UCLA survived a pretty close shootout with Utah. What were the keys to victory for the Bruins? Where do they still have to improve?
It certainly doesn't hurt your chances of winning when your secondary gets six interceptions. But I'd say it was more of an all-around defensive effort that clinched the game against Utah, especially in the second half. Linebacker Anthony Barr had two sacks, and Utah's offense was pretty much stymied for the rest of the game. Quarterback Brett Hundley also had a clutch final drive, despite battling blurry vision, and capped it with a huge 36-yard touchdown. His performance, although a bit uneven, was outstanding, per usual.
As far as improvement goes, the offensive line took a bit of a step back against Utah, mostly because it lost its starting left tackle, Torian White, for the rest of the season with a broken ankle. The line will probably have some growing pains awaiting it with two true freshmen starting on the right side, and with games coming up against Oregon and Stanford, it could be tough sledding up front.
UCLA has sustained some pretty critical injuries to some important players. How do you see the Bruins adapting and adjusting to these issues?
Torian White's broken ankle definitely hurts the offense in a pretty significant way. White was quickly becoming one of the line's most consistent players, and now he'll be replaced on the left by Simon Goines, who's better suited for the right side, while Caleb Benenoch, a true freshman, slides in on the right. Utah took advantage of that inexperienced right side by blitzing like crazy last week, and I expect we'll see other teams do the same. Benenoch and Alex Redmond are both good players, but mistakes will happen. And with big games coming up, they might happen at the wrong time.
The other injuries -- to running back Jordon James and defensive end Ellis McCarthy -- aren't that serious. Plus, given the depth at both spots, UCLA might not even miss a step on Saturday.
If you were Jim Mora, what are the biggest holes on this Bruins squad? What type of players do they have to get on the recruiting trail?
I think they've definitely been on the right track on the recruiting trail, but right now UCLA could definitely use a talent upgrade in the secondary and at running back, even though the latter probably isn't a dire need, given how easy it is to plug a running back into Noel Mazzone's offense and get a 1,000-yard rusher no matter what. The more playmakers the better on offense, and if there's any player that the Bruins' offense could use right away from the 2014 class, it's five-star running back Joe Mixon. With him and quarterback Brett Hundley in the same backfield, UCLA's offense would be ridiculously explosive.
UCLA could always use more offensive and defensive linemen and a quarterback would be nice, too, but this isn't really a team that's hurting at any specific position. Mora and his staff have done pretty well since getting on the recruiting trail.
Based on what you've seen of the Bruins and what you've seen of the Pac-12 North, would you place UCLA above any of those squads or put them fourth? Why?
Well, as far as their own division, the Pac-12 South, goes, I'd definitely put UCLA at the top. In the other division, I'd say UCLA would probably still fall behind Oregon and Stanford, but I think the gap between UCLA and Stanford is a bit narrower than people might think. The same could be said about the gap between Washington and UCLA though; the Huskies could come into the Rose Bowl and beat UCLA in November, and I wouldn't be all that surprised.
I think UCLA's offense, especially when its offensive line is communicating and Brett Hundley is doing his thing, is second only to Oregon in the Pac-12 in general explosiveness. They can run with Oregon, too, but get the unlucky draw of having to play the Ducks in Eugene. We should be able to tell a lot about the hierarchy in that group when UCLA heads to Stanford next week. If Brett Hundley is on his game and the defense is playing like it did in the second half against Utah, then UCLA could make a push to be the second-best team in the Pac-12. But I still think Oregon has a leg up.
UCLA has one of their easiest games of the year against Cal. Is there any way the Bruins might be surprised at home in the Rose Bowl?
You know, UCLA probably thought the same thing last year when it came to Berkeley to play Cal, and the Bruins were blown out of the water, 43-17. I don't think that'll happen again this year -- Jim Mora made it pretty clear this team has learned its lesson -- but Cal's passing attack could break a few big plays and make this one a game.
That being said, UCLA should be able to overpower Cal and its freshman quarterback, and if the Bruins force turnovers early, this one could get ugly.