UCLA’s unnamed, inexperienced quarterback to have veterans around him
UCLA Coach Jim Mora was asked several questions about the Bruins’ quarterback competition at Pac-12 media day.
UCLA Coach Jim Mora started his session at the Pac-12 Conference’s football media day Thursday with an attempt to head off already-tiresome questions.
“The obvious question for us this year, that I’ve been asked already a hundred times in the last two days, is who is our quarterback going to be?” Mora began. “So I can just tell you right now, before anyone asks me again, I don’t know. When I know, I’ll let you know.”
He then spent the next 30 minutes answering questions about the Bruins’ quarterback situation.
Whoever the starter will be — freshman Josh Rosen and redshirt juniors Jerry Neuheisel and Mike Fafaul were all mentioned by Mora — the scrutiny is likely to continue even after the decision is made.
“It’s probably something we’ll work through the entire season,” Mora said. “It’s a demanding position in terms of decision-making, handling the pressure. It’s a position where, typically, experience is a real positive. We just don’t have that.”
UCLA has experience just about everywhere else. The Bruins return 18 starters, including five offensive linemen. Paul Perkins, the Pac-12’s leading rusher in 2014, is also back, as is a strong group of receivers.
Yet, in a poll of media, the Bruins were picked to finish third in the conference’s South Division. USC was picked to win the division and the conference. UCLA is the only team in the division that does not have a starting quarterback in place.
The subject has Mora watching his words.
Asked about the season opener against Virginia, Mora said, “They’re going to be seeing a quarterback that’s never taken a snap. … “
Then, noticing a reporter’s reaction, Mora back-tracked, saying, “No, who has never started — I saw your ears went up — that’s never started a game.”
Rosen, who displayed high-end skills during spring practice after graduating early from Bellflower St. John Bosco High, is the only UCLA quarterback who hasn’t taken a snap in a college game.
That’s the main difference between USC and UCLA this season. The Trojans return Cody Kessler, a quarterback who starts the season in the Heisman Trophy chatter.
It was enough to tilt media opinion in USC’s favor.
“It’s legitimate because that’s the guy who handles the ball on every play,” Mora said. “You can’t go on past behavior to judge future results because you don’t have any past behavior to judge. That’s why it is so unnerving.”
UCLA linebacker Deon Hollins had another reason. Asked whether the Bruins had missed an opportunity to become the dominant program while USC was down, he said, “The media loves them. It befuddles me. But we love that. It buys into our blue-collar mentality.”
He added: “People look at us and for whatever reason say, ‘It’s UCLA, they’re OK, they are going to show a little bit, but then they are going to fall off the map.’ It befuddles me because of how much talent we have and how much we are overlooked. I’m not slighted by that. It just puts a chip on our shoulders.”
The Bruins, with Brett Hundley at quarterback, defeated USC the last three seasons. Hundley passed on his last year of college eligibility to jump to the NFL, leaving center Jake Brendel perplexed about how one position can alter perceptions.
“A lot of people think that the quarterback is the only thing that matters on the offense,” Brendel said. “There are some other things that come into play. I feel like our offensive line’s expertise has grown a lot. So I feel that can counterbalance any expertise that is lost at the quarterback position.”
No matter who is taking the snaps, Hollins said, “any one of them can lead us to the promised land.”
UCLA is scheduled to open training camp in San Bernardino on Aug. 10.
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