UCLA: Aaron Hester
They beamed with wide smiles as the underclassmen thanked the seniors for a job well done by parading them off the field toward the locker room.
For much of the past decade, the tradition was carried on as more of an honorary tribute to players who had endured four or five tough years doing the daily grind of football and school. This year, however, there was a little more spring in the step of those carrying their teammates and a little more pride in the smiles.
This senior class is going out on a higher note than just about any other in 12 years. UCLA (9-4) plays Baylor (7-5) on Thursday night in the Holiday Bowl in San Diego as a program pointed toward success. The departing seniors deserve much of the credit after persevering through a roller-coaster past four years before finally pushing the program to the brink of something special.
This was arguably UCLA’s most successful season since the 1998 Rose Bowl championship team. Only the 10-win 2005 season would come close, but that year did not include a victory over USC and this year did, which automatically vaults it up a couple of notches on the prestige scale in Westwood.
So, after fighting for respect and struggling for three or four years to get the UCLA program back on track after a long stay in the clutches of mediocrity, this year’s senior class will go out confident that they did a little extra something to deserve the shoulder-ride sendoff.
“This is what I came to UCLA to do,” said running back Johnathan Franklin, who will leave as UCLA’s all-time leading rusher and single-season rushing record holder. “Turn this program around and take it to a place that it will be remembered.”
The program clearly needed turning around. Since last winning the conference title in 1998, UCLA had gone 81-80 and hadn’t finished higher than third in the Pac-10/12. From 2008 to 2011, the first years of many of this year’s senior class, the Bruins were 21-30 and had a winning record only when they went 7-6 in 2009.
For the past few years, the players have talked about changing the culture and turning the program around, but never seemed to be able to do it. This year, the Bruins defeated USC to end a five-year drought against their crosstown rival and definitively won the Pac-12 South title.
“Of course there are doubts,” tight end Joseph Fauria said. “When you are 4-8, 6-7, whatever our records were, there is a little doubt. But you keep grinding, keep working and keep trying your best. In the end it worked out in the end and I’m glad it happened. There is no better feeling than being part of a program that isn’t doing so hot and changing it.”
The No. 17 Bruins are now firmly entrenched in the top 25 rankings and with new coach Jim Mora at the helm and with a strong core of young freshmen -- including quarterback Brett Hundley -- leading the way, they are now viewed as a legitimate team on the rise.
Those are things the outgoing seniors are sad to be leaving, but knowing the program is in a better place helps ease the sting of not being a part of what may be to come.
“I wish I had one more year,” safety Andrew Abbott said. “I’d give anything to play with these coaches for one more year. It is cool to be a senior and being a part of a program that’s changing. I tell people all the time that there is something special going on at UCLA. I tell recruits that they’d be a fool not to come here and enjoy what’s going on.”
The senior leaders played a big role in getting the team to this point. Players such as Franklin and Abbott as well as fellow captains Damien Holmes, David Allen and Jeff Locke and offensive lineman Jeff Baca each took command of their position groups and made sure everyone was buying in to the goals of the team and the methods needed to reach those goals.
Many of them had been recruited to UCLA by Karl Dorrell and his staff, played most of their careers during Rick Neuheisel’s tenure and will leave just as Mora came in and laid the groundwork for a new era in UCLA football.
Mora, in his first season, said he often sought out his seniors to help guide him this season as he transitioned from a 25-year career at the NFL level to his first season at the college level.
“I relied on them a lot,” Mora said. “I had a lot of questions for them about how they had done things, what needed to change, what didn’t need to change. They’ve proven themselves to be trustworthy guys so when they’ve given me advice -- which I’m not afraid to take -- it’s something that I can put stock in.”
The seniors, of course, had a lot of questions for Mora, too. Any time a new coaching staff comes in, it’s only natural to wonder if they want to put their own guys in and start rebuilding with the younger players.
Mora made it clear that he would play the players who deserved to play, regardless of class. Every position became an open competition and no seniors were frozen out.
“That was great because sometimes when you hear you have a new staff, you question are they just going to go to the young guys or are they going to forget about the seniors,” Franklin said. “It’s such a blessing that Coach Mora was behind us and he wanted us to be a part of this and he gave us the opportunity to lead this team.”
The seniors have one last chance to lead it. If the Bruins can cap their turnaround season with a victory against Baylor, it would give them a school-record-tying 10 wins. It would not only punctuate the successful season, but validate it and provide a springboard into next season.
A loss would mean three consecutive losses to end the season and fuel offseason questions about whether or not UCLA has really gotten over the hump.
“If we win this game, the talk for next year will be UCLA is back,” Abbott said. “If we lose, it’s going to be ‘Oh, they have this to work on and that to work on, they might be good, they might be third in the Pac-12.' We want to be projected first. As seniors we want to leave this on a good note and make sure the younger guys don’t have to deal with that in the offseason.”
Nobody is claiming that UCLA is now suddenly a national power. Back-to-back losses to Stanford this season show that the Bruins are still a notch below the national elite, but nine wins, including victories over Nebraska, USC and Arizona show that the program is at least headed in the right direction as the current senior class takes the field for one last game.
“This is just the start,” cornerback Aaron Hester said. “This program has so much potential and next year and the years that come are really going to show the new culture and how Coach Mora really gets down.”
With the win, the Bruins (9-2, 6-2) will play in the Pac-12 Championship Game for the second year in a row with a berth in the Rose Bowl on the line. UCLA has not played in the Rose Bowl Game since 1999.
Here's how the Bruins graded out after their biggest win in the Jim Mora era:
Brett Hundley completed 22 of 30 passes for 234 yards and one touchdown and rushed for two touchdowns. He began the game with 10 consecutive completions and showcased how much confidence he had and that the team had in him when he hit Shaquelle Evans for a 21-yard strike on fourth-and-14 at the USC 30-yard line in the first quarter. Evans finished with eight receptions and 114 yards as UCLA shredded USC's pass defense.
Johnathan Franklin had 171 yards rushing on 29 carries and two touchdowns as UCLA's passing game set up the Bruins' running attack. Franklin put the finishing touches on UCLA's win with a 29-yard touchdown run that gave UCLA a 38-28 lead with 4:02 left. The Bruins finished with 172 rushing yards and four rushing touchdowns, with Hundley showing his scrambling ability by eluding USC's pass rush and scrambling for a couple of first downs.
The talk heading into the game was that UCLA's secondary was no match for USC's potent passing attack. UCLA had made strides this season, but Matt Barkley was going to carve up the Bruins by playing catch with Marqise Lee and Robert Woods. Nothing could be further from the truth. UCLA cornerback Aaron Hester picked off Barkley on the first play of the game and UCLA linebacker Eric Kendricks intercepted Barkley in the fourth quarter, while UCLA's pass rush pressured Barkley into poor decisions all day.
The one player on USC's team who had a game above his season average was Curtis McNeal, who finished with 161 yards on 21 carries. With 33 of those yards coming on a run in the first quarter, UCLA was more than fine with that output. As a team, USC finished with 172 yards, and Silas Redd had only three carries for eight yards.
UCLA put the exclamation point on the win when Sheldon Price blocked a Andre Heidari field goal attempt in the fourth quarter. Earlier in the game, UCLA blocked a USC punt that led to a touchdown. In addition to pressuring every field goal try and punt, it neutralized Lee and Woods in the return game. The tandem combined for only 29 yards on four returns.
Whenever a new coach, and certainly one with little college football experience, takes over a major program, there will be plenty of questions. In his first year at UCLA, Jim Mora has answered most questions and proved he is the right person to finish what Rick Neuheisel promised but couldn't quite deliver -- ending the football monopoly in Los Angeles.
The winner of Saturday's 12 p.m. PT game at the Rose Bowl will secure the Pac-12 South title and earn a trip to the conference championship to compete for a bid to another game at the Rose Bowl.
Here are 10 things to watch in the winner-take-all matchup:
1. Mora vs. Kiffin. Long-term, the most important takeaway from this game will be who takes the upper hand between the two coaches who seem destined for a nice rivalry. Jim Mora and Lane Kiffin have the perfect mix of similarities and differences to make things interesting -- coaching bloodlines, NFL failures and recruiting successes, plus their opposite personalities. Mora is engaging and exciting as a speaker; Kiffin is, at his best, mildly entertaining. But who's a better coach? Perhaps we'll find out on Saturday.
2. More Marqise Lee. Lee hasn't lost any of his luster over the past couple of weeks, as he continues to be probably the second-hottest player in the country, behind only Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M. The whole defense thing from last week didn't work out, and Lee said he won't be playing there this week, but even so, he should be able to exploit a weak UCLA secondary. Lee is just 14 catches, 86 yards and four touchdowns away from breaking the Pac-12 single-season marks in all three categories.
3. Strength vs. weakness. If this isn't a recipe for abject disaster, what is? UCLA's biggest weakness is its secondary, and specifically, at corner. USC's biggest strength is its receivers, the top pass-catching duo in the nation. If the Bruins single-cover Lee with Sheldon Price or Aaron Hester at any point, they'll essentially be inviting the Trojans to score a touchdown. If they double- or triple-cover him, they'll be inviting Kiffin to re-explore throwing the ball to Robert Woods, which has never worked out too poorly for USC.
4. Hundley and Franklin. USC has Lee and Matt Barkley. UCLA has Brett Hundley and Johnathan Franklin, and the Bruins' duo isn't far off in terms of overall excitement and ability to explode for dynamic plays. It'll be particularly interesting to see how the Trojans try to stop Franklin, who has reinvented himself this season as an outside runner after running mostly between the tackles in the old Bruins scheme. As for Hundley, he's a dual-threat quarterback who has been more effective as a passer than a runner, and he makes his living passing short to backs and tight ends. In fact, only one of the Bruins' top four receivers is an actual wide receiver, and only four of Hundley's 24 touchdown passes have gone to an actual receiver, not counting newly healthy running back/receiver Damien Thigpen.
5. The offensive lines. No, they won't be battling directly against one another, but the Trojans' and Bruins' lines will collectively determine a lot of what happens at the Rose Bowl. UCLA's offensive line is particularly young and hasn't kept Hundley off the ground, but the Trojans' linemen probably would've been on the hook for more sacks if Kiffin didn't call so many three-step drops because of them. Who will step up to the occasion? If there's an indicator, maybe it's that USC starts a fifth-year senior at center in Khaled Holmes, and UCLA starts a redshirt freshman, Jake Brendel.
On the first play of the game from scrimmage, Hundley took off and fell awkwardly as he got caught in between a dive and a slide after a one-yard gain. The next play, he threw a quick pass out of bounds and then called an unusual timeout.
It turned out he tweaked his knee and needed a minute to recover.
"It just didn't feel right for a second," Hundley said. "It just felt weird at the moment so I was like, oh, snap, so I called a timeout to get back into it. It felt really fine after that. They just checked it out and I did a couple of drop backs and a couple of plants and they threw me back in there."
Hundley went on to match his career high with 68 yards rushing, including three runs of 12 or more yards. He had 32 yards in four carries during a 14-play, 66-yard scoring drove in the third quarter that put UCLA up, 21-7.
"He made a major step in my mind in terms of demonstrating his mobility as a quarterback," coach Jim Mora said. "Those of us that have been at practice have seen it a lot, but he just tucked it and ran when he saw an opportunity to do that."
Hundley has been touted as a dual-threat quarterback since his arrival and raised the expectations sky high when he took his first collegiate snap and ran 72 yards for a touchdown in the season opener against Rice.
He has dealt with a sore ankle since Week 2 against Nebraska and had only 51 yards in 44 carries the last four games before breaking out against Utah.
"They did a good job out there and covered our receivers," Hundley said. "If nothing is there, I'm just going to take off running and using the legs. When things are there, I'm going to take off and if the throws are there, I'm going to throw the ball. It felt really comfortable though."
His ability to run certainly won't feel comfortable for opposing defensive coordinators, though.
"I know how tough it is when you have to defend a quarterback that is effective throwing the ball and running it himself," Mora said. "We want to encourage him to do that when it's appropriate, but it's got to be the right time. (Saturday) I think he did it at the right times."
Utah, which scored on a fourth-and-goal pass with 3:18 to play, had only 75 yards rushing as a team and had no runs longer than nine yards. Utah's other score came when the Utes recovered a muffed punt in the end zone. UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley passed for 183 yards and a touchdown and rushed for 68 yards and a touchdown.
A quick recap:
It was over when: Linebacker Eric Kendricks stopped Utah quarterback Travis Johnson for a three-yard gain on fourth and eight from the UCLA 35-yard line with 11:51 to go in the third quarter. The Bruins took over on downs and marched 66 yards in 14 plays, using 5:47 of clock in a drive capped by a Johnathan Franklin's three-yard touchdown run that gave UCLA a 21-7 lead. It was too much to overcome for a Utah offense that had only 191 total yards at the time and hadn't been inside the UCLA 30.
Game ball goes to: Andrew Abbott had an interception that ended Utah's first drive and set the defensive tone for the game. He also made a key tackle on a fourth-and-eight play in the first half and then had a tackle for a five-yard loss on a third-and-eight.
Key stat: UCLA had only seven penalties for 43 yards. The Bruins entered this week leading the nation in penalties (53) and yards penalized (519). Last week, the Bruins has 12 penalties for 99 yards, and many were of the drive-killing/drive-extending variety. Against Utah, only a delay-of-game penalty on fourth down noticeably affected a UCLA drive and only one of the penalties came against the Bruins' defense -- none against cornerbacks Aaron Hester and Sheldon Price, who had been racking them up the last few weeks.
What it means: The Bruins (5-2, 2-2 Pac-12) are back on track after a blowout loss to California last week and will go into their bye week able to breathe a sigh of relief. It would have been a long two weeks if UCLA had taken a two-game losing streak into the off week, especially knowing that the toughest games of the season are still to come with Arizona State, Arizona, USC and Stanford coming in the next five games.
What went wrong? How can it be fixed? Does there need to be a change in personnel?
The answers to the first two are generally found by a review of the game film. It's the third one that requires a little deeper thought.
The general consensus is that UCLA's biggest breakdowns came on the offensive line and in the secondary, and coach Jim Mora said those are the two most difficult positions in which to make personnel changes.
"Positions that depend on real cohesiveness like the offensive line or the secondary is pretty difficult," Mora said. "Probably the offensive line is the most difficult. The other positions you can kind of plug guys in and get through it. Offensive line is tough."
For that reason, the Bruins will stick with their offensive line for Saturday's game against Utah, even though the Bruins gave up five sacks and left tackle Torian White was pulled during the game against Cal.
The line includes three freshmen and a sophomore and offensive line coach Adrian Klemm says he wants to keep his young line intact to see if it can continue to develop. He said he won't make any rash decisions based on one poor showing.
"These guys are who we are rolling with," Klemm said. "This is it. We let them know that no one is going to save you. We're one deep. You better get it right or you are going to embarrass yourself."
The fact that the Bruins have very few other linemen with any experience is clearly a factor because replacing the current linemen with inexperienced players would be akin to starting over.
Greg Capella, one of the few reserves who has experience, has missed the last three games because of a concussion. Alberto Cid and Brett Downey also have experience, but the coaching staff said it's too early to disrupt the developing chemistry.
The Bruins racked up 12 penalties for 99 yards during their 43-17 loss at California on Saturday and now lead the nation in both number of penalties (53) and yards penalized (519).
UCLA has lingered near the tops of those lists for most of the season, but before Saturday it hadn't really been an issue because the Bruins were winning in spite of them. Against Oregon State, UCLA's only other loss, the Bruins had season lows of seven penalties and 56 yard penalized.
But Saturday, penalties became an issue on both sides of the ball, helping to extend California drives and serving to stop UCLA drives on offense. Coach Jim Mora said he knew a reduction in penalties would be needed at Cal and so it was more disappointing that the numbers stayed high.
"It wasn't really a concern to me until (Saturday) night," Mora said. "The reason it became a concern was because we put an emphasis on it."
The Bruins committed two personal fouls, a facemask, an illegal block and three defensive offsides Saturday, and several were critical.
In the third quarter, Cassius Marsh jumped offsides on a third-and-2 play and gave Cal a first down. A sack on the next play set up a second-and-21, but a facemask by Aaron Hester gave Cal another first down. Two plays later, Zach Maynard hit Keenan Allen for a 34-yard touchdown that gave the Golden Bears a 29-14 lead.
With about nine minutes left to play and UCLA trailing 29-17, quarterback Brett Hundley completed a pass to Johnathan Franklin to the California 8-yard line, but a holding call wiped it out. Instead of knocking on the door for a touchdown that would have gotten the Bruins to within five points, they faced a second-and-16.
Two plays later, Cal defensive back Michael Lowe intercepted a Hundley pass and returned it 57 yards to set up the game-sealing score. But it wasn't the timing of the penalties that had Mora as concerned as the nature of them, he said.
"If we have a hold or a facemask, first of all, are we up against a guy that maybe we're overmatched?," Mora said. "If that's not the case then are we not doing things technique-wise to get ourselves in position to avoid the penalty?
"I felt like some of the penalties that we had ... we just weren't using the appropriate technique that we should use to get ourselves in position to not have to hold and not have to grab a facemask or not have to reach out and trip somebody or something like that."
The solution? Better coaching.
"It's just something we've got to continue to stress and we will continue to stress," Mora said.
LOS ANGELES -- Case Keenum may be gone, but the aerial attack employed by the Houston Cougars remains.
The Cougars and new quarterback David Piland have picked up right where Keenum, the NCAA's all-time passing leader, left off. Piland ranks No. 2 in the nation with 791 yards passing and Houston is No. 4 in the nation in passing offense with 395.5 yards per game.
They run a high-tempo version of the spread, similar to the one UCLA is running, and got off a mind-boggling 115 plays last week in a 56-49 loss to Louisiana Tech. It's a style that is certain to keep the UCLA defense on its toes.
"They are up-tempo and do a tremendous job of protection and they get the ball out quickly so it's hard to get pressure on them," UCLA coach Jim Mora said. "That means our coverage has to be good downfield."
Last year, the UCLA secondary couldn't quite keep up. Keenum completed 30 of 40 passes for 310 yards and Houston racked up 469 yards of offense in a 38-34 victory over the Bruins. Safety Dalton Hilliard said the key this year is to be ready on every play.
"Get lined up because they are coming," Hilliard said. "We have to have the mindset that we are going to be ready every play and ready to play fast."
Because of Houston's high tempo, the UCLA secondary got caught out of position and the players had a difficult time making on-field adjustments before the snap. A few tweaks at halftime helped and Houston scored only one second-half touchdown in that game, but, by then it was too late.
"Communication is key," cornerback Aaron Hester said. "I think last year we weren't on the same page a lot in the first half and that's when they put up all their points. In the second half we slowed them down so now it's just all about starting fast and staying fast."
That hasn't been easy for the Bruins so far this season. In the first two games, UCLA has given up 48 points in the first half and only six in the second half. While it's nice to know that the halftime adjustments are paying off, the Bruins would like to play a solid defensive game from the get-go. Against an offense like Houston's, the Bruins have a chance to prove they can do just that.
"We want to be a full 60-minute defense," Hilliard said. "We see this as a great opportunity to show what we can do against such a high-powered offense."
Helping matters this year is the fact that the Bruins have been going against their own offense for the last two months. UCLA keeps the offensive pace high during practice, which is quite a change from last year when the Bruins ran a more methodical pistol attack.
"We see speed all day, every day, in practice so I feel like we’ll be much better prepared for the game, Hester said. "Essentially, it’s kind of the same thing as far as concepts and tempo. It's pretty familiar to us now so we won't be overwhelmed by it."
"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."
LOS ANGELES -- With UCLA's training camp coming to a close and the Bruins moving on to game preparation for the Aug. 30 season opener at Rice, a battle within the battle will also quiet down a bit.
Receiver Jerry Johnson and cornerback Aaron Hester have been going at each other in a competitive and entertaining one-on-one rivalry almost since the beginning of spring practice.
The two have rarely lined up against anyone else during drills at camp and often get matched up during team periods. They talk trash and the play gets physical as each has tried to get the better of the other. Sometimes Johnson comes out on top and other times Hester makes the play.
Now that the focus will shift to other opponents, they won't line up against each other quite as much, but they hope the effects of the rivalry will linger into the season.
"It’s helping me because he’s getting better," Hester said. "And when he gets better, I get better and when I get better, he gets better. We’re just elevating our games to the maximum."
Off the field, the two consider each another close friends. Both redshirt seniors, they came to UCLA together and have been through all of the ups and downs of the last four seasons. But on the field, things get pretty competitive.
"We’ve talked all kinds of mess with each other," Johnson said. "At one point, I just forgot we were friends for a quick split second. But that’s the way it’s supposed to be on the field. Out there, you’re my enemy. I don’t care if you are on my team or not, I’m trying to be beat the guy across from me. Off the field, we’re close friends. We talk about everything."
Coach Jim Mora likes to see that kind of competitiveness on the field. At 6 feet 3, 211 pounds, Johnson is UCLA's biggest and most physical outside receiver. After three injury-plagued seasons, he's poised for a breakout year. And Hester, at 6-1, 207, is among the few cornerbacks in the Pac-12 who can physically match up with Johnson. He's also a three-year starter.
LOS ANGELES--Instead of leaving some players in San Bernardino a'la the Junction Boys, UCLA came back from their two-week training camp with one extra body.
Jacob Seydel, an offensive lineman transfer from Riverside College, was with the Bruins during practice Saturday when the Bruins returned from Spaulding Field after spending the first two weeks of camp at Cal State San Bernardino.
Seydel, a 6-6, 285 pound sophomore, will be eligible to play this season. He was dressed only in shorts as he goes through the mandatory NCAA acclimatization period, but will compete for playing time during the remainder of camp.
He helps add some depth to an offensive line that was hit hard by injuries during the first two weeks of camp. Jeff Baca and Greg Capella, projected starters, and Alberto Cid, a key reserve, were held out of practice again on Saturday and there is no word on a return date for them. Chris Ward recently took a medical retirement.
"One of the things we talked about all camp is the need to build depth on our offensive line and this was an opportunity to do that so we took advantage of it," coach Jim Mora said. "We have scholarships available and he’s a guy that’s worthy."
Mora said Seydel would compete mostly at guard but may also get some time at tackle.
"He’s athletic, he’s got good size," Mora said. "He’s got good hands, good feet, good toughness. He’s a smart kid."
We went through the offense first, looking at quarterbacks, offensive line, receivers and running backs. Special teams came next and now we begin our breakdown of the defense with the defensive backs.
DEPTH CHART AT THE END OF SPRING PRACTICE:
Sheldon Price (6-2, 180, Sr.)
Anthony Jefferson (6-1, 184, So.)
Erick Zumwalt (5-10, 170, Fr.)
Andrew Abbott (5-8, 180, Sr.)
Dalton Hilliard (5-11, 198, Sr.)
Dylan Price (5-10, 206, So.)
Tevin McDonald (5-11, 185, So.)
Stan McKay (6-1, 205, Jr.)
Anthony Thompson (6-1, 208, Fr.)
Aaron Hester (6-1, 207, Sr.)
Brandon Sermons (6-0, 195, Jr.)
Marcus Rios (6-0, 180, Fr.)
PROJECTED OPENING-DAY DEPTH CHART:
Sheldon Price (6-2, 180, Sr.)
Anthony Jefferson (6-1, 184, So.)
Marcus Rios (6-0, 180, Fr.)
Erick Zumwalt (5-10, 170, Fr.)
Dalton Hilliard (5-11, 198, Sr.)
Andrew Abbott (5-8, 180, Sr.)
Taylor Lagace (6-1, 200, Fr.)
Dylan Price (5-10, 206, So.)
Tevin McDonald (5-11, 185, So.)
Stan McKay (6-1, 205, Jr.)
Kenny Orjioke (6-4, 222, Fr.)
Aaron Hester (6-1, 207, Sr.)
Ishmael Adams (5-8, 186, Fr.)
Brandon Sermons (6-0, 195, Jr.)
Randall Goforth (5-10, 173, Fr.)
Justin Combs (5-7, 162, Fr.)
Tony Dye, safety, team leader in tackles in 2010. Graduated.
Alex Mascarenas, safety, key reserve in 2011. Medical retirement.
Dietrich Riley, safety, five-game starter in 2011. Injured.
Mike Johnson, the interim coach, was the quarterbacks coach when Mora was head coach of the Atlanta Falcons, but Mora fired Johnson after the two worked together for two years. Johnson said his ties to Mora will have little bearing on their future at UCLA.
"I don’t think any past relationship has any bearings on what we do going forward," Johnson said.
Other than Johnson, Mora is kind of a mystery man to most of the staff and players.
"I know he was coach of the Falcons and Seahawks," quarterback Kevin Prince said. "And I know his dad from the commercial."
Mora's father, Jim E. Mora, is a key part of a current Coors Light ad campaign featuring former NFL coaches.
The younger Mora is expected to arrive on campus Monday and will meet with members of the coaching staff, but as of Saturday he hadn't determined when he would meet with the team or assume his coaching duties.
He hinted he would stay relatively hands off until after UCLA plays Illinois Dec. 31 in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl.
"We want to make sure the players and coaches that worked so hard to win the Pac-12 South and to earn this bowl bid can enjoy that experience," Mora said Saturday. "We want to make sure that the seniors who have spent their careers dedicated to the UCLA football program get the opportunity to go out there free of distraction and play their hearts out one more time for their university."
In the meantime, the players are getting antsy to meet the man who will lead them forward.
There is a lot riding on this game for UCLA with Pac-12 title game implications, trying to show the gap between the Bruins and Trojans has closed and UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel possibly coaching for his job. Add in the traditional bragging rights associated with the crosstown rivalry and UCLA is going to have no shortage of emotion going into the game. The question is, can they channel that emotion into good play. The Bruins are still a young team learning how to play on the big stage and didn't handle it very well earlier this season when they played a big-stakes game on the national stage at Arizona. The game will get out of control early if the Bruins again get overwhelmed by the moment.
2. PRO-STYLE QUARTERBACK
Having to face one of the nation's top quarterbacks is nothing new for the Bruins with USC's Matt Barkley the sixth quarterback among the top-20 in passing yards UCLA has faced this season. UCLA has fared pretty well against the pass considering the competition, giving up only 216.5 yards per game through the air. Houston's Case Keenum, the national leader in passing yards, is the only quarterback with a 300-yard game against the Bruins. Barkley, No. 15 in the nation with 3,105 yards passing, has five 300-yards games this season. What will make Barkley isn't much of a threat to run, but he's difficult to defend because he generally gets time. USC has allowed only seven sacks this season, which is third fewest in the nation. The Bruins have only 12 sacks, which is No. 111 in the nation.
3. DEEP COVER
UCLA's secondary will be put to the test against USC's prolific receiver tandem of Robert Woods and Marqise Lee. UCLA has had troubles against elite-level receivers at times this season, giving up 100-yard games against four different receivers this season. Pass interference penalties have also cropped up more than the Bruins would like. Woods averages 107 yards receiving per game and Lee averages 83 and is coming off of a 187-yard game last week at Oregon so the pressure will be on cornerbacks Aaron Hester, Sheldon Price and Andrew Abbott to stick to those guys.
4. MINIMIZE MISTAKES
Penalties and turnovers have been troublesome for UCLA in recent weeks and the Bruins can ill-afford to have any of those types of momentum-killing mistakes this week. UCLA has been penalized 21 times for 193 yards the last two weeks and ranks among the bottom 25 in the nation in penalties and penalty yards per game and only 11 teams in the nation have fumbled more than UCLA's 13. Last year against USC, Johnathan Franklin fumbledat the USC 32 late in the first half of a 7-7 game and USC's Malcolm Smith returned it 68 yards for a touchdown and a 14-7 lead. Later, with the score still 14-7, Richard Brehaut fumbled at the USC 37 yard line killing an opportunity for UCLA to tie the score. The Bruins never recovered in a 28-14 loss.
5. BROTHERLY LOVE
Two sets of brothers will square off on opposite sidelines for the Bruins and the Trojans with UCLA safety Tevin McDonald and running back Malcolm Jones trying to get the best of their older brothers, USC safeties T.J. McDonald and Marshall Jones. The McDonald brothers are starters, but the Jones brothers play on opposite sides of the ball and have the potential to clash on the field. It adds a unique element to the rivalry that normally divides only a city, but the past two years has divided at least two families and will make the holiday season less cheerful for one side of the dinner table. It's the second week in a row a UCLA game has become a family affair. Last week, UCLA receiver Taylor Embree got the best of his father, Colorado coach Jon Embree.
The unit has already been humbled by Houston's Case Keenum this season. They've been overwhelmed by Stanford's Andrew Luck, and completely exposed by Arizona's Nick Foles. The Bruins' secondary now gets a fourth crack at an elite quarterback, USC's Matt Barkley, who in recent weeks has played himself into the Heisman Trophy chatter and might be playing in his final collegiate game Saturday at the Coliseum.
And, as far as senior safety Tony Dye can tell, Barkley has changed drastically from last season and the year before that.
"He's much more mature," Dye said. "He's pretty amazing now on his progressions. He'll go from the first to the third receiver and still make a great throw. In years past he hadn't done that and would lock on to one guy. He was still a good quarterback so he could fit things in there, but now he's actually reading his defenses. That's where his progress has been."
UCLA hasn't fared too well in past road games against the premier quarterbacks, allowing 310 yards to Keenum, 240 to Luck and 319 to Foles. Barkley is coming off a 323-yard, four-touchdown performance against Oregon.
Barkley threw for 198 yards against the Bruins last season (though he was banged up) and 206 as a freshman in 2009 (though 48 of those yards came on the last-minute touchdown heave).
"He's a better decision maker now," junior cornerback Aaron Hester said of USC's signal caller. "It's a big difference from what I saw last year on tape when I was studying him. He's made tremendous strides. I've seen the top two quarterbacks in the country this year -- Keenum and Luck -- and he's neck and neck with both of those guys."