Nowhere is UCLA’s depth more precarious than at cornerback. Nowhere is UCLA’s future more secure than at cornerback.
What seems to be a contradiction meshes with the shot-term need and the long-term benefit of playing freshmen.
Starting cornerbacks Aaron Hester and Sheldon Price are capable, but both are seniors. Behind them are freshmen Marcus Rios and Fabian Moreau, who are expected to receive more playing time because another freshman, Ishmael Adams, is facing season-ending shoulder surgery.
Besides backing up Hester and Price, Rios and Moreau are members of UCLA’s special teams units.
“We need to get them plays wherever we can,” Coach Jim Mora said. “When they come out here next year and are thrust into a starting role, they have some game experience.
“You can do everything you want in practice. You can do every drill imaginable during the off-season. Unless you’re playing in a game, it’s just not the same.”
The injury to Adams accelerated plans for Rios and Moreau.
Rios was a national top-25-rated cornerback as a senior at Elk Grove Cosumnes Oaks High who graduated early so he could participate in UCLA’s spring practice. But Adams proved to be more prepared to play immediately.
Rios was ticketed for a redshirt year, but those plans lasted two games. Then he was sent out against Houston.
“It was a real eye-opener,” Rios said. “I got only about 10 plays, but that was enough to learn how much speed and tempo there is in the college game.”
Moreau was a running back and wide receiver at Sunrise (Fla.) Western High. He made the move to cornerback in training camp and intercepted a pass in his first practice.
“It’s hard to cover someone,” said Moreau, who has played in all three of UCLA’s games. “That was something I was up for.”
There is a learning curve.
“I’m going to make mistakes; it’s just a matter how I take care of the mistakes so I don’t repeat them,” Rios said.
The hardest part, Mora said, is on coverage down field, “knowing when to look back, being down field and having the confidence to look back and find the ball.”
It appears UCLA will face an Oregon State team chock full of eager Beavers.
Oregon State has played only once in three weeks. Its opener against Nicholls State was postponed because of bad weather and the Beavers are coming off a scheduled bye week.
“I love hitting people,” Oregon State defensive end Dylan Wynn told the Oregonian. “I love just being on the field and not getting in trouble for hitting people. The more away from it you are, the more you want it.”
The Oregon State defense manhandled Wisconsin, 10-7, in the Beavers’ only game, holding the then-13th-ranked Badgers to 207 yards.
But are the Beavers legitimately good? The only reference point is Wisconsin, which was dropped from the rankings after an unimpressive 16-14 victory over Utah State last week. The Badgers also struggled with Northern Iowa in their opener, winning, 26-21.
Nothing like having the head coach tuck you in at night.
Mora excels at micromanaging, right down to doing bed checks himself in the team hotel the night before a game. Players were surprised to find their coach doing a chore usually left to subordinates.
“He comes into the room, says, ‘What’s up?’ just to make sure our minds are right,” quarterback Brett Hundley said.
Hundley and Kevin Prince, hotel roommates, decided to play a trick on their coach the night before the Nebraska game.
“I hid behind KP’s bed, like I wasn’t in the room,” Hundley said. “But I left my shoes right next to my bed. We had the right plan, we just didn’t execute it. We executed a lot better in the game the next day.”