UCLA cornerback Ishmael Adams was pragmatic.
"That was a start," Adams said about the secondary's performance in the Bruins' 41-21 victory over Nebraska, "but we've got a lot of growing to do."
The secondary rated at the top of Coach Jim Mora's worry list a month ago.
One corner was Fabien Moreau, a redshirt freshman who moved to defensive back a year ago. The other was Adams, a sophomore who played all but two games. And one of the safeties was Anthony Jefferson, a converted cornerback who had missed two seasons with injuries.
"They actually have played fairly well," Mora said. "When we get up against a real, live passing team, a team that flings it 50-60 times in a game, then we'll really find out."
Against Nebraska, the work in progress could be viewed two ways in a story of two halves:
In the first half, the Cornhuskers scorched the Bruins. Moreau and reserve cornerback Brandon Sermons were beaten one-on-one for touchdowns. Safety Randall Goforth was hurdled for a touchdown.
In the second half, the Bruins locked things down as Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez struggled to complete 10 of 19 passes for a paltry 87 yards.
"We learned a lot last game," said Jefferson, who had nine tackles against Nebraska. "We made plays on the ball. But we could have made even more plays than we did."
Defensive coordinator Lou Spanos said the first-half woes could not be placed entirely on the secondary. "We were trying things to take the pressure off them," he said. "We couldn't get to the quarterback."
The Bruins have four sacks in two games. They will need to apply more pressure once Pac-12 Conference play begins.
For now, Mora is happy.
"They are going to have their setbacks sometimes because they are young and they don't have experience," Mora said. "But I feel we have really made progress back there."
Freshman cornerback Priest Willis made his college debut against Nebraska, but was limited to special teams work.
Mora said Willis will be an asset to the secondary at some point. He has been slowed by a shoulder injury.
"As the season goes on and he gets himself in better shape, you'll see more of Priest Willis," Mora said. "He did a good job on the kickoff team. He missed summer training, so he didn't have the benefit of the off-season that some of the other guys had."
Green with envy
Mora was preaching team play to the Bruins before practice and to the media afterward. His shining example?
Bill Russell — not the former Dodgers shortstop, but the one-time Boston Celtic.
Mora said he showed a video about Russell to the team and called him "the greatest winner of team sports."
"He played 21 years of organized basketball and won 18 championships," Mora said. "Everything about him was about the team, the team winning."
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