UCLA takes a closer look at its punting game

UCLA punter Matt Mengel kicks the ball away in a game against the Virginia Cavaliers in September.

UCLA punter Matt Mengel kicks the ball away in a game against the Virginia Cavaliers in September.

(Jason O. Watson / Getty Images)

UCLA’s football team has used two punters, with neither distinguishing himself.

Matt Mengel and Adam Searl shared punting duties last week against Arizona State. Mengel averaged 35.0 yards on four kicks, and Searl made his season debut with five kicks averaging 39.0 yards.

“We’re just trying to increase our punt a little bit and give Adam a shot,” Coach Jim Mora said. “He has worked hard and has earned it.”

Mengel, a senior, was rushed into duty a year ago after punter Sean Covington left the program. He averaged 40.2 yards a punt in 2014. This season, his average is 38.1 yards.


Searl, junior, averaged 39.1 yards on 11 punts season.

Mengel handled the punting in UCLA’s first four games, but his struggles have given Searl an opportunity.

“You can’t force it,” Mengel said of his efforts to shake his slump. “You can’t rush it. You can’t try too hard. … You can’t go out and try to kill the ball the next time. You’ve got to clear your mind, say ‘Screw it’ and kick.”

Ka’imi Fairbairn, UCLA’s placekicker, has worked through his own barrier. He struggled from distance on field-goal attempts the last three seasons but made a career-best 53-yard try against Arizona State.

“That felt great,” Fairbairn said. “It was one of those ‘finally’ moments.”

Fairbairn made only 11 of 19 kicks from 40 or more yards his first three seasons, but has made five of his last six.

“When you’re young, you think about it,” Fairbairn said. “You look where you are on the field and say, ‘Oh, I’ve got to kick it a little harder.’ It’s not like that this year.”

In defense of the run

Arizona State’s defense stacked the line of scrimmage to thwart UCLA’s running game, and the Bruins managed a paltry 62 yards.

Offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone, who admitted he had been stubborn in continuing to try to ignite the ground game in the first half, said defenses the Bruins will face the rest of the season are unlikely to mimic a scheme that was successful because “people have a fingerprint. They are who they are.”

However, he also acknowledged, “They may have something in their scheme that matches what was giving us trouble.”

Stanford, UCLA’s next opponent, held the Bruins to a season-low 100 yards rushing last season.

Johnson injured

Mossi Johnson, a receiver and defensive back, is unlikely to play against Stanford because of a knee injury. The knee was examined Wednesday.

Johnson has eight receptions for 41 yards. He has also played safety.

The Bruins’ other injured players appear to be recovering.

Linebacker Jayon Brown (back) attended practice Wednesday, though the Bruins were not in pads. Running back Bolu Olorunfunmi (shoulder) was in a red no-contact jersey. Both players missed the Arizona State game.

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