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Spaulding Report: Is UCLA Football Really “Close to Being Great”?

Unfortunately, every once in a while, life gets in the way and keeps us from getting things up as quickly as we’d like. This week has been one of those times. So, let’s catch up with the videos from this week’s practices as the UCLA Bruins prepared to face Washington tomorrow.

We’ll look at them chronologically so that we don’t take them out of order as the week progressed.

Monday

On Monday before practice, head coach Chip Kelly met with the media and the usual quarterback questions came up. Interestingly, Kelly is still insistent that freshman quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson played well. “I thought Dorian did a good job,” Kelly said. “I think we’ve got to do a better job at protecting him at times….But I thought Dorian did a nice job.”

I’m not sure what game film Kelly watched. I’m thinking it must have only been the first quarter of the Colorado game because he wasn’t as good in the second quarter and he was downright awful in the second half.

A little later, Kelly was asked a question about how Wilton Speight took not getting the start against Colorado since he was available. Interestingly, Kelly responded by telling Ben Bolch of the LA Times that his question was better directed to Wilton himself. Bolch asked if he could speak with Speight, but Speight does not appear to have been made available after practice any day this week. It just seems odd that Kelly would say something is a question for Speight and, then, he wasn’t made available.

Kelly also discussed the performance of Josh Kelley. Coach Kelly said:

He didn’t play a whole heck of a lot against Fresno, because the other guys had had better weeks of training. There’s a lot of competition at the running back spot, but instead of sulking and putting his head down, Josh just went to work through our improvement week and through game week for Colorado and did some really good things. We pointed him out on tape. “Here’s a good read. Here’s a good cut.” And then how he trained is how he played in the game. So I’m really excited about Josh right now.

Here’s Coach Kelly’s full interview, courtesy of Tracy Pierson of Bruin Report Online.

After Monday’s practice, Krys Barnes and Nate Meadors met with the media. Barnes spoke a lot about the need for them to fix their mistakes. He even dismissed the altitude as a factor for the defense’s bad second half. “[It] hit us a little bit, but it wasn’t that,” Barnes said. “It was more of us not communicating right and not getting our mental where it needs to be for our mental errors that occurred on the field. But, besides that, I don’t think it affected us too much.”

Thanks to BRO’s Tracy Pierson for sharing the video of Krys Barnes’ interview.

Nate Meadors spoke about how the defense has looked so far this season. Meadors said:

I think the first half we come out really strong and play aggressive and I just felt like…we all feel like we lose our energy towards the end of the game. So, we’ve got to work on that especially for to finish games and get a victory.

Thanks to Thuc Nhi Nguyen of the LA Daily News for the video of Nate Meadors’ interview.

Tuesday

Michael Alves spoke about the improved play of the offensive line when he met with the media on Tuesday. Alves said:

I think the first week or two, we might have had…maybe only a few plays where everyone was on the same page and we actually got a really good run out of it. But, I think, last week, we had a couple plays that I can name that we had everyone on the same page. Everyone blocking the way they should be. And the amount of glaring mistakes that we made was a lot less. So, I think the consistency and technique has just improved overall.

Most of the time when an offensive lineman is interviewed, there isn’t much interesting that he adds to the overall conversation. Alves’ interview sounds very thoughtful. In it, in addition to assessing the improvement on the offensive line, he also talks about the running game and the effectiveness of Josh Kelley last week and attributes it to the line being on the same page more often than in previous weeks.

It’s easy to say, “Oh, he’s just a lineman.” and skip past his interview, but, having watched most of the interviews this season, this interview from Alves is probably one of the best.

Thanks to Matt Joye of Bruin Report Online for sharing this one.

JJ Molson was also interviewed on Tuesday. He spoke a lot about the need for consistency and doing things the same way every time. He also was asked what he was thinking when his name was called for the 50-yard field goal against the Buffaloes last week. Molson said:

It was actually pretty funny because, when we were jogging onto the field, around the 40-yard line, the grass is pretty patchy, especially the Colorado grass was like, very soft. So, as I’m trying to get my spot down, there’s like a huge divot. So, I remove it and, then, there’s another on right next to the hash mark and I look up at the shot clock. And, I’m like, “Shit! There’s 11 seconds.” So, I had to rush my steps back and, then luckily, it went in, but, yeah, it was a good feeling, for sure, to get it down.

He also spoke about the legacy of kickers at UCLA and how he spoke with Ka’imi Fairbairn after he kicked the game winner for Houston last weekend. He also said that, at the Rose Bowl, he thinks his comfort zone is inside 52 yards, but could push it back a few yards if it was at the end of the half.

Thanks to Matt Joye from Bruin Report Online for sharing the video of JJ Molson.

Wednesday

Wednesday morning, Chip Kelly met with the media for the final time before this week’s Washington game. He was asked if the team would go with the “hot hand” at running back on Saturday. Of course, Kelly responded in a similar way as he has about questions about who will play other positions. He said:

No, we go with who practices the best. So, when you talk about hot hand, it’s not that DeShaun goes into a game and says, “Hey, I hope someone breaks off a long run. I want to keep them in there.” As I said before we played Colorado is that, for those two weeks through our Improvement bye week and through the week of preparation for Colorado, Josh [Kelley] was, by far, had trained the best. So, that’s why he got the bulk of the work done that week. So it’s not, “Hey, I don’t do anything during the week and, when I get my one carry and I broke it for 10 yards, I’m going to stay in the game.” It’s who has consistently been doing what he needs to do. So, that’s a credit to Josh because he didn’t play very much against Fresno, but, instead of sulking and hanging his head, he went out and went to work in those last two weeks, he rose above those guys. So, we’ll see how it goes. We’ve still got a couple of days of training this week and we’l adjust it on the run. But the good thing is we have competition at that position and, when you have competition, I think it brings out the best in everybody.

The interesting thing here is that he’s never said that he would take a guy out who isn’t playing well in a game. That’s a little concerning, not necessarily for guys who are playing running back, but for any position. Of course, I’m talking about quarterback because I’d really like to know what it would take for Kelly to make the decision to sit Dorian Thompson-Robinson down.

Unfortunately, that question did not get asked.

The most interesting quote of the week comes to us from Tyree Thompson. One of the questions he was asked was “What would you say is the mindset of the team right now?”

“Just keep pushing,” Thompson responded. If that we’re all he said, it wouldn’t be very noteworthy. But, of course, he didn’t stop there. “If you watch the film, we’re close. Regardless of what everybody says outside of the facility, we’re close to being great.”

Close to being great? Yeah. He actually said that. He didn’t say the team was close to getting a win. He said this team is close to being great.

Well, now I know that I’m “outside the facility”, but I’m still pretty comfortable at saying that this team is nowhere close to being great. They blew a lead that they had with about 10 minutes to go in the third quarter last week, only to lose by 22 points. Yet, somehow, we’re supposed to believe that this year’s team is “close to being great”?

Wow.

Thompson’s interview video is courtesy of Matt Joye of Bruin Report Online.

Finally, we have Elijah Gates. Obviously, Thompson’s quote made an impact on the media because it’s the first thing Gates was asked about. At the same time, Ben Bolch phrased his question in such as way as to shift the quote to saying that the defense is on the verge of a breakthrough, which, again, is much different than what Thompson said. But, Gates does think the defense is close to a breakthrough.

I feel like…just like, in the games, if you watch and look at the film, we’re close…right there. We’ve just got to keep pushing and just finish the game, really. I feel like we’re a great team. We’ve just got to keep pushing and fighting to the end of the game…all four quarters. So, I feel like we’re going to be great.

Maybe somewhere down the road, but this team is not “going to be great” this year. Even if they played flawless football in the remaining eight games, this team will not qualify as great. Now, on the other hand, if the team did play flawless football and won their remaining eight games, it would be significantly improved over the first four weeks. That much I’ll give him.

And, to be perfectly honest, I’m not sure being “inside the facility” would do a whole lot to change my mind because I know what my eyes are seeing on the field each week and it hasn’t been pretty. Remember: the last time UCLA started a season 0-4 was in 1971 when that team, coached by new head man Pepper Rodgers started the season 0-4. If this team loses to Washington and drops to 0-5, it will be the first time since 1943 that UCLA has opened a season with that much futility. In 1943, the team actually lost their first seven games. So, this year’s team won’t reach that level of notoriety for at least a few weeks yet.

Thanks again to Bruin Report Online’s Matt Joye for sharing the video of Elijah Gates and all of his other videos this week.

Finally today, it looks like Mique Juarez is out for the season. According to a report by Thuc Nhi Nguyen in the LA Daily News, Juarez “was not seen on the practice field for almost a month after getting injured leading up to the game against Oklahoma.”

Well, on Thursday, Juarez posted to his Instagram account indicating he will be out “till next season.”

That wraps up this jumbo edition of the Spaulding Report.

This afternoon at 4:30 pm, we’ll get to see just how close this team is to being great when the #10 Washington Huskies meet the Bruins at the Rose Bowl.

Go Bruins!!!



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