UCLA was missing so many players on defense that it forced the Bruins to get creative.
It worked. Sort of.
The Bruins used a 3-4 formation that essentially turned defensive ends Jaelan Phillips and Keisean Lucier-South into outside linebackers … and then had to switch personnel again in the third quarter when Phillips went down with an apparent right ankle injury. Phillips was wearing a walking boot after the game.
"You can call it a 3-4, or a 5-2, whatever," UCLA coach Jim Mora said of the No. 25 Bruins' hybrid formation after their 48-45 loss to Memphis on Saturday at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium. "It was an odd front, is what it is."
Phillips was hardly the only player UCLA missed, prompting a change from its usual 4-3 alignment. Linebacker Kenny Young and safety Jaleel Wadood sat out after suffering head trauma last week against Hawaii, and linebacker Breland Brandt did not play for an undisclosed reason.
UCLA was further depleted in the fourth quarter when defensive tackle Osa Odighizuwa was ejected for targeting. Odighizuwa will also have to miss the first half of the Bruins' game against Stanford next week as punishment.
The Bruins did benefit from the return of defensive tackle Boss Tagaloa and safety Adarius Pickett from injuries. Tagaloa sat out the game against Hawaii with an undisclosed injury and Pickett suffered a right knee injury against the Rainbow Warriors. Pickett, who had barely practiced during the week, intercepted one pass and broke up another against Memphis.
Linebacker Josh Woods also came back in the second half Saturday after sitting out the first half as punishment for a targeting penalty last week. Woods made four tackles.
UCLA's defense surrendered 560 total yards and six passing touchdowns. But the Bruins made some improvement against the run with the exception of Darrell Henderson's 80-yard sprint on Memphis' first play from scrimmage, one in which UCLA missed two tackles. The Tigers gained only 82 rushing yards the balance of the game on 36 carries, an average of 2.3 yards per carry.
Memphis burned the Bruins for two screen passes that went for touchdowns in the second quarter after the Tigers benefited from excellent blocking.
"We weren't doing a good job really of getting pressure on the guy," Mora said of Memphis quarterback Riley Ferguson, "and they got those two long screens. Boy, those really hurt us."
It was not a clean game for the UCLA defense as far as penalties.
The Bruins were called for two 15-yard penalties on Memphis' first drive of the third quarter that resulted in a touchdown. Defensive tackle Matt Dickerson was assessed a personal-foul facemask and cornerback Nate Meadors was called for pass interference on third down, sustaining the Tigers' drive.
Odighizuwa was called for targeting in the fourth quarter and another personal foul on the Bruins on the same drive gave the Tigers a first down at UCLA's six-yard line. Memphis scored its final touchdown of the game two plays later.
"The penalties hurt us at crucial times," Bruins defensive coordinator Tom Bradley said. "We gave them some drives."
UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen has completed 13 touchdown passes in his last three games, tying the school record for a three-game span that Drew Olson had set during the 2005 season. … Bruins tailback Nate Starks watched the second half on crutches after suffering an undisclosed injury. Starks finished with six yards rushing in three carries. … UCLA receiver Darren Andrews finished with 10 catches for 175 yards and a touchdown. … Meadors led UCLA with seven tackles.