- Peter Yoon, ESPNLosAngeles.com
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The three missed extra-point attempts in the UCLA Bruins' season opening 49-24 victory over Rice were a product of poor technique on the front line, coach Jim Mora said Friday after reviewing the film, and he plans on correcting those mistakes this week in practice.
"We recognized some technique errors that we’ll get fixed this week," Mora said. "It was primarily up front. It’s little things, correctable things, but things that need to get corrected now. Pad level, foot placement. Really minor things that can turn into huge, huge issues if you don’t get them corrected."
Rice's Cameron Nwosu set an NCAA record with three blocks on extra-point tries as the Rice front line created a surge and Nwosu plunged through the middle each time. He blocked UCLA's first two attempts during a two-minute span of the first quarter and then got another near the end of the first half.
UCLA went for two on its two second-half touchdowns and Mora said he made sure to talk with kicker Ka'imi Fairbairn, a true freshman making his college football debut against Rice, about the reason he was going for two. It was because Rice nearly returned one of the blocks for a two-point score.
"I didn’t want him to think it was a product of him in his first year as a kicker," Mora said. "He’s going to be an outstanding player. He’s a really great kid. But I didn’t want to give them a chance to put points on the board on a play where we’re supposed to be putting points on the board."
Fairbairn wasn't too fazed by the blocks, Mora said. In between the first two blocks and the third, Fairbairn made two extra points and a 27-yard field goal, so his confidence was fine, Mora said.
"There were a couple that he could have gotten up quicker, but that wasn’t the primary reason that we got those kicks blocked," Mora said. "I think he’s OK, he’s a tough young man, he’s pretty resilient. During the game he was OK. I think it was good for him the he got to get out there and make a field goal, make a couple of extra points. He responded well on sideline. He was upbeat."
Strong debut for line: For much of training camp and the days leading into the Rice game, the offensive line was the biggest concern for UCLA, but the starting five exceeded expectations especially three of them were making their college debut.
Mora and the offensive staff made a bold choice to start true freshman Simon Goines at right tackle and redshirt freshman Torian White at right tackle along with redshirt freshman Jake Brendel at center. Xavier Su'a-Filo and Jeff Baca, the Bruins' top two linemen, played the guards.
That line opened holes that sprung running back Johnathan Franklin for 214 yards rushing as the Bruins piled up 343 yards on the ground and had three runs of 72 yards or longer.
"Considering the fact that they haven’t played a whole lot together, they worked as a cohesive unit most of the night," Mora said. "Their pass protection was solid, although we weren’t threatened by a lot of blitzes. It was mostly a four-man rush and I think they did a good job of putting a head on a hat in the run game."
Still, Mora says he isn't going to get too excited just yet. Although he says he thinks the line as currently configured could turn out to be very good, it still needs to keep improving.
"It’s a credit to our offensive staff and our players who worked hard together to get this done, but let’s temper it, it’s one game," Mora said. "I think that for their first game out together they did a good job. They’ll have a real stiff test this week against Nebraska, but if we can keep them together and keep them healthy and keep improving, I think it could be a good offensive line."
Running interference: Cornerback Aaron Hester is no stranger to pass interference penalties having drawn his share over the past two seasons. And like most cornerbacks, he rarely thinks he deserves the call.
He might have a case after drawing a pass interference call Thursday.
Replays showed that although there was some contact between Hester and the Rice receiver, the receiver actually stumbled a bit running his route and that's how the contact occurred. It could be a case that Hester's history of drawing those flags worked against him, but Mora said he wants Hester to keep playing the way he plays.
"From a technique standpoint and the way he played that, he played it very, very well," Mora said. "Just the official saw it differently that I did. That’s their prerogative and we just live by what they say."
Injury update: Mora said the team emerged for the opener injury-free.
"We came out of that game healthy which was another real positive," he said. "You have your nicks, but nothing that’s going to keep anyone out of practice."