As Jim Mora sees it, the bye week couldn’t have come at a better time for UCLA football.
“It’s the start of school, so (the players) can take this week and they can really focus in on school and get off to a good start,” the coach said. “And then it gives us a chance to sharpen some guys up, to get guys some extra work in the training room.”
The Bruins also enter the bye with some momentum, especially on defense. The unit is still giving up an average of 39.2 points per game, but the Bruins are coming off their best defensive performance of the season in Saturday’s 27-23 win over Colorado.
It helps that they’re finally close to full strength.
Injuries to three of the team’s defensive leaders – redshirt junior defensive back Adarius Pickett, senior defensive back Jaleel Wadood and senior linebacker Kenny Young – in the second week of the season depleted the unit early on.
Wadood and Young missed UCLA’s loss at Memphis, Tennessee, while Pickett played hurt. The next week at Stanford, all three were back, but Pickett missed most of the game after being ejected for targeting near the end of the first quarter.
“We need to be healthy,” Pickett said. “That leadership that gets displayed on defense, it comes from us three guys that are the core of the defense along with (senior defensive lineman Jacob Tuioti-Mariner) on the front line.”
And freshman defensive end Jaelan Phillips, who has been absent since hurting his foot in week three against Memphis, might return by the time UCLA takes the field at Arizona on Oct. 14, Mora said.
The extra time off should also help the Bruins on the other side of the ball, where they must figure out how to replace redshirt sophomore tight end Caleb Wilson. Wilson leads all tight ends in the nation in receptions but suffered a season-ending foot injury Saturday against Colorado.
The Bruins won’t make any schematic changes as a result of Wilson’s injury, Mora said, but some of the team’s reserve tight ends will have to take on larger roles.
“Certainly, you miss a guy like Caleb,” Mora said. “Someone else is just going to have to do a heck of a job where Caleb was doing things.”
Redshirt junior tight end Austin Roberts saw the bulk of the action Saturday after Wilson suffered the injury and finished with two catches for 42 yards and his second touchdown of the year. Roberts was in Indianapolis on Tuesday for an NCAA seminar, Mora said, meaning true freshmen Jimmy Jaggers and Moses Robinson-Carr received the reps at tight end in practice.
Jaggers, a four-star recruit and Scout.com’s No. 12 tight end prospect in the country last year, was back at practice Tuesday after missing the team’s first five games with an injury.
“Those guys, Jimmy and Moses, they got a lot of work,” Mora said. “With Caleb going down, all of a sudden Moses and Jimmy become very important to us.”