Great stuff here in our Five Questions, Five Answers feature from UCLA beat writer Chris Foster of the Los Angeles Times. Many thanks to Chris. You can find him online at latimes.com and on Twitter @cfosterlatimes.
1. UCLA had a nice turnaround under Jim Mora last season. The Bruins are now up to No. 13 now in the AP poll. What impact has Mora had, and is there belief in and around the program that this success can be sustained?
Mora has completely changed the culture around UCLA. Players are being held accountable. Players said that the first day he met with the team, it was clear he was in charge. The “over the wall” days, where players ditched a practice, ended was a result. But that doesn’t just mean he rides rough-shod over them. He has been as much a guidance counselor. He moved practices to 7 a.m., which gets players to bed earlier and gets them out of bed so they get to class. He hired a strength coach to work only with football. UCLA fans, a segment of which has always been quick to turn on the team, are on board. The administration has been supporting him. UCLA, for so long has been a “we can’t do that here,” place. The practice field has been upgraded, and they are raising money for a football house. Assistant coach pay has been boosted. For it to be sustained, those things have to be continue, or else they risk losing Mora.
2. Brett Hundley struggled in the back-to-back losses to Stanford and Oregon, as did the rest of the UCLA offense. How has he responded since?
The first two series against Arizona, he looked like the future first-round NFL pick everyone talks about. He threw a 66-yard touchdown pass on the first. He put together an efficient drive on the second, ending it with a 15-yard run that would have been the highlight of the night had Myles Jack not played offense. But he also fell into some old habits. He missed a couple receivers and made a couple bad decisions. Overall, it was his best game since Utah. Sometimes, we all forget he is only a sophomore. He still has to refine things in his game.
3. The offensive line, in particular, has been hit hard by injures, with three true freshman starting on the line against Oregon. How has that unit held up, and is there help on the way?
The line has looked good the past two weeks. The three freshmen still make mistakes, but the number of times UCLA attempted to throw deep was an indication that there is trust there. The run blocking has to improve. As for help, Simon Goines practiced some this week. He was the starting left tackle until injuring a knee against Stanford.
4. How surprising was it that that UCLA turned to Myles Jack as a running back against Arizona? And, the question of the week, how much more could we see of him in that role Friday night?
It wasn’t. During training camp, Mora talked about using Jack as a running back and kick returner. They didn’t want to rush into that, as he was a freshman. He has matured to the point where they felt comfortable with him doing both. There was also a need. The Bruins have several running backs who are dealing with injuries.
5. There’s a lot of buzz, and rightfully so, about Anthony Barr. How good has he been, and what are offenses doing — or trying to do — to keep him away from the quarterback?
Barr may be the best player in college football this season. His number aren’t great, as teams are steering clear of him. Mora claimed Arizona just tackled him. Certainly offenses are aware of Barr, and make sure that there is blocking support for the tackle on the left side.