Utah Utes football: Utah vs. UCLA from an insider's perspective
1. Jim Mora has UCLA off to a promising start. What changes has he brought to the program and how does he differ from Rick Neuheisel?
The changes from Rick Neuheisel's tenure at UCLA are drastic. Practices are run at a much higher tempo, the offensive system is designed to get playmakers in space much more, and the defense is much more aggressive than it was before.
The main change, however, has been in attitude. Jim Mora has brought a greater sense of toughness and accountability to the program, from outlawing UCLA's silly over-the-wall tradition in spring practice to sending the team to San Bernardino for fall camp. Obviously, full on culture change takes awhile, but Mora seems to be committed to making UCLA more serious about football.
2. What went wrong against Cal? What are the coaches doing to address went wrong?
There were a few big issues against Cal. First, UCLA's cornerbacks really struggled to guard Cal's faster receivers, in much the same way they struggled against the fast Oregon State receivers.
Second, Brett Hundley had his first real freshman game of the year, throwing four interceptions and fumbling the ball once. He missed open receivers and generally just looked off his game.
Third, the offensive line really struggled in pass protection, particularly on the left side with freshman left tackle Torian White. Cal blitzed that side pretty effectively, and nothing UCLA did to counter that worked very well.
3. Talk about UCLA's offense. What type of offense does Mora run and who are the primary playmakers? Offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone runs a spread that emphasizes using the entire width of the field, with a wide variety of swing passes to running backs and wide receivers in the flats. The vertical aspects of the offense are still a work in progress as the freshman quarterback Hundley becomes more accurate on his deep balls. Generally, you'll see three and four wide receiver sets for most of the game, with some five receiver formations.
It's the best offense that UCLA has had in about seven years, and it's led by Hundley, who has been spectacular for a freshman, and running back Johnathan Franklin, who has been one of the most dynamic runners in the country this year.
4. Talk about the Bruin defense. What type of defense does Mora run and who are the primary playmakers?
Defensively, UCLA runs mostly a 3-4 base defense but on passing downs, they'll drop more players into coverage and usually only have two down linemen. Defensive coordinator Lou Spanos comes from the Steelers, and likes to blitz from the outside linebacker spots. Anthony Barr, who converted from offense in the offseason, has been the star of the defense so far this year from the outside linebacker spot. At 6'4, 230, he's been a match-up nightmare for offensive tackles.
Along the defensive front, Datone Jones has been a stalwart at defensive end and has had his share of disruptive plays in the back field. The secondary, despite being one of the most experienced units on the team, has struggled mightily this year, especially with the two seniors at cornerback, Sheldon Price and Aaron Hester.
5. How do players, coaches and fans regard the Utah football program? What challenges does Utah present and what does UCLA need to do to win the game?
There's a very healthy respect for Utah's defense among the UCLA team. Mora has mentioned Star Lotuleilei in each of his press conferences this week, repeatedly saying that he's one of the best he's ever seen on the defensive interior, and talking about how much trouble the Bruins will have stopping him.
Talking to the defensive backs this week, I think there's also a healthy respect for Utah's receivers, despite the struggles that the Utes have had passing the ball this year. Obviously, Utah's defense is the strength of this team, and UCLA's offense will have to prove it can hit a few deep balls because the Utes will likely stack the box against the Bruins' rushing attack and short passing game. Defensively, the Bruins just can't beat themselves like they have against Cal and Oregon State. If the secondary can avoid giving up big plays and making Jon Hays look like a stud, UCLA should have a good chance to win the game.
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