UCLA’s athleticism on defense showed in win over Cal, but Oregon is much bigger challenge – Press Enterprise

UCLA’s athleticism on defense showed in win over Cal, but Oregon is much bigger challenge – Press Enterprise

When you’ve had one of the worst ranked defenses in the country over the past two seasons, leading the Pac-12 in sacks after two games is a welcome sight for the UCLA Bruins football team.

Junior linebacker Caleb Johnson (2.5) leads the Pac-12 in sacks and senior defensive lineman Osa Odighizuwa (1.5) is among the top five as the Bruins lead the conference with six sacks over two games following Sundays’ defensive gem, a 34-10 victory over Cal.
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It’s early, but the Bruins rank third defensively in the Pac-12 behind undefeated Oregon and USC in team defense among teams that have played two games, and it’s a trend the Bruins (1-1) hope can continue when they visit the 11th ranked Ducks (2-0) in Saturday’s game in Eugene.

The game was originally scheduled for Friday night, but because the Bruins played Cal on Sunday, the game was moved to Saturday. The Pac-12 has not released the kickoff time for Saturday’s game as of Monday morning.

The Bruins had nine tackles for loss against Cal, another sign of improvement.

“I think we’re getting a lot of production out of our defensive line,” Bruins coach Chip Kelly said during a conference call on Monday. “We’re getting more speed on the field and our athleticism has showed up. You have guys that are athletic and can move a little bit.

“But it was part of our thought process of we needed to get faster on the defensive side of the ball, and that’s at every position. A lot of times everyone says faster and you think it’s about the (defensive backs), but it’s the (defensive line), linebackers and it’s in the secondary. And, I think we have more athletes on the field right now and that’s what we we’re striving to get to.”

Kelly didn’t attribute their improved play to anything done schematically, he attributed it more to just hustle and following the game plan.

“A lot of tings we’ve done, guys are executing it,” Kelly said. “I would say overall our entire defense is playing harder. When you have 11 guys running to the ball, usually good things will happen and I really see our team running to the football right now.”

DEALING WITH OREGON’S OFFENSE

The Bruins know they will have their hands full against the Ducks’ high-powered balanced offense, which is averaging 417 yards in wins over Stanford (35-14) and Washington State (43-29) to open the season for coach Mario Cristobal

Ducks quarterback Tyler Shough is a run and pass threat and threw for 312 yards and four touchdowns in Saturday’s win over Washington State. But the Ducks run the ball as efficiently is anyone too, and junior CJ Verdell leads the way with 38 carries and 223 yards combined in his first two games to go with two touchdowns.

“In their two games, they’re very balanced and they’re getting a lot of production out of their passing game,” Kelly said. “But obviously we know with Mario up there, they’ve always been a run first operation and will continue to be and they’re getting a lot of real good production. We’re also facing one of the top backs not only in the conference, but in the country in Verdell, so, we expect to see a heavy dose of the running back.”

Kelly said Oregon offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead does a really good job of mixing up the Ducks’ offense, and using Shough in a variety of ways.

“(Shough) is athletic and can beat you with his feet, too, so you can’t sleep on him,” Kelly said. “And Joe Moorhead, I’ve known Joe for a long time, he does a real good job with the RPO game (run-pass option) off of the run game, so they’re going to make you defend the whole field and they’re going to try and get players isolated and we have to do a really good job of tackling in space, and with the one-on-one battles. And we have to do a good job of running to the football and make sure everyone is rallying to the point of attack so that we can get a lot of hats around the ball, because Joe’s scheme will really spread you out and put guys on islands and we have to be ready for that.”

QWUANTREZZ KNIGHT HAS BEEN IMPRESSIVE

Kelly said Qwuantrezz Knight, a graduate transfer from Kent State who also spent two years with Maryland, has been a key addition in the Bruins’ secondary and his love for the game has been infectious.

In Sunday’s win he also had five tackles, including a sack for an eight-yard loss.

“I think Q-Knight did exactly what he did last week and everything that he’s done since he’s been here,” Kelly said following Sunday’s win. “We are really happy he’s here. There is a certain energy and juice that he brings every day, not only to the meeting rooms and the practice field, but our players thrive off of it. He is a physical football player that’s really sharp, and you can put a lot on his plate.”

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