LOS ANGELES -- Senior cornerbacks Aaron Hester and Sheldon Price have not been at the tops of their games lately, the pinnacle of poor play coming in last week's loss to California in which Hester committed three penalties and was pulled from the game and Price was beaten badly on a 34-yard touchdown pass.
UCLA has given up passing touchdowns of 75, 42, 34, 32 and 31 yards over the last three weeks. Cal quarterback Zach Maynard had completed 57.6 percent of his passes and had only five touchdowns in five games before Saturday, but looked like an all-pro when he completed 20 of 25 passes for 295 yards and four touchdowns against UCLA.
Not only that, but Price and Hester have combined for 11 penalties this season -- three of them pass interference and two defensive holding. Hester inexplicably has three face-mask penalties, including a costly one Saturday at Cal that extended a drive and led to a touchdown.
“What I’d like to see is a higher level of consistency,” coach Jim Mora said. “Not so up and down. But that’s a group I think with three seniors should be able to play with a level of consistency that’s higher than maybe it’s shown to this point. So that’s what we’re asking them to do.”
On the heels of Saturday's showing, Price and Hester said Tuesday they wouldn’t speak with the media. That lasted one day, and Wednesday they said they will keep fighting to get better.
“You just have to go out there and keep competing," Hester said. "Cornerback is one of the most criticized and under-the-microscope positions because everyone can see when you get beat out in the open. But it’s a hard position. With all the stuff that we did bad, we also did some good things in the game. We’ve got to continue to do the good things and eliminate the bad things.”
Price, who had three interceptions Sept. 15 against Houston, said a return to the basics during practice this week should help. He said they have been working on foot position, hand position, where to line up and how to stand before the snap. Those fundamentals have been missing in recent weeks, he said.
“We got away from our techniques a little bit for whatever reason and they took advantage of it," Price said. "Now that we’re getting back to that, you can see us developing in practice and you can see us getting back to where we were.”
If it doesn’t happen quickly, it could lead to a loss of playing time. Mora said he has been working freshmen Marcus Rios and Fabian Moreau at the cornerback positions over the last few weeks to ramp up the competition. He’s not sure he's ready to swap freshmen in for his seniors, however.
“As much as you prepare each week for a game, you are going to get unscouted looks,” Mora said. “There are going to be things you haven’t seen on film that happen in a game. Having the background and knowledge and the experience to be able to adjust quickly and make the right decisions so you can make the right play -- that’s always the challenge when you are playing young guys.”
Now that the freshmen Moreau and Rios have half a season under their belts, however, they may be ready to make a run. Price said the competition can only help.
“With the competition, everybody gets to showcase their ability and it also raises everybody else’s ability," he said. "You all do the little things to try and get better and then as a group we end up getting better.”