Pac-12: UCLA Bruins

Weekend recruiting wrap: Pac-12 

September, 16, 2014
Sep 16
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The early weeks of the high school and college football seasons slow things down a bit when it comes to Pac-12 recruiting. Only a handful of official visitors made their way to Pac-12 campuses, while a junior college commitment to Arizona was the first addition to the conference in nearly two weeks. But there were still interesting developments at a number of conference schools as Stanford hosted a huge visitor, UCLA made an important statement, and Colorado looked ahead to the 2016 class.

Injuries, implosion muddle South picture

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
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It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Wait. That's been used before. But, with apologies to Dickens, it fits. The Pac-12 weekend was a tale of one division, two teams, two cities, two quarterbacks, and it was a day of thrills and it was a day of misery.

The plot certainly thickened in the Pac-12's South Division on Saturday, but not necessarily in a good way.

A week after posting a gritty upset at Stanford, USC was humiliated at Boston College, while UCLA cobbled together a win over Texas behind scrappy, ebullient backup QB Jerry Neuheisel. Neuheisel's services were required because Heisman Trophy candidate Brett Hundley was knocked out of the game in the first quarter with an elbow injury. His status remains uncertain, though there was reasonable hope based on initial reports that his injury wasn't serious.

[+] EnlargeAntwaun Woods
Winslow Townson/Getty ImagesUSC's shocking loss to Boston College underscored the vulnerability within the Pac-12 South division.
Our second city is Tempe, Arizona, where UCLA will be on Thursday, Sept. 25, squaring off with defending South Division champion Arizona State, which beat Colorado on Saturday but also lost its star senior quarterback, Taylor Kelly, who beat out Hundley for second-team All-Pac-12 last year. Seeing Kelly on crutches due to a foot injury -- and his body language -- probably won't fuel great expectations that he will be ready for the Bruins.

The UCLA-Arizona State game was one we eyeballed in the preseason as a major measuring stick in the battle for the South. A significant part of the appeal was the quarterback battle. That hasn't changed, only now the intrigue is whether it will be Neuheisel for UCLA and Mike Bercovici for Arizona State. A week ago, that quarterback news would have heavily favored the Sun Devils. While Bercovici isn't the runner Kelly is, he's got one of the best arms in the conference and is well-versed in the Sun Devils offense. He is expected to win the starting job as a fifth-year senior next fall. Neuheisel was widely viewed as a career backup with a well-known father -- former UCLA QB and coach Rick Neuheisel -- but his second-half performance against the Longhorns suggested he can be more than a rudimentary game manager.

Both teams have an off week, when they can either get healthy or retool their plans. The stakes continue to be high, perhaps more so after USC threw up on itself with a wet-noodle performance at Boston College. While a nonconference game doesn't affect the Trojans' Pac-12 standing, it certainly made them look extremely vulnerable heading into a much-needed bye week. Other than USC fans, the most miserable folks watching that game surely root for Stanford, which probably can't believe it lost to the Trojans just a week before.

What this implosion and these injuries reveal in a wider sense is vulnerability in the South. In the preseason, UCLA looked like a decisive South favorite. Then USC made a statement with a win over the Cardinal. Arizona State was lurking with a great offense and a questionable defense. At this point, however, none of these three teams is scaring anyone. And don't look now, but Arizona and Utah remain unbeaten and have shown flashes that suggest they might be factors in a divisional race that previously seemed limited to the aforementioned troika.

The Wildcats play host to California on Saturday. Lo and behold, the Bears also are unbeaten, and this game suddenly possesses some potential meaning it didn't seem to have in the preseason. If Cal gets the upset, it can fully erase last season's misery and start thinking bowl game. If Arizona gets the win, it will be 4-0 and eyeballing the Top 25 with a visit to No. 2 Oregon looming on Thursday, Oct. 2.

Arizona appears suspect on defense, but the offense, with impressive redshirt freshman QB Anu Solomon, a good O-line, deep corps of receivers and breakout freshman running back Nick Wilson, will make the Wildcats a threat to any foe.

Utah visits Michigan on Saturday. While the Wolverines don't look like they'll be hailing in much victory this season, a Utes win would certainly raise more than a few eyebrows. While Utah's trouble hasn't been in nonconference games since joining the Pac-12, a 3-0 start would hint they are not a South afterthought, particularly if the offense continues to shine with QB Travis Wilson.

While Oregon's win over Michigan State coupled with Stanford's loss to USC only boosted the Ducks' status as North Division favorites, the South intrigue has seemingly spiderwebbed since the beginning of the season. The race appears more wide open and complicated. UCLA's visit to Arizona State remains a major measuring stick, but it's just as likely either team would sacrifice that game -- as horrible as that sounds -- to know it will get its starting quarterback back healthy for the rest of the season.

Vote: Pac-12 Play of the Week

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14
4:00
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Every Sunday, we're going to be giving y'all a sample of the best plays of the weekend in the Pac-12.

SportsNation

What was your play of the week?

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    30%
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    52%
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    14%
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    4%

Discuss (Total votes: 6,675)

You get to vote on which you thought was the most impressive and we'll name our Pac-12 Blog Play of the Week.

If you see something you believe deserves to be nominated, tweet at the Pac-12 Blog here with the hashtag #PlayOfTheWeek.

We'll bring you the best in Pac-12 action and then it'll be up to you to decide which is the best of the best. We start with Week 3, which had a few surprises across the conference.

But to kick off the Play of the Week, we have two offensive and two defensive plays for you to sift through.

1. Jerry Neuheisel's second TD pass

Jordan PaytonMatthew Emmons/USA TODAY Sports
The redshirt sophomore stepped in for an injured Brett Hundley and managed to keep UCLA’s playoff hopes alive in hostile territory. He completed 23 of 30 passes for 178 yards and two touchdowns, but none were more important than his final pass of the game -- a 33-yard TD pass to Jordan Payton. The score pulled the Bruins in front of Texas 20-17 and would end up being just enough to keep UCLA undefeated. “This kid is everything that's right about college football and about UCLA," UCLA coach Jim Mora said. "I just thought, 'Wow. You couldn't write a better script than this right here.' His dad was a great player here. For him to come to Texas and bringing his team from behind to get a win. It's incredible.”

2. Marcus Mariota's Superman dive

Marcus MariotaAP Photo/Steve Dykes
On a first down in the second quarter, Mariota escaped the pocket and rushed to the right sideline before taking off from the 4-yard line, flipping over five players and going end-over-end for a TD. (Technically, it was a rushing TD, but we're thinking of it more as a flying TD.) Oregon wide receiver Keanon Lowe, who blocked for Mariota on the play, said he expected Mariota to run him over or for the QB to step out of bounds before getting to him. “I hear the crowd go crazy and as I’m blocking I kind of look up and I see him doing a flip outside the back of the end zone,” Lowe said. “First thought that goes through my head was: Did he just jump over me? Good thing I’m only 5-foot-9.”

3. Shaq Thompson's fumble recovery touchdown

Shaq ThompsonOtto Greule Jr/Getty Images
Shaq Attack (OK, no one calls him that, but let’s consider it?) strikes again with a 52-yard fumble recovery for a score. He barely broke stride to grab Illinois quarterback Wes Lunt's fumble and then made his way down field to bring the Huskies’ lead to 35-5. “I enjoy watching him play,” Washington coach Chris Petersen said. “You put him on offense, and he does some good things. He’s good on special teams. Then he creates his own offense on defense.”

4. Erick Dargan tipped pass leading to his INT

Erick DarganSteve Conner/Icon Sportswire
Dargan picked off two Wyoming passes in the first half of the Ducks’ 48-14 blowout. But the second one displayed a ridiculous amount of athleticism and focus. Sandwiched by two Wyoming offensive players, Dargan stepped in, tipped the ball to himself and grabbed it in midair. Mariota, who has been picked off by Dargan quite a few times in Oregon’s practices, was pleased to see Dargan picking off another player. “I told him after his second one, ‘Hopefully I won’t throw you any more in practice, you’re getting enough of them,’” Mariota said. “He makes plays like that all the time.”

Best of the visits: Pac-12

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14
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A fairly uninteresting slate of games provided for some notable outcomes and entertaining storylines for Pac-12 official and unofficial visitors this weekend. Despite a somewhat sluggish start and less than capacity crowd, Stanford put up a big win in front of some important visitors, while Colorado hosted a few in-state commitments and UCLA overcame adversity in front of some notable out-of-state targets.

Stack in the house at Stanford

The Cardinal had two ESPN 300 visitors in attendance in 2015 defensive tackle Christian Wilkins and 2016 defensive tackle Garrett Rand, but there was a famous father who took in the game as well: former NBA star Jerry Stackhouse and his son, Jaye Stackhouse, a 2015 cornerback from Suwanee (Ga.) North Gwinnett, watched Stanford shut out Army. While Stackhouse doesn't hold an offer from the Cardinal, it's not surprising to see Stanford recruiting a player from Georgia, a state the program has found plenty success in over the past few years.

Big names, frames at Stanford

Speaking of Wilkins and Rand, the two standouts were joined by another fellow big man, ESPN 300 offensive lineman Nick Wilson, a Stanford commit who made an unofficial visit across the country this weekend. Wilson undoubtedly took his turn as recruiting coordinator while watching the game with the uncommitted defensive linemen.

Big lineman takes in Buffs game

Colorado held up well in a 14-point loss to Arizona State, and the Buffs took advantage of their first home game of the season by hosting top committed recruit and ESPN 300 offensive guard Tim Lynott on an unofficial visit. Lynott is the No. 2 player in the state, so getting him on campus often this season and keeping him engaged in the program will be a priority for Colorado.

Movin' on up

UCLA had an opportunity to impress a number of Texas recruits during its trip to Arlington to take on the Longhorns. The Bruins have done very well recruiting the state and already have two commitments from Lone Star State players in 2015. But head coach Jim Mora and staff have their sights set on pulling several more commitments from the region, including ESPN 300 linebacker Malik Jefferson, who has already said he will use one of his official visits on the Bruins. Luckily for UCLA, Jefferson had a great view of the Bruins' comeback win.

Pac-12 helmet stickers: Week 3

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14
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Time to tip our cap to those who were the best of the best in Week 3.

Jerry Neuheisel, QB, UCLA: It was Jerry’s World. The redshirt sophomore stepped in for an injured Brett Hundley and completed 23 of 30 passes for 178 yards and two touchdowns as he led the Bruins in a come-from-behind 20-17 victory over Texas.

Paul Perkins, RB, UCLA: Perkins took a bit of the pressure of Neuheisel as he was a weapon in the pass and run game. He had 126 yards on the ground on 24 carries and tallied 69 receiving yards on five catches.

Devon Cajuste, WR, Stanford: The senior recorded the first three touchdowns of the day for the Cardinal in a 35-0 win over Army. His 13 yards per catch (four receptions, 52 yards) was a game-high.

Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon: The junior compiled quite the stat line in just under three quarters of play in the Ducks' 48-14 victory over Wyoming: Two passing touchdowns and 221 passing yards on 19-of-23 passing plus two rushing touchdowns and 71 rushing yards on five carries.

Shaq Thompson, LB, Washington: Thompson became Washington’s first player to record a fumble return score and pick six in the same game since at least 1978. He finished the game with four tackles and three carries for 16 yards in Washington’s 44-19 win over Illinois.

D.J. Foster, RB, Arizona State: The junior recorded his third-straight 100-yard rushing game, as he accounted for 147 yards and one touchdown on 20 carries. Foster also had three receptions for 52 yards and tallied his first receiving touchdown of the season as the Sun Devils defeated Colorado 38-24.

Nick Wilson, RB, Arizona: He helped seal the game for Arizona as he rushed for 171 yards on 29 carries. He recorded the first two touchdowns of the game for the Wildcats en route to a 35-28 win, giving Arizona a perfect 3-0 record entering Pac-12 play.
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ARLINGTON, Texas -- Without quarterback Brett Hundley, UCLA could not win. It didn't matter that Texas was beaten up and beaten down. It didn't matter that Hundley was just one guy. He was The Guy, the face of the Bruins, the biggest reason some touted them in the preseason as national title contenders. Moreover, to put it gently, the depth chart behind him was unpromising.

Backup Jerry Neuheisel? Son of Rick Neuheisel, the guy who was fired before Jim Mora built the Bruins into contenders? The guy who some suspected got a scholarship only because his dad was the head coach? No way.

So when Hundley was surrounded by trainers after going down with an apparent elbow injury in the first quarter against the Longhorns, you could sense impending doom. You could sense the Bruins, who had struggled to beat Virginia and Memphis with Hundley, joining teams such as Ohio State, Clemson, South Carolina, Georgia and Michigan State on the slag heap of exposed contenders.

[+] EnlargeJerry Neuheisel
Richard Mackson/USA TODAY SportsBackup quarterback Jerry Neuheisel got a hero's exit after leading No. 12 UCLA to a come-from-behind 20-17 victory over Texas.
Texas thought the same thing.

"[Neuheisel and Hundley] are two different quarterbacks," Texas cornerback Quandre Diggs said. "One guy is up for the Heisman and the other guy is someone we've never heard of."

Yet there was Neuheisel eyeballing Diggs' cornerbacking counterpart, Duke Thomas, in man coverage against receiver Jordan Payton with three minutes left in the game, sensing his moment had arrived.

"As soon as I saw [Thomas'] eyes, I thought, 'Oh, my God, this might just work,'" Neuheisel said.

The Bruins were down four on Texas' 33-yard line and pretty much hadn't allowed Neuhiesel to throw downfield since he came off the bench, but offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone expected man coverage and decided Payton might get free with a double move.

In fact, Thomas appeared to bite on Neuheisel's pump fake, and the ball arrived soft and sweet into Payton's hands. Touchdown. After the defense forced a four-and-done, the Bruins hoisted Neuheisel onto their shoulders. They'd won 20-17 without Hundley to improve to 3-0.

"I felt like it was going to be a little bit of a defining moment for us," UCLA coach Jim Mora said of when Hundley went down.

While it might seem to some like an ugly 3-0 for the nation's No. 12 team, it was a dream come true for Neuheisel. Literally. He told his teammates that at halftime. He grew up dreaming of following in his dad's footsteps as the UCLA quarterback, imagining throwing winning touchdowns in his backyard. The general expectation from fans and media, however, was the redshirt sophomore would remain on the bench behind Hundley, holding for field goals and then backing up whoever won the job next year when Hundley was off to the NFL.

Yet a point of emphasis from Mora and the Bruins after their victory was never doubting Neuheisel.

"We all expected it," Payton said.

Said Mora, "His team fricken' loves him. There was never any doubt."

Well, there was and is some doubt. What's next, for one, is a big issue. Hundley's status is questionable, to say the least. Mora would only say Hundley would be evaluated by UCLA team doctors back in Los Angeles. While beating a struggling Texas team with a backup QB is one thing, the Bruins visit Arizona State on Sept. 25 after a bye week. That's an entirely different deal, a critical South Division showdown. Of course, in an unfortunate twist of fate, both teams could be without their starting quarterbacks, as Taylor Kelly suffered a foot injury against Colorado on Saturday.

Neuheisel, who completed 23 of 30 passes for 178 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions, could square off with Sun Devils backup Mike Bercovici in a game with major Pac-12, and even national, implications. The Bruins, however, were still operating inside the 24-hour rule Saturday, which means their primary concern is enjoying the present, not refocusing on the next foe.

Neuheisel is his father's son. He looks and sounds like Rick Neuheisel, and he's quick with a quip like his dad. When he walked into the postgame interview room, he noted, "Holders don't get this kind of publicity." After the elder Neuheisel led the Bruins to an upset of Illinois in the 1984 Rose Bowl, he cracked wise during a postgame interview about the Fighting Illini band blasting music behind him.

"I just talked to my dad," Jerry Neuheisel said. "He said, 'You did it. It's kind of a Neuheisel thing.'"

On a day when UCLA's crosstown rival, USC, wilted at Boston College, the Bruins found a way to dig deep, overcome adversity and win. UCLA might not be a beautiful 3-0, but it is 3-0 and that's what matters.

"They never flinched," Mora said. "They never blinked. That's kind of what we are trying to become. And we're getting closer and closer every day."

Video: UCLA QB Jerry Neuheisel

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14
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Ted Miller talks with UCLA quarterback Jerry Neuheisel after the Bruins' big win over Texas.

Pac-12 viewer's guide: Week 3

September, 13, 2014
Sep 13
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Wyoming at No. 2 Oregon
Time: 2 p.m. ET
TV: Pac-12 Networks

Heisman contender Marcus Mariota will look to get his team off to a quick start over Wyoming. A week after defeating MSU in convincing fashion, the Ducks will attempt to make another big statement as they prepare for conference play. The Cowboys are led by first-year coach Craig Bohl, who gained notoriety by leading North Dakota State to national relevance in his 10 years at the helm of that program.

Illinois at Washington
Time: 4 p.m. ET
TV: Fox

Washington will attempt to pick up its third win of the season but considering how lackluster the first two were, this game will need to be a bit of a statement for the Huskies. Quarterback Cyler Miles will look to improve the Washington passing game so the Huskies won't be pigeonholed into being one-dimensional this season. Meanwhile, the Huskies defense will look to bend and not break as cornerback Marcus Peters will be sitting out for his one-game suspension due to his sideline behavior against Eastern Washington.

Army at No. 15 Stanford
Time: 5 p.m. ET
TV: Pac-12 Networks

Stanford hasn't lost consecutive games since the 2009 season and the Cardinal will look to extend that streak when Army visits The Farm this weekend. Stanford needs to limit turnovers and penalties -- two issues that plagued the team in its loss to USC -- while quarterback Kevin Hogan will attempt to keep the offense moving and finishing. Against USC, the Cardinal came away with just 10 points on nine trips inside the Trojans' 35-yard line.

Portland State at Washington State
Time: 8 p.m. ET
TV: Pac-12 Networks

The Cougars will be playing in their home stadium for the first time in 2014 when they welcome PSU to Pullman. Washington State needs a win badly; its 0-2 start is far from what was expected in Year 3 of the Mike Leach regime.

No. 9 USC at Boston College
Time: 8 p.m. ET
TV: ESPN/WatchESPN
Hashtag: #USCvsBC

USC will make a cross-country trip after its huge win over Stanford last weekend. The Trojans will be without linebacker Hayes Pullard for the first half due to a targeting penalty during the Stanford game. Leonard Williams and the rest of the USC defense will face dual-threat QB and Florida transfer Tyler Murphy.

Side note: Boston College will be wearing special red bandana tribute uniforms Saturday. It's a cool gesture and one that I suggest you learn more about. Take some time to check out the story of former BC lacrosse player Welles Crowther -- "The Man in the Red Bandana" -- before the game. Watch the feature and read more here.

No. 12 UCLA vs. Texas
Time: 8:15 p.m. ET
TV: Fox

The Bruins are trying to piece together their first complete performance in their trip to Arlington, Texas, this weekend. Brett Hundley presents quite the challenge for Texas, who has struggled with dual threat quarterbacks this year, already giving up 181 passing yards and 99 rushing yards to BYU quarterback Taysom Hill. Defensively, UCLA won't be facing Texas' best -- starting QB David Ash is out with concussion symptoms and Texas coach Charlie Strong has suspended both starting offensive tackles (among others).

No. 16 Arizona State at Colorado
Time: 10 p.m. ET
TV: ESPNU/WatchESPN
Hashtag: #ASUvsCOLO

The Sun Devils and Buffs open their Pac-12 slates with one another this weekend. Taylor Kelly, D.J. Foster and the rest of the ASU offense will attempt to put up big offensive numbers against Colorado, which has given up 34.5 points per game this season. But at home, Colorado will attempt to break the streak -- the Buffs haven't beaten a ranked opponent in their last 14 attempts.

Nevada at Arizona
Time: 11 p.m. ET
TV: Pac-12 Networks

Quarterback Anu Solomon will look to get the Wildcats off to a 3-0 start as Arizona welcomes Nevada to Arizona Stadium. "We're not good enough to play poorly and still win," coach Rich Rodriguez said earlier this week. It's a pretty obvious lesson, one that he watched play out as Nevada took down Washington State last weekend. "We know there are some games where we can make mistakes and it will really cost you. In some games you can make a few more and still be in it. That's not where we are at yet."

Byes: California, Oregon State, Utah

Pac-12's top recruiting visits 

September, 12, 2014
Sep 12
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It's a slow weekend in the Pac-12, as the conference doesn't host any real nonconference games of note. But the conference does have plans to host a significant uncommitted ESPN 300 recruit and has a team involved in one of the most intriguing non-conference games of the weekend, which could lead to significant gains on the recruiting trail.


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Like father, UCLA lineman is back home

September, 11, 2014
Sep 11
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Caleb Benenoch has a secret he’s hesitant to share with his UCLA teammates: When UCLA marched into his home state in 2010 and stunned Texas, 34-12, he couldn’t handle it.

“I don’t know if the guys know this,” Benenoch said, “but I actually cried.”

Back then, he was a sophomore at Seven Lakes High in Katy, Texas. Today, Benenoch is UCLA’s sophomore starting right tackle. He can’t wait to face the Texas program he'd sworn he’d always love, no matter where he went to college.

Benenoch is expecting as many as 30 family members and friends at AT&T Stadium in Dallas on Saturday night when the No. 12 Bruins meet a Texas team that, considering its current offensive line woes, could have definitely used him. And Benenoch hopes, somewhere in Nigeria, his father is watching.

The lineman’s road to Los Angeles and to this game wasn’t exactly conventional. Benenoch is the son of Nigerian ministers and emigrated with his family to the United States when he was 8. He started playing football at 9 by accident – his mother thought she’d signed him up for ftbol.

[+] EnlargeCaleb Benenoch
Geoff Burke/USA TODAY SportsUCLA sophomore Caleb Benenoch will take on the team he loved as a child on Saturday in Arlington, Texas.
While Esther Benenoch raised four children in Katy, her husband remained in Nigeria. David Benenoch is the founder and bishop of The Communion Church, a Pentecostal service started in 1989 and headquartered in Lagos.

“It takes a very strong family. It’s not easy to do,” Benenoch said of the distance separating his kin. “I know for them it’s not easy to do, and I appreciate them a lot.”

His father’s work takes him all over Africa and Europe, with regular stops back in Katy. Growing up, Caleb went to Nigeria during a few summer breaks for one-month visits.

In 2010, before his sophomore year, he came back from Nigeria measuring 6-foot-5 and tipping the scales at 300 pounds, to the bewilderment of his coaches and buddies.

“Everybody was saying, ‘Did you eat the kids back there?’” Benenoch said.

Once he hit that growth spurt, football became easier. He put on 20 more pounds and they all starting calling him “Bear.” When his brother, Josh Benenoch, walked on to play defensive back at Baylor in 2011, Caleb couldn’t wait for his turn. He’d told friends that, one day, Mack Brown would walk into their high school and recruit him.

His father kept up with calls and video chats, but didn’t know much about football. When Caleb did get to show off his game tapes, he usually had some explaining to do. Dad didn't understand why the big boys play up front.

“He’d always ask me, ‘Why aren’t you the one carrying the ball? Why aren’t you the one passing the ball? Why aren’t you scoring?’” Benenoch said. "After the games, you see all the dads line up, win or loss. I didn’t have that. That drove me to work harder."

This was new territory for the Benenoch family, especially when Caleb’s recruitment began. Michigan State offered a scholarship after his junior season, so he committed early without ever visiting. Then Brown made a push.

At a Texas camp in June, Brown extended an offer and his staff successfully persuaded Benenoch to reopen his recruitment. In the months that followed, he seemed a lock to end up a Longhorn.

“People don’t say no to UT very often,” Benenoch said that summer. “I love UT. I’ve loved them since I was little. I’ll love them regardless of whether I go there or not.”

Oklahoma, Baylor and Texas A&M all made strong pushes that fall, but a November official visit to UCLA swayed him in a way he never anticipated. Another factor that quietly weighed heavily: Rival coaches convinced him Brown wasn’t going to be in Austin much longer. Benenoch didn’t enjoy watching the coaching shakeup from afar this winter.

“I wasn’t happy it turned out the way it did. He’s a great guy, a great coach and I didn’t want him to leave,” Benenoch said of Brown. “It was very crazy for me, because I grew up watching him and he was the guy I wanted to play for.”

UCLA coaches weren’t lying, either, when they promised immediate playing time. Benenoch started nine games as a freshman last season – one play briefly went viral for this punch against USC – and has settled into the right tackle job.

This Texas game has been circled on his calendar ever since his December 2012 commitment.

“This is one of the reasons I picked UCLA,” he said. “Going back and beating those guys would be a lot of fun.”

So much has changed for Benenoch in the past few years, but one thing hasn’t: His father still hasn’t attended one of his games.

Benenoch sends his father photos and videos. The faraway minister has caught a few UCLA games on TV. Maybe he’ll get a chance to watch this one, a prime-time game on a big stage, his son taking the field against their once-beloved Longhorns.

"Hopefully he'll come to one before I graduate," Benenoch said. "I know he's really happy for me. And I think he understands how big a deal playing tackle is now."

Grumpy UCLA eyeballs Texas, doubters

September, 11, 2014
Sep 11
11:00
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UCLA coach Jim Mora began his weekly spot on the Pac-12 coaches teleconference with a grumble and two harrumphs. Some might say there also was a dismissive snap or two. This was Grumpy Jim.

He was asked about his Bruins appearing on the Pac-12 Network series, "The Drive."

“I’ve never said the words, ‘The Drive,’ to our team," he said. "I’ve never heard our players talk about it. They’ve never asked me a question about it. It’s a complete nonentity to us.”

He was asked about his team not playing up to expectations.

"How do you know we haven't played up to our own expectations?" Mora said, adding that he's not going to "talk about what he talks to the team about."

He was asked about Texas' pursuit of him last year before he re-upped with UCLA and the Longhorns hired Charlie Strong.

[+] EnlargeJim Mora
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images"It's up to us to prove that we are a competitive, good football team to be reckoned with," Jim Mora said. "In the first two weeks, we haven't necessarily done that."
"You'll have to ask them if they considered me," he said. "I'm just excited to the coach at UCLA."

That's all he would say, even though a day later a story would appear on ESPN.com in which he provides great detail about the interview with Texas representatives.

A grumpy football coach isn't unusual, just as a coach who doesn't want to talk about his team's struggles or his flirtation with an other job isn't either. Yet after these tense initial three minutes, Mora transformed. He loosened up and became pleasant and expansive. His 10 minutes of allotted time stretched to 15. When he fielded a last question about changing a program's culture, you got the distinct feeling he was smiling while answering.

Call the analogy facile, but Mora showed that a quick turnaround is possible, and that's what he's hoping he gets from his team as it prepares to play Texas on Saturday in AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. That transformation with reporters included significantly more insight about his and his team's thinking after some folks turned up their noses following unimpressive UCLA wins over Virginia and Memphis.

“We enjoy the role of underdog," he said. "We feel like we’re kind of back to where we want to be, which is people are doubting us. There’s a reason for that and we’re OK with that. It’s up to us to prove that we are a competitive, good football team to be reckoned with. In the first two weeks, we haven’t necessarily done that.”

Then Insightful Jim apologized for his insightful answer, "I hope you can get something out of that.”

We can. Mora is even more aware than critical reporters that the Bruins first two games haven't yet matched reasonable expectations for his depth chart. The good news is his team is 2-0. It's entirely valid to question, however, whether his team will prove to be the national title contender it was projected to be in the preseason. The early returns suggest not.

Mora went even further with his beat reporters Tuesday, admitting his players were "tight" the first two weeks. "I think we let the outside expectations become a little bit of a burden to us," he said.

In Game 1, the offensive line looked over-burdened by Virginia, yielding five sacks and producing little running room. In Game 2, that line surrendered four sacks, but the running game was better and the Bruins scored 42 points and gained 540 yards. Yet the defense yielded 35 points and 469 yards.

While it would be easy to say that if you combine the defense from Game 1 and the offense from Game 2, UCLA would be fine, the real issue is improvement on the offensive line, the team's most questionable area. This is not a new thing.

UCLA has surrendered 97 sacks since the beginning of the 2012 season, tied for second-most in the FBS, according to ESPN Stats & Information. It's particularly concerning that this isn't about blitzes. QB Brett Hundley has been sacked 51 times in his career on plays in which opponents have sent four or fewer pass-rushers, the most for any Power 5 quarterback in the last three seasons. Bruins QBs have been pressured (hurried or knocked down) on a Pac-12-high 24 percent of their dropbacks the last two seasons, including 24 percent this season.

And it's not just about pass blocking. UCLA is averaging 71.0 yards before contact per game this season, second-worst in the Pac-12 behind Washington State. The Bruins produced 130 plays the last two seasons that lost yards, third-most in the FBS.

Despite these worrisome numbers, Hundley and the Bruins have managed to score a lot of points, as they've averaged 36.7 points per game the past two seasons. But unreliability up front is where UCLA's 2014 great expectations might get the Miss Havisham treatment.

As for Mora and the Bruins, who have tumbled from No. 7 to No. 12 in the AP poll, the reality is being grumpy at 2-0 isn't such a bad thing. He noted that the worst thing that can happen to a team is its locker room becoming permeated with self-satisfaction.

So while a few gritty harrumphs for Texas on Saturday and Arizona State on Sept. 25 might quell the doubters, that grumpiness shouldn't ever completely go away.

Pac-12 Week 3 predictions

September, 11, 2014
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Why Washington will win: Pointing out that Illinois trailed in the second half in wins against FCS Youngstown State and Western Kentucky usually would be reason enough to pick Washington.

However, because the Huskies also played close games with a lower-level FBS team [Hawaii] and an FCS team [Eastern Washington], the first point is somewhat negated. Now that coach Chris Petersen has two games to evaluate his personnel, there's reason to believe Washington -- playing at home -- will take a step forward. -- Kevin Gemmell







Why USC will win: Is anyone really expecting the Trojans to follow up a win at Stanford with a loss to Boston College? After coasting in Week 1, the Trojans took a punch in Week 2, counter-punched and are now a top 10 team. Leonard Williams is getting healthier (bad news, Golden Eagles), and Buck Allen has climbed into early-season Heisman conversations. The Trojans will simply overwhelm BC with their athletes. -- Gemmell



Why UCLA will win: The Bruins have shown they can win a game with defense (that was Week 1). They’ve shown they can win a game with offense (that was Week 2). With a little bit of the pressure off the Bruins, who have slid down to No. 12 and don’t seem to have as much fanfare as in the preseason, Jim Mora said he expects a looser UCLA outfit. A complete game on both sides of the ball would be a good start. Against an ailing Texas team, that doesn’t seem like that far of a stretch. -- Gemmell



Why Arizona State will win: The Sun Devils’ impressive offensive display over the first two weeks has done nothing to dispel coach Todd Graham’s preseason proclamation that this would be his best offensive team yet. The lack of quality competition makes ASU still a bit of an unknown, but there should be no problems against Colorado, which still has some ground to make up before it can expect to beat other Pac-12 teams. -- Ted Miller



Why Arizona will win: Arizona doesn't have Brock Hekking and his beautiful, beautiful mullet, but at the end of the day, an '80s hair icon doesn't win a football game. A team does, and Arizona is going to win this one behind big performances from quarterback Anu Solomon, as he gets quite a few of his receivers involved, and running back Nick Wilson, who'll pick up another 100-yard game.

But let me make it clear: Nevada does win the '80s dance party following the game. Sorry, Wildcats. -- Chantel Jennings

Pac-12 morning links

September, 11, 2014
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There he goes. One of God's own prototypes. Some kind of high powered mutant never even considered for mass production. Too weird to live, and too rare to die.

Leading off

Remember all that chatter in August about how good the quarterbacks were in the Pac-12? Well, it was also in July, and June ... pretty much since last season ended. The quarterbacks driving this quarterback-driven league certainly deserve their spotlight. But lest we forget, there are some guys who can also do some damage on the ground.

John Marshall of The Associated Press looks at some of the teams in the conference who are also tearing things up on the ground. Marshall goes into detail on the running games of four teams in the league, including Arizona State:
The Sun Devils also have a pass-first perception that isn't exactly true. Since coach Todd Graham arrived three years ago, his focus has been on establishing a strong running game to set up the pass. The Sun Devils have had success doing just that with a variety of backs. This season, it's D.J. Foster's turn. A high-profile local recruit, he spent his first two seasons playing multiple positions so the Sun Devils could take advantage of his versatility.

Arizona, ASU, Washington, Utah, Oregon and USC are the six teams that are averaging more than 200 yards per game. However, perhaps the most interesting element of this story is who isn't mentioned. And that's Stanford. While the Cardinal have never been the team that put up obscene rushing numbers, they certainly have set the standard over the last few years for power running. And they've produced a 1,000-yard rusher every season since 2008. Bizarre seeing the Cardinal ranked 10th in the conference in rushing offense. But as Marshall points out, it's still early.

Individual hype

Some high praise in a couple of different articles about Pac-12 players Wednesday. First, CBS' Dennis Dodd profiles UCLA's Myles Jack. He cites an NFL scout who calls Jack the best athlete in the Pac-12.

Also, Stanford coach David Shaw joined the NFL's college football podcast and compared wide receiver Ty Montgomery to former first-round pick Irving Fryar.
"This guy needs to touch the ball every single way as humanly possible," Shaw said. "Just because he’s that kind of an athlete. He’s that kind of a dynamic football player. We have to make it hard for defenses to key on him … There is one name some of the younger listeners might not know very well, but I spent a year with Irving Fryar in Philadelphia. You’re talking about compact, physical, explosive. Irving ran a 4.3 coming out of college, coming out of Nebraska, and he would run over somebody and then run around them."
News/notes/team reports
Just for fun

The smile hasn't changed, eh? Good for you, KP.


Something to keep an eye on in 2015?

UCLA Bruins embrace underdog role

September, 10, 2014
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If you were on the UCLA bandwagon before the season, great. UCLA coach Jim Mora appreciates your support. If you’ve jumped off the UCLA bandwagon in the last couple weeks, that’s fine, too. Mora doesn’t care.

“We don’t pay attention to outside expectations,” Mora said. “Those don’t matter to us. What matters to us is our expectations.”

Mora declined to comment on whether the No. 12 Bruins, who have dropped five spots since the preseason poll, have lived up to his expectations two weeks into the season.

[+] EnlargeJim Mora
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesUCLA coach Jim Mora says the Bruins like it when people doubt them.
Lost among the “overrated” and “overhyped” chatter is the fact that the Bruins are 2-0. There are a lot of other teams in the country that wouldn’t mind being undefeated. The standings don't take vanity into account. Wins are wins. And yes, the first two weeks probably haven’t gone according to script -- but that’s our script. Us, the ones who placed the Bruins in the preseason top 10, predicted they’d win the Pac-12 South Division and could contend for a national championship.

Mora doesn’t give a rat’s fanny about our script. He cares about his. And his script has the Bruins undefeated heading into Week 3. He didn’t say that, but we can do that math on our own.

Week 1, the defense looked as stout as advertised, scoring three touchdowns on the road. Week 2, the offense picked up the slack. That the Bruins have yet to put together a complete game isn’t a source of panic for the head coach, whose team heads to Arlington this week to face Texas.

“For us, you have to always be happy when you win because that’s the first objective,” Mora told reporters after practice Tuesday. “But I don’t think anybody is satisfied. I tried to tell them, let’s enjoy it for 24 hours and then we’ll figure out what we need to do better and move on.”

On paper, Texas doesn’t appear to be the heavyweight it's been in the past. On the heels of a 41-7 loss to BYU, the 1-1 Longhorns are already without quarterback David Ash and could be missing wide receiver Jaxon Shipley. They are struggling to find an identity under new coach Charlie Strong.

And yet, what’s going on at Texas isn’t a concern to Mora. His focus has been on getting his players ready for another football game.

“I think we were tight,” Mora said after practice. “I think we let the outside expectations become a little bit of a burden to us. And I said it after the first game, we were trying to be too perfect, and I still felt it in the second game. Then I started to feel it relieve itself. I feel like we’re back to where we need to be. We’ll see if I’m wrong or right.”

So, no. The sky is not falling on the Bruins. After the Texas game, they get a week off before heading to Tempe to face Arizona State in a Thursday night game with massive Pac-12 implications. If you recall, the previous two seasons the South Division has essentially been decided by this game. Two years ago it was Brett Hundley leading a comeback in Tempe. Last year it was the Sun Devils who got the better of the Bruins.

Mora doesn’t care if people are doubting his Bruins. In fact, quite the opposite. The more people doubt, the better his team responds.

“We’re an underdog,” Mora said. “That’s who we are. We like it when people doubt us. That helps inspire us. I’m not saying that it should. But it does."

Weekend recruiting wrap: Pac-12 

September, 9, 2014
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video Oregon made the most noise on the field and the recruiting trail this past weekend, posting a win against a top-10 team in front of a number of potential impact recruits in the 2015 and 2016 classes. Elsewhere in the conference, USC made a statement with a big win and UCLA did the same with a big offer.


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