manning, interception
Reese, fumble recover

Injuries:

Fullback Pat Norton injured his knee but returned to play in the scrimmage.

Linebacker Patrick Pierre-Louis injured his shoulder in the scrimmage. His status is unknown.

Rod Leisle did not participate in the scrimmage.


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