UCLA: Eric Kendricks

#4Pac: Most impressive defensive player?

September, 17, 2014
9/17/14
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Your humble #4Pac welcomes you to another installment of what will be a regular feature on the Pac-12 blog. Here's how it works: We take one question or one topic, or maybe it's some other really cool format that we haven't even thought of yet, and all contribute our thoughts.

Have a suggestion for something we should address in a future #4Pac roundtable? Go ahead and send it to our mailbag.

Today, we're identifying the best defensive player through the first three weeks of the season.

[+] EnlargeDanny Shelton
Larry Placido/Icon SMIWashington nose tackle Danny Shelton is clearing up doubts over his production and consistency.
Ted Miller/@TedMillerRK: In the preseason, there was plenty of chatter about Washington NT Danny Shelton, mostly centered around if and when he'd be taken in the first round of the NFL draft this spring. The question with Shelton has never been talent or potential. It's been consistency and production. Was he just a big guy who gobbled up blockers, which is important for any interior lineman? Or was he something more, such as a guy who gobbled up blockers but also was a disruptive force -- as in unblockable? There's also the question of whether he'd take a few plays off here and there. Based on the early returns, let's just say the 339 pounder has NFL scouts and defensive coordinators salivating. Shelton not only leads the Pac-12 in sacks with six and tackles for a loss with 7.5, he also leads the Huskies' defense in tackles, period, with 27. Has a 3-4 NT ever led his team in tackles? We're going to say no without even fact-checking that assertion, at least not at the FBS level. It probably won't hold, but the mere fact that's where the numbers are after three games bodes well not only for the Huskies defense, it also figures to make Shelton a lot of money this spring when everyone wants to hand his name to Roger Goodell.

Kyle Bonagura/@BonaguraESPN: Is there a defensive player in the conference that can do more than Washington linebacker Shaq Thompson? Over his first two seasons, he proved to be one of the nation's best linebackers, but some still believe he would make for an even better safety. Against Illinois last week, Thompson scored on a 36-yard interception return and a 52-yard fumble return to become the first player in college football with multiple defensive touchdowns this year. The performance earned him Walter Camp national defensive player of the week honors and came after a 15-tackle game against Eastern Washington the week prior in which he recorded a sack a forced fumble. Thompson is the Huskies' only player to have recorded a sack, interception, pass breakup, and both forced and received a fumble. We're talking defense here, but it seems appropriate to point out he also has six carries for 82 yards, including a 57-yard touchdown, which stands as the Huskies' longest run of the year.

Kevin Gemmell/@Kevin_Gemmell: No defensive player in the Pac-12 has been more productive over the last three seasons than UCLA linebacker Eric Kendricks. And he's picked up where he left off last year and the year before that. Kendricks leads the Pac-12 with 37 tackles through three games, including a league-high 21 solo stops. He's averaging 12.3 stops per game -- a full tackle more than Arizona's Scooby Wright (11 per game) -- and more than two tackles per game over every other Pac-12 defender. If the name of the game is production, then Kendricks absolutely qualifies as the most impressive. And it's not just about making tackles, he also has an interception returned for a touchdown and he forced a fumble that led to a defensive score. Both of those happened on the road at Virginia, and as a result he was named the national defensive player of the week for Week 1. On a team loaded with talented playmakers -- some of whom get more buzz than Kendricks -- he's not only been the most complete and impressive player on the Bruins, but also the Pac-12. Excited to see what he does Sept. 25 with the trip to Arizona State against the Sun Devils and D.J. Foster, who leads the league with 170 rushing yards per game.

[+] EnlargeIfo Ekpre-Olomu
Scott Olmos/USA TODAY SportsOregon's Ifo Ekpre-Olomu isn't putting up big numbers because opposing QBs aren't throwing his way. His one interception this season tells all you need to know about his play-making skills.
Chantel Jennings/@ChantelJennings: Oregon cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu is going to have a pretty short highlight reel this season -- because he's that good. Opposing quarterbacks would rather learn what it feels like to be sacked by four members of Oregon's pass rush than to throw at Ekpre-Olomu. And so, through three games, the senior has only tallied 11 tackles and one interception. But my goodness, the one interception displayed everything you need to know about Ekpre-Olomu and his play-making abilities. He showed his awareness, change of direction, speed, jumping abilities, body control and athleticism in that one play. I can't think of another play in the Pac-12 this season in which all of those abilities were displayed so well. I'm expecting a handful more plays similar to this, maybe even something more impressive. But the most impressive part of his play -- and the part that speaks to why he is the best defensive player in the Pac-12 -- is the fact that we're not seeing a ton of him. Because QBs want nothing to do with No. 14.

Most important player: UCLA

June, 19, 2014
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All players are equal, but some players are more equal than others. That's the basis of our Most Important Players series.

First off, quarterbacks are excluded to make things more interesting. It goes without saying, for example, that Marcus Mariota is Oregon's most important player.

And most important doesn't necessarily have to be "best." An All-American's backup can be pretty darn good, too. USC’s Leonard Williams might be the best defensive lineman in the nation, but is he the Trojans' most important player, considering the talent and depth on their D-line?

Our most important guys are players who could swing a win total one way or the other, based on them living up to expectations. Or their absence.

[+] EnlargeEric Kendricks
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsUCLA linebacker Eric Kendricks led the Pac-12 in tackles in 2012 and finished third in 2013.
UCLA: LB Eric Kendricks

2013 production: Recorded 106 tackles, including four tackles for a loss and two sacks. He also had one interception, blocked a kick, forced a fumble and broke up a pair of passes.

Why Kendricks is important: Kendricks has been one of the most productive tacklers in the league the last two seasons, leading the conference in tackles in 2012 and coming in third in 2013. It’s just those same years, the Bruins happened to have a pretty good outside linebacker named Anthony Barr who sacked the spotlight away from Kendricks.

As fate would have it, the Bruins have another rising outside linebacker -- who also does a little bit of work on offense and is getting a lot of the attention in the linebacker corps. But those who know Bruins football know what Kendricks is capable of. He’s a veteran leader who quietly comes to work every day, turns in double-digit tackles, then comes back and does it again next week.

His numbers aren’t flashy in the sense that he doesn’t pile up the premium stats. And in a league dominated by talented outside linebackers who tally huge sack and tackle-for-loss numbers, Kendricks’ production in the middle often gets lost. But it’s Kendricks who allows those OLBs to flourish. Teams can’t double-team the outside because they have to account for Kendricks in the middle. If there is a play to be made, he'll make it. Likewise, they can’t double-team Kendricks because that leaves the outside open. It’s your classic pick-your-poison scenario when he’s on the field.

UCLA enters the 2014 season with a considerable amount of hype. While a lot of teams experienced huge talent drains on defense, the Bruins are fairly well stacked. And as they look for their third South crown in four years, Kendricks will continue to play a crucial role in that success.

Other Most Important Players:

Kendricks ready to lead UCLA defense

June, 12, 2014
6/12/14
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Things are good for UCLA this summer. For one, in advance of preseason practices, the Bruins can recline by the pool and reflect on having defeated USC in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1997-98. That span, by the way, is also the last time preseason expectations were this high.

As in Pac-12 and national championships high.

The reclamation project that Jim Mora has wrought, one that had Texas eyeballing him in the winter before he signed a new contract with UCLA, seems to be gathering momentum rather than peaking.

“It feels great, but at the same time, this is where I believe we are supposed to be," linebacker Eric Kendricks said of the swirling enthusiasm in Westwood. "All the hard work me and my teammates have put in, I feel like we were supposed to end up in this situation.”

Yet the 2013 season, a transformative one for UCLA, wasn't so easy for Kendricks. While the Bruins were asserting themselves, their star middle linebacker struggled through a variety of injuries -- kidney, shoulder, back and ankle. He played through most of them, but the bum ankle forced him to undergo surgery and miss the dominant Sun Bowl victory over Virginia Tech.

[+] EnlargeEric Kendricks
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsUCLA linebacker Eric Kendricks has 332 career tackles, even though he was slowed by injuries in the 2013 season.
Winning eases pain, but it doesn't cure it.

“Last season was probably the hardest season I’ve ever been a part of," Kendricks said of his personal travails. "It was a learning experience for me having to play through pain. It made me mentally tougher. I was playing for my teammates. That was the main reason I was out there trying to fight my butt off.”

Even with the injuries, Kendricks -- who has started 28 games -- didn't have a bad campaign. He still ranked third in the Pac-12 with 8.8 tackles per game. He again earned honorable mention All-Pac-12 honors. Still, when folks thought of a UCLA defense that -- finally? -- was developing some grit, they tended to start with Anthony Barr and true freshman Myles Jack, Kendricks' fellow linebackers, and then perhaps move on to a defensive front speckled with young talent.

Kendricks has been a tackling machine in the past three seasons with 332 career stops -- his 150 tackles in 2012 were the most by a UCLA player since 1978 -- but it's fair to say his junior season didn't play out how he would have scripted it. If his season had followed a logical progression from his sophomore production, he would presently be sharing top billing with Jack as the Bruins' defensive stars and probably would have earned preseason All-American attention.

Yet when asked about the finding himself outside the spotlight, Kendricks gives it a rhetorical shrug.

“I could care less," he said. "As long as I do my job, I think the film and the numbers speak for themselves. As far as attention I get from NFL teams, that will take care of itself. I don’t need any of the spotlight, honestly.”

A healthy Kendricks is an NFL prospect. For one, he's got good bloodlines. His father, Marv, led UCLA in rushing in 1970-71. His older brother Mychal, the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year in 2011 at California, is a budding star for the Philadelphia Eagles. Both brothers are listed at 6-foot, but Eric Kendricks is a leaner version (230 pounds vs. 240).

As to who's faster, Eric said this about a 40-yard race between the two: “He might win one without pads, but I’d win one in pads.”

The brothers talk frequently, and Eric is eager to learn about the NFL game and what it takes to play on Sundays. The general gist he's picked up is that everyone is a spectacular athlete, so it's your focus and preparation that separates you from the competition.

That lesson also applies to the current Bruins as they eyeball big goals. Preseason expectations don't mean squat. They don't block and tackle and make plays. No one is ceding the South Division to the Bruins.

Of course, Kendricks and his teammates know that. That, however, shouldn't stop them from enjoying the burgeoning excitement.

Or expressing to each other on a regular basis what it means to presently own the series with USC.

"Yeah," he said laughing. "That is awesome."

Pac-12 all over Lott watch list

May, 19, 2014
5/19/14
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It’s time to start thinking about preseason watch lists. And the first one out is the Lott IMPACT Trophy, which is given annually to the defensive player who has the biggest “impact” on his team -- impact being an acronym for Integrity, Maturity, Performance, Academics, Community and Tenacity.

The award is in its 11th year.

Of the 42 players on this year’s watch list, 11 come from the Pac-12:
UCLA’s Anthony Barr was the 2013 winner. Cal’s Dante Hughes was the league’s only other winner, in 2006.

Other previous winners include Manti Te’o (Notre Dame, 2012), Luke Kuechly (Boston College, 2011), J.J. Watt (Wisconsin, 2010), Jerry Hughes (TCU, 2009), James Laurinaitis (Ohio State, 2008), Glenn Dorsey (LSU, 2007), DeMeco Ryans (Alabama, 2005) and David Pollack (Georgia, 2004).

You can click here for the complete watch list.

Q&A: UCLA's Jim Mora

March, 31, 2014
3/31/14
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UCLA opens spring football on Tuesday with high hopes and a good chance to be ranked in the preseason top 10. This is the third spring for UCLA coach Jim Mora, who has led the Bruins to a 19-8 mark in two seasons. He took a couple of minutes to chat with the Pac-12 blog before spring kicks off.

This is your third spring. What have you learned during those first two, and are you going to be doing anything different this time around?

[+] EnlargeJim Mora
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesJim Mora believes spring is a great time to go hard and be physical.
Jim Mora: Nope. Pretty much the same thing. It’s a great time to develop your younger players and start to get a feel for what your team is going to look like in the fall and start to develop that bond you need to have success. We won’t change anything. We go hard in the spring. It’s physical. It’s demanding. I think it’s a great time to get physical work in.

After the 2012 season, you closed with the back-to-back losses to Stanford and the bowl loss. Last year you closed with a win over USC and a bowl win. Do you buy into the idea of offseason momentum?

JM: No. To me, that first year, everyone says, “Oh, you lost three games in a row.” But those were three pretty different games. It wasn’t like we lost our last three regular season games. We lost our last regular season game, we lost in the Pac-12 championship game and we lost our bowl. It’s not like we had this huge slump or something. Every season is a new season. You have to develop the identity of your team. You have to commit to a certain work ethic, and our guys have done that. To me, spring ball signifies the start of a new season.

As a coach, what position battle are you most interested in?

JM: Outside linebacker, the guy who is going to replace Anthony Barr. I think that will be a good battle with Kenny Orjioke and Aaron Wallace and Deon Hollins. I’m excited to see how our defense adapts. We’ve got a new defensive coordinator. And as a staff we’ve learned a little bit more about our players and how to play in this conference and how to play college football with what teams are doing. We’re going to have to adapt a little bit, but it’s going to be fun to see.

With defensive coordinator Lou Spanos heading back to the NFL and Jeff Ulbrich being promoted from within, what kind of impact, if any, will that have on the defense?

JM: Not a lot. Just like every year, you tweak some things. It’s not going to impact it a lot. We’ve certainly made some changes. But we’re going to make changes next year, too. You continue to adapt. You try to grow. You try to add things that will make you better. You try to improve upon things you didn’t do well and you try to cut the fat so you’re not teaching things you’re not going to use throughout the year.

Was that a tough adjustment coming to the college game from the NFL? Every year in college there is going to be a lot of turnover and each season is a different team and a different personality.

JM: It’s interesting because it’s very different than the NFL. You’re right, there is more turnover. But at the same time, there is a little more certainty as well because unlike the NFL, where there is free agency so you’re adding guys, and there’s a draft where you’re adding guys who should be ready to play right away, in college you know there is going to be a natural attrition and you have a pretty good idea of who you can count on and who still needs to develop going into a season. Hopefully some of the freshmen develop, but you can’t always count on that. In some ways, as strange as it seems, it might be a little bit easier because you know what your team makeup is going to be a year in advance.

[+] EnlargeFabian Moreau
Ric Tapia/Icon SMIRising junior corner Fabian Moreau has earned positive reviews from Jim Mora.
Heading into spring, who is a player we haven’t heard of yet, but you think we’re going to hear his name a lot in 2014?

JM: I don’t know if you’ve heard his name a lot. Hopefully you don’t hear it a lot because he’s a cornerback and when you hear a cornerback’s name a lot, that means he’s making a lot of tackles because the ball is getting caught on him or he’s giving up touchdowns. But I think we have a really fine player in Fabian Moreau. Defensive backs are where I’ve worked most of my career and I think this guy has some real special traits. I think he has a chance to be a great player.

You’re big on leadership, as all coaches are. And you like to see players naturally develop into team leaders. Who are you eyeballing this year?

JM: That’s a great question. That’s the point of most uncertainty for me is -- who is going to assert themselves on the team. Four of our six team captains return, which is a real positive because they were voted captains by their teammates. You’ve got Brett Hundley. You’ve got Eric Kendricks, Jake Brendel our starting center and Ryan Hoffmeister, a linebacker and special teams guy. Xavier [Su'a-Filo] and Anthony [Barr] leaving, those are huge voids. It will be fun to see who steps up. Guys like Fabian, even though Myles Jack is only a sophomore, I think he’s got some leadership qualities to him. I don’t want to point too many guys out because there are a whole lot of guys on our team who are capable of stepping into that role.

Defense 3-headed monsters: Pac-12 South

March, 26, 2014
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You remember the three-headed monster, right? It's about returning production that will scare -- terrify! --opponents. Or not.

On offense, it's elite combinations at quarterback, running back and receiver.

On defense, it's elite combinations of a leading tackler, a leader in sacks and leader in interceptions.

This year, we're breaking things down by division. We've already done offense for the South and North divisions.

Next up: South Division defensive three-headed monsters.

1. USC

LB Hayes Pullard, DT Leonard Williams, S Su'a Cravens

The skinny: Pullard was second-team All-Pac-12 after leading the Trojans with 94 tackles. While DE Devon Kennard led the Trojans with nine sacks last year, Williams was a force inside with six. It's also possible, of course, that attention to Williams, a certain preseason All-American, will open things up for a DE/OLB, such as J.R. Tavai. Cravens is likely to become as a true sophomore an all-conference performer. He had four interceptions last year, second on the team.

2. UCLA

LB Eric Kendricks, OLB Kenny Orjioke, CB Ishmael Adams

The skinny: Kendricks ranked third in the Pac-12 with 8.8 tackles per game last year. Does he finally break through on the all-conference team after two years as an honorable mention? Orjioke is the frontrunner to replace Anthony Barr. He's 6-foot-4, 240 pounds and has tons of potential. He, however, had just 12 tackles and two sacks as a sophomore. Adams led the Bruins with four interceptions last year.

3. Arizona

LB Scooby Wright, DE Reggie Gilbert, "spur" LB Tra'Mayne Bondurant

The skinny: Wright earned honorable mention All-Pac-12 as a true freshman, finishing with 83 tackles, including 9.5 coming for a loss. With both MLB Jake Fischer and weakside LB Marquis Flowers gone, he seems like a favorite to lead the team in tackles, even if he stays at strongside backer. Gilbert ranked second on the team with four sacks, though it's possible the Wildcats defense will do some juggling to increase anemic sack numbers this fall. Or a new guy, such as LB Antonio Smothers or DL Jeff Worthy, will break through. Bondurant, a hybrid LB/safety, led the Wildcats with four interceptions in 2013.

4. Arizona State

LB Salamo Fiso, DE/OLB Viliami Latu, S Damarious Randall

The skinny: The Sun Devils are replacing nine starters on defense, but Randall and Fiso are two of the three returning starters. It is notable that coach Todd Graham has been moving guys around on defense this spring, so ultimate positions are a matter of conjecture at this point. Fiso ranked fourth on the team with 71 tackles. Sophomore Latu might have a lead in the battle to replace Carl Bradford at the highly productive "devil" LB position. Randall had three interceptions last year.

5. Utah

LB Gionni Paul, OLB Jacoby Hale, S Eric Rowe

The skinny: Paul, a Miami transfer, is drawing raves this spring. He was a terror on the scout team a year ago. Hale is likely to replace Trevor Reilly, who led the Utes in tackles and sacks last year, at the "stud" linebacker. He was second on the Utes with 10 tackles for a loss and 6.5 sacks a year ago. As for the Utes’ leader for interceptions, well, funny you should ask about a team that had just three picks all of last year, tied for fewest in the nation. We're going with Rowe, even though he didn't have a pick in 2013 and had just one in 2012.

6. Colorado

LB Addison Gillam, TBA, CB Greg Henderson

The skinny: Along with Wright and UCLA's Myles Jack, Gillam was a true freshman LB revelation last year. He led the Buffaloes with 107 tackles. He might be a good bet to lead the team in sacks, too. The Buffs are replacing leading sacker Chidera Uzo-Diribe (4), and it's unclear who will fill that void. D-lineman Samson Kafovalu is a possibility, but he's sitting out spring focusing on academics. Derek McCartney -- yeah, that McCartney -- has been playing well this spring. Henderson led the Buffaloes with four picks a year ago.

Biggest shoes to fill: UCLA

March, 26, 2014
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Starters in, starters out. That's college football. Players' eligibility expires and they leave for the rest of their lives, which might include the NFL or not. And they leave behind shoes of various sizes that need to be filled.

In alphabetical order, we will survey each Pac-12 team’s most notable void. Today we look at UCLA.

Biggest shoes: OLB Anthony Barr

A two-time All-Pac-12 first-team selection, Barr was one of the most feared linebackers in the nation. He totaled 65 tackles last season, but did most of his damage in the backfield, where he tallied 20 tackles for a loss and 10 sacks. He also forced five fumbles (recovering four of them). He ranked second in the league in tackles for a loss and third in sacks.

Stepping in: Kenny Orjioke (maybe)

The junior-to-be has a ton of upside and potential. He’s built like Barr (6-foot-4, 240 pounds) and possesses similar natural athleticism that made Barr such a productive edge rusher. Orjioke produced 11 stops last year, including two tackles for a loss and a pair of sacks. But he’s not the only one in the mix. Aaron Wallace and Deon Hollins should also get looks. Wallace appeared in 13 games last year and had five tackles, while Hollins appeared in 11 with seven stops and a tackle for a loss. UCLA’s linebacker corps is solid, despite the departure of Barr and Jordan Zumwalt. Myles Jack is a gifted playmaker and Eric Kendricks has been one of the most productive linebackers in the league the last couple of years. Those two will occupy plenty of attention, leaving Barr’s replacement room to work on the edge.

Previous big shoes

Lunch links: Graham likes his offense

March, 24, 2014
3/24/14
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It is absolutely necessary, for the peace and safety of mankind, that some of earth's dark, dead corners and unplumbed depths be left alone; lest sleeping abnormalities wake to resurgent life, and blasphemously surviving nightmares squirm and splash out of their black lairs to newer and wider conquests.

Talent drain leaves Pac-12 defenses in flux

January, 20, 2014
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The Pac-12 has seen a flurry of defensive coordinator movement over the last couple of weeks -- starting with the power struggle for former Washington defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox to the recent exoduses of Stanford’s Derek Mason to Vanderbilt as head coach and UCLA’s Lou Spanos to the Tennessee Titans as linebackers coach. Oregon’s promotion of Don Pellum to defensive coordinator to replace Nick Aliotti will also shine a spotlight on the Ducks’ defense in 2014 and beyond.

And then there is, of course, former USC defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast, who mysteriously continues to be out of work.

[+] EnlargeKevin Hogan, Scott Crichton
Steve Dykes/Getty ImagesOregon State defensive end Scott Crichton is among the Pac-12 defensive stars entering the NFL in 2014.
Look at the top five scoring defenses in the Pac-12 in 2013: Stanford, Oregon, USC, Washington and UCLA, respectively. All five have had defensive coordinators in flux in the young offseason.

That makes for an interesting transition period for the Pac-12. Defenses had closed the gap in recent years with several teams ranking in the top 25 nationally in scoring defense. That in itself is an achievement considering the level of offensive skill players and the diversity of offenses in the conference.

But when you look ahead to 2014, there are a lot of quarterbacks coming back to man the league’s high-powered offenses -- Marcus Mariota, Brett Hundley, Taylor Kelly, Sean Mannion, Connor Halliday, etc. You combine that with a massive talent drain of defensive players graduating or declaring for the NFL, plus all of the shifting within the defensive coaching ranks, and you have to wonder if 2014 is going to be the Year of Offense in the Pac-12.

Consider a few of the defensive standouts leaving: Anthony Barr (UCLA), Will Sutton (ASU), Shayne Skov (Stanford), Dion Bailey (USC), Terrance Mitchell (Oregon), Scott Crichton (Oregon State), Trent Murphy (Stanford), Carl Bradford (ASU), Deone Bucannon (Washington State), Trevor Reilly (Utah). There are a couple dozen others who aren’t mentioned who were high-impact guys like Stanford’s Ben Gardner and Ed Reynolds, Eric Kendricks, Jordan Zumwalt and Cassius Marsh from UCLA and Alden Darby, Osahon Irabor and Robert Nelson from ASU.

In total, 19 of the 25 all-conference defensive players from 2013 will be gone next year -- including 10 of 12 from the first team. Plus about a dozen more that were honorable mention are leaving or graduating. That is a major hit to the defensive talent in the league.

The Pac-12 is rarely appreciated nationally for its defensive prowess, either from a player or coaching perspective. And now three of the best coordinators in the conference are gone, one has moved from Washington to USC and another is looking for a gig.

Pac-12 offenses are going to be loaded in 2014 while the defenses have huge question marks. There is plenty of young talent. Guys like Myles Jack (UCLA), Addison Gillam (Colorado) and Su’a Cravens (USC) have all made names for themselves early in their careers. There are also some very notable returners like Ifo Ekpre-Olomu (Oregon), Henry Anderson (Stanford), Shaq Thompson (Washington) and Hayes Pullard (USC).

But a lot more is gone than is coming back.

That opens the door for all sorts of comparison storylines. Wilcox did an outstanding job re-tooling the defense at Washington. And now Pete Kwiatkowski will be measured against what Wilcox was able to accomplish. Likewise, Pendergast probably should have been USC’s MVP for what he did with the Trojans in one season. Now Wilcox has to take over an outfit that is losing a lot of playmakers to the NFL. No doubt, he’ll be compared to his predecessor. Just as Pellum will be compared to Aliotti, and whoever fills the seats at Stanford and UCLA will be compared to what Mason and Spanos were able to accomplish.

The guard is changing, as it does every year in college football. This year it might be the Pac-12 defenses that take a step back.

Season wrap: UCLA

January, 15, 2014
1/15/14
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The UCLA Bruins weren’t able to advance to the conference championship game for a third straight year, but it was far from a disappointing season.

Struggling with the death of a teammate early in the year, UCLA coach Jim Mora kept his team poised but always compassionate to the situation. They went 2-3 against ranked teams but dominated Virginia Tech in their bowl game. Mora and his key coaches have been locked up, Brett Hundley is coming back for another year and things are definitely looking up in Westwood.

Oh yeah, UCLA is 2-0 against USC under Mora. That in itself is reason for Bruins fans to feel pretty good.

You can read our graded review of UCLA here.

Offensive MVP: Without question, it’s Hundley, who threw for 24 touchdowns (to nine interceptions) and also lead the team in rushing with 748 yards and 11 touchdowns. Not to be forgotten is that he also caught a touchdown. I think he also punted, once. He’s an electric athlete who should get considerable Heisman buzz next season. In fact, UCLA has already kicked off his campaign with a #Hundley4Heisman push.

Defensive MVP: On a team loaded with a lot of good defenders, which way do you go? Is it tackling machine Eric Kendricks and his 106 stops? Jordan Zumwalt and his understated 93 tackles and three forced fumbles? Cassius Marsh and his 10.5 tackles for a loss? All are good options. But every offensive coordinator feared Anthony Barr, who had 20 tackles for a loss and 10 sacks. He also forced five fumbles and recovered four of them.

Best moment: Watching the final 30 minutes of the Nebraska game. When you consider the emotional strain the team had been under, it was hard not to get a little choked up as the Bruins erased a 21-10 halftime deficit en route to a 41-21 victory. Then again, I know UCLA fans also enjoyed the 35-14 win over USC at the Coliseum. The best moment of all, however, might have been this.

Worst moment: Off the field, the answer is obvious. And the Pac-12 blog can’t give Mora & Co. enough credit for the job they did. On the field, you have to look at the failed comeback and subsequent loss at home against Arizona State. The Bruins trailed 35-13 at the half and made a game of it in the 38-33 loss. But the final drive was marred with holding penalties and sacks.

Pac-12 lunch links: UCLA loses Kendricks

December, 23, 2013
12/23/13
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And it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless us, every one!

Q&A: UCLA's Ishmael Adams

November, 1, 2013
11/01/13
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After dropping back-to-back games to Stanford and Oregon, UCLA is looking to get back in the win column when it hosts Colorado this weekend. Sophomore cornerback Ishmael Adams took a few minutes this week to chat with the Pac-12 blog about how the Bruins can bounce back, the play of the secondary and what he sees in next week’s Stanford-Oregon showdown.

What’s the feeling around the team after these last couple of weeks?

Ishmael Adams: We just have to challenge each other more. Compete harder in practice and the rest will come to us in the game. We can only make our team as good as our team wants to be, and competing with each other on both sides of the ball, we need to take it to another level in practice.

[+] EnlargeIshmael Adams
Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesBruins sophomore CB Ishmael Adams had one of his three interceptions this season in UCLA's loss to Stanford on Oct. 19.
Are the guys pretty down? Have they bounced back? What’s the mood in the locker room right now?

IA: Nah. We can never be down about the past. We have to keep moving forward. We have a lot of games left. We have time to keep working and competing and getting to where we want to be.

What was the team’s reaction to Jim Mora’s comments after the Oregon game about “close" not being good enough and you guys not being satisfied?

IA: He was telling the truth. We can’t be satisfied with being close and not meeting our goals. We can’t be satisfied with taking losses. We have to rise to the occasion. We can’t be down about it. We have to keep on working.

Aside from the mental aspects, is there anything different you guys need to do schematically to get back on track?

IA: That’s for the coaches to decide. Our job is to get out there and play. We don’t chose the plays or where we line up. We trust the coaches to put us in a good position and it’s up to us to go out there and execute it.

You guys have been through so much this year emotionally. How have you seen this team come together from where you were in August to where you are now?

IA: Yeah, we’ve been through a lot. We’ve got great leaders through Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks and Brett Hundley. They’ve led by example and showed what it means to be a leader. We need to keep following their lead and keep on working.

There were a lot of questions about the secondary coming into the season, specifically youth and not a lot of game experience. Do you feel like you guys have met the challenge?

IA: I feel like we’ve risen to the challenge, but we have a long way to go. We have a great group of receivers coming up in the next few weeks. We’re looking forward to this next challenge with [Paul] Richardson and his supporting cast, and then we’ll move on to the next one. We’re taking it one week at a time and trying to be more consistent.

You mentioned Richardson, what else do you see from Colorado on film?

IA: Not only him, he’s got a great supporting cast, and they all play their roles really well. [D.D. Goodson] is a nice, shifty receiver who can get in and out of his breaks and put guys behind him. [Nelson Spruce] is a good possession receiver. He can get guys off of him and get the ball and get upfield. They have as good a group of receivers as any other team, so we’re looking forward to competing with them.

How tough was last year for you? You played in the first couple of games and then sat out the rest of the year with an injury. Was it frustrating to get that little taste of college football and then have to sit?

We can never be down about the past. We have to keep moving forward. We have a lot of games left. We have time to keep working and competing and getting to where we want to be.

-- UCLA cornerback Ishmael Adams on getting past back-to-back losses to Stanford and Oregon
IA: Yeah, it was pretty frustrating. I really wanted to come out my freshman year and play to my ability. But it wasn’t meant to be. But it allowed me to sit back and get the gist of what it takes to play in college football and be elite in college football.

Next week most college football fans are going to be tuning in to Stanford and Oregon. You’ve played both of those teams the last two weeks. Give us your opinion of how you think things will play out?

IA: It’s definitely going to be a great game because of how Stanford slows the game down and Oregon tries to speed it up. They both have great defenses. Stanford will try to get it going with the running game. They did a really good job, after losing to Utah, getting back to Stanford football, slowing the game down and running hard. [Marcus] Mariota is always going to do a good job not making mistakes. It’s going to be up to the Stanford defense to be where they need to be.

Any predictions?

IA: Nah, I’m going to be a student. I’m going to watch it and try to take some of the things I see to get better.

Pac-12 names players of the week

October, 7, 2013
10/07/13
2:15
PM PT
The Pac-12 has named Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota the offensive player of the week, Stanford linebacker Trent Murphy its defensive player of the week and Stanford receiver Ty Montgomery the special teams player of the week.

Some more on the trio, per the Pac-12’s release:
Mariota, a sophomore from Honolulu, set a school record with 42 points accounted for in Oregon’s 57-16 win at Colorado on Saturday. He completed 16 of 27 passes for 355 yards and five touchdowns. Mariota also ran for an additional 43 yards and two more scores. He is eighth in the country in passing efficiency (176.30 QB rating) and ninth in total offense (339.20 ypg), helping Oregon to a No. 2 national ranking in total offense (630.40 ypg).

Murphy, a senior from Mesa, Ariz., recorded six tackles, including 2.5 tackles for loss and two sacks, in Stanford’s narrow 31-28 win over Washington at home on Saturday night. He also deflected a pass that led to a Stanford interception that ended a Huskies’ drive late in the fourth quarter. The forced turnover proved to be pivotal in the Cardinal’s three-point victory.

Montgomery, a junior from Tahlequah, Okla., set a school record with 204 kickoff return yards that included a 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to open the game against Washington. He added a 39-yard touchdown reception and ended the game with 290 all-purpose yards on nine carries (32.2 yards per touch). Montgomery currently ranks sixth in the nation in all-purpose yards (176.6 ypg).

Also nominated for offensive player of the week honors were quarterbacks Brett Hundley of UCLA and Connor Halliday of Washington State; and wide receivers Jaelen Strong of Arizona State, Chris Harper of California, and Dres Anderson of Utah. Also nominated for defensive player of the week honors were linebackers Addison Gillam of Colorado, Eric Kendricks of UCLA and Jared Norris of Utah; safety Deone Bucannon of Washington State; and defensive back Damarious Randall of Arizona State. Also nominated for special teams player of the week honors were kickers Zane Gonzalez of Arizona State, Ka’imi Fairbairn of UCLA and Andy Phillips of Utah.

Despite success, Bruins have ways to go

December, 28, 2012
12/28/12
12:29
AM PT
Brett HundleyChristopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY SportsBrett Hundley may be an emerging star, but the Holiday Bowl showed how far the Bruins have to go.
SAN DIEGO -- Bigger, stronger and faster is what every football team strives to be.

It's what UCLA became this season compared with Bruins teams of the recent past, but a stumble to the finish line showed that they aren't quite big enough, strong enough or fast enough to play at an elite level just yet.

A 49-26 loss to Baylor on Thursday night in the Holiday Bowl at Qualcomm Stadium sent UCLA to its third consecutive loss to cap a season of resurgence. The streak -- losses to Stanford in the regular-season finale and the Pac-12 championship game followed by the Holiday blowout -- showed that UCLA's rebuilding project is far from complete.

"We've got a long ways to go," coach Jim Mora acknowledged. "But we're on the right path. … The team that we want to be is a national champion and tonight showed us just how far we have to go, but we're determined to get there. We're heading in the right direction, but we're a long ways off."

Much of the talk around UCLA this season focused on how far the Bruins had come in the first year under Mora. They put up an impressive early victory over Nebraska, came from behind in the final minutes to win on the road at Arizona State and ended a five-game losing streak to cross-town rival USC.

But Stanford showed two weeks in a row that UCLA was not strong enough, and Baylor on Thursday showed that the Bruins are not yet fast enough.

"There are still a lot of little things that need to get done," safety Andrew Abbott said. "UCLA is right there. We broke through so many things this year and now we just need to break through the top. I know coach Mora will get the players there."

Experience should help. What needs to be remembered about this UCLA team is that few projected it to be in this position in the first place. Eight wins was thought to be the ceiling for the team, so getting to nine has to be considered a success.

Still, with each victory the pressure mounted as the stakes grew higher. UCLA hadn't been in a position to win high-stakes games for a while, certainly not with the current team, so the last three games should serve as a learning experience heading into next season.

"We have to finish stronger," junior receiver Shaq Evans said. "I think it's experience. I think the moment got too big for a lot of people because this is their first year playing and we have to learn how to finish."

The offseason will be littered with questions about just how far UCLA has come. Is this a top-10 team for next year with an emerging star, in Brett Hundley, leading the offense at quarterback? Or is this a one-hit wonder that benefited from an easy schedule and will be brought back to reality next season?

Certainly, UCLA took advantage of the easier schedule and seven home games this season, but what better way to bring along a team that was starting seven freshmen on offense at times. Next year, those players will be battle-tested as they take on a more difficult schedule that includes Oregon and Washington.

And knowing that the season ended with three consecutive losses will stick in the minds of the returning players, who vowed to use the losing streak as fuel to get better before next season.

"We're going to take these losses and really apply it to our offseason workouts," linebacker Eric Kendricks said. "I'm going to remember them when I'm training."

It is a bitter end to what had been a sweet season, but the Bruins will still almost certainly begin next season in the top 25 and with hopes that they can get the program to an elite level. It's something that many would have put in the category of foolish pipe dream before this season, but nobody will be shaking their heads at the notion now.

For that, these Bruins can hold their heads high despite the disappointing finish to the season.

"I don't think it takes away anything from what we accomplished this season," Evans said. "The accomplishments of the season can never be taken away from one loss or the last three games."

Grades: UCLA 38, USC 28

November, 17, 2012
11/17/12
3:51
PM PT
PASADENA, Calif. -- The UCLA Bruins jumped out to a 24-0 lead in their crosstown rivalry game against the USC Trojans on Saturday before hanging on to win 38-28. It is UCLA's first win over USC since 2006 and the Bruins' second victory since 1998, with the last three wins in the rivalry coming at the Rose Bowl.

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:

GradePASSING ATTACK

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.

GradeRUSHING OFFENSE

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.

GradePASS DEFENSE

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.

GradeRUSHING DEFENSE

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.

GradeSPECIAL TEAMS

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.

GradeCOACHING

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.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

2014 TEAM LEADERS

PASSINGATTCOMPYDSTD
B. Hundley392271315522
RUSHINGCARYDSAVGTD
P. Perkins25115756.39
B. Hundley1596444.110
RECEIVINGRECYDSAVGTD
J. Payton6795414.27
D. Fuller594477.61
TEAMRUSHPASSTOTAL
Offense199.4268.5467.9
TEAMPFPAMARGIN
Scoring32.927.55.4