UCLA to unleash improved defense vs. Arizona
If there are signs of life for UCLA in its third season under Chip Kelly, it’s because of an attacking defense.
The Bruins (1-2, 1-2 Pac-12) aren’t far away from a much shinier record, having lost by six points at Colorado in their opener and by a field goal last weekend at Oregon. UCLA gave up 38 points to the then-No. 11 Ducks but had 10 tackles for loss, including four sacks.
On Saturday in Pasadena, the Bruins will try to hound visiting Arizona (0-2, 0-2), which went scoreless for three quarters at Washington last Saturday before scoring four fourth-quarter touchdowns in a 44-27 loss.
Using a new 4-2-5 scheme, UCLA is tied for eighth nationally in tackles for loss at 8.5 per game. Against the Ducks, outside linebacker Mitchell Agude posted 2.5 tackles for loss, while lineman Osa Odighizuwa and linebacker Carl Jones each came up with 1.5 sacks.
“Part of our plan was to kind of let those guys and the Osas of the world pin their ears back and let them play and really capitalize on their athleticism,” said coach Chip Kelly, whose team also held Oregon to 88 rushing yards.
“I was really proud of them. And to come up short the way we did, it’s hard, but if they continue to play hard, we’re going to have a shot.”
UCLA was missing several players last week, including starting quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson, due to COVID-19 positive tests and contact tracing. His status for this week’s game at the Rose Bowl was unknown early in the week.
He was replaced last week by 5-foot-11 redshirt freshman Chase Griffin, who went 19 of 31 for 195 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions, including a pick-six. He also lost a fumble.
UCLA — which went 7-17 in Kelly’s first two seasons — has committed four turnovers in each of its losses. Question is: Will that be an issue this week? The Arizona defense is still looking for its first takeaway of the season.
Moreover, Arizona has merely one sack in two games.
The Wildcats beat UCLA 20-17 last season as part of a 4-1 start, but they have since lost a school-record nine consecutive games. Third-year coach Kevin Sumlin said Monday it’s unfair to put the burden of all that losing on his current team.
“There’s a lot of guys that played Saturday night that have lost (just) two games. It’s a different football team,” he said.
“The losing streak, for me, is different. I’m the common denominator in there. There’s a hell of a lot of players who were playing Saturday night that had nothing to do with last year. I mean, a lot. You (can) just lump that on me, because in the end my name is on it.”
Quarterback Grant Gunnell is 0-5 as a starter, including three games as an injury replacement last season, but the sophomore is considered one of the team’s bright spots. He has completed 51 of 75 passes for 545 yards, six touchdowns and one interception this season.
He has been sacked nine times, another area that doesn’t seem to bode well this week against an aggressive UCLA front. Sumlin suggested he might revamp his offensive line this week.
“It’s not the best five individual players, it’s the best five that play together, that communicate,” he said. “(Former Purdue coach) Joe Tiller was a line coach and he used to say, ‘You’re not looking for five pennies, you’re looking for a nickel.'”
–Field Level Media