UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr closes in on Houston quarterback David Piland… (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles…)
UCLA Coach Jim Mora hesitates to talk about individual awards. What's good for the team is good for the individual is the go-to philosophy.
Linebacker Anthony Barr inspired him to deviate from the norm.
Reporters and pundits are tossing around their ideas about midseason Pac-12 Conference awards, something coaches vote on at the end of the season. Barr doesn't get his share of the attention, Mora said.
"It baffles me when I see people who are mentioned for Pac-12 defensive player of the year and his name is not on the list," Mora said. "I'm not big on individual accolades. I like team awards more than anything."
"This guy is a special player," Mora said.
Opponents seem to get that. They give Barr special attention in game plans. "If they're don't, they should," Mora said.
It easy for offensive coordinators to take note of Barr, who was a receiver his first two years at UCLA. He tends to disrupt things.
His 7.5 sacks in seven games rank him tied for eighth nationally. No linebacker is higher — Washington State's Travis Long is also tied for eighth.
Barr also has 11 tackles for a loss and has forced three fumbles. But perception is a hurdle.
The Bruins gave up 30 or more points in 20 of 51 games from 2008 through 2011. That hardly screams "defensive behemoth." No media relations campaign can trump the numbers.
Change is slow. UCLA has been better defensively this season but still ranks 69th in total defense and 41st in scoring defense.
Barr has been a big part of the improvement.
"I think the biggest challenge for me is consistency," Barr said. "I don't really worry what offenses do and how they block me. I try to be the same guy."
With only seven games as a linebacker on his resume, Barr is still learning.
"It's a great test for him," UCLA linebackers coach Jeff Ulbrich said. "Things come easy for him. … He is very athletic. I think he realized from the beginning that he has to rely on skill and savvy."
Said Mora: "I think he's earned the right to be in that group that's being talked about for defensive player of the year."
Ready to receive
Receiver Jerry Johnson is set to rejoin the UCLA offense. Sore ribs prevented him from playing against Utah and limited him to one series against California.
"He gives us a little bit more of a vertical threat, so we can stretch the field," Mora said. "We need explosive plays. The offense is capable of it. The last couple weeks isn't where we want to be."
Johnson has 15 receptions for 155 yards and one touchdown this season.
"I think he has the ability to play at the next level," Mora said. "I think he needs to show it to some people."
Scouting the Sun Devils
Arizona State is likely to be without star defensive tackle Will Sutton, who has a bone bruise in his right knee. Sutton ranks third nationally with 8.5 sacks.
Defensive end Junior Onyeali (shoulder) is expected to play for the Sun Devils.
Arizona State is having kicking woes. Alex Garoutte, who is six for 11 on field goals, has been replaced atop the depth chart for this game by walk-on Jon Mora (no relation to UCLA's coach). Garoutte missed three field-goal attempts against California and his only attempt against Oregon. Between those games, Mora made his only attempt against Colorado.
Garoutte missed two field-goal tries in the final six minutes in a 29-28 loss to UCLA last season.