UCLA defense picks and clicks in season-opening 28-20 win at Virginia

UCLA defense picks and clicks in season-opening 28-20 win at Virginia
UCLA linebacker Myles Jack, top, nearly picks off a pass intended for Virginia wide receiver Canaan Severin during the Bruins' 28-20 win. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

UCLA safety Randall Goforth would have looked a bit crazy had he made such a statement before Saturday.

"We want to compete with the offense, try to score more than them," Goforth said.


Luckily for the Bruins, their defense did.

UCLA was the darling of the preseason. Pundits fawned over quarterback Brett Hundley. Those perceptions will take a small hit after a laborious 28-20 victory over Virginia.

What sent the seventh-ranked Bruins from Scott Stadium smiling was their up-tempo defense.

UCLA scored three touchdowns on turnovers to build a 21-3 lead. So the talk postgame was about growing pains rather than a mass rush for the panic button.

"When I was standing by the [locker room] door, you would have thought we lost that game, just by the expression on our faces," Coach Jim Mora said. "That gives me a good feeling. I know what their expectations are and that they are real about things."

The game wasn't decided until linebacker Myles Jack deflected away a fourth-down pass inside the 10-yard line with 2 minutes 35 seconds left. But it was won in the second quarter.

Ishmael Adams returned an interception 20 yards for a touchdown. Goforth kept playing when others had stopped, picking up a fumble and racing 75 yards. And Eric Kendricks went 37 yards for a score on another interception.

"That's the first time I have ever been outscored by the defense," UCLA offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone joked.

The offense ground out a third-quarter drive, ending in a six-yard touchdown run by Hundley. It was enough to win but not enough to celebrate.

Mazzone said the lesson learned was, "just because we have a quarterback like Brett doesn't mean you can just roll the ball out there and think things are going to work. This was a good wake-up call for our kids."

The Bruins had 87 yards in penalties, mostly on the offense. Receivers bobbled passes. The offensive line, which was missing two starters, was pushed back, with Hundley getting sacked five times.

"We got into a rhythm a couple times, but the majority of the game, the penalties killed us," Hundley said. "When you're facing third and 10 and third and 12, it shortens the playbook."

Hundley completed a 48-yard pass to Eldridge Massington on the first play. The rest of the game was a struggle. He completed 20 of 33 passes for 242 yards. Adequate numbers, but he did not throw a touchdown pass.

"All things that hurt an offense and kill drives -- the sacks, penalties, the dropped balls -- we cornered the market on that," Mazzone said. "I hope we got it all out of our system for the whole year."


Did he really believe that?

"Heck yeah, I got to," Mazzone said.

The Bruins had a modest 358 total yards. Mora saw a tense offense.

"I told them that you don't have to score a touchdown on every play," Mora said. "I felt like we were trying to just do too much."

Things were quite different on the other side of the ball.

"We don't go out tight and tense," Goforth said. "We laugh and giggle on the field and the plays will come to us."

They did.

The game tilted UCLA's way when defensive end Owamagbe Odighizuwa hit quarterback Greyson Lambert's arm as he threw. The ball fluttered to Adams, who went untouched for a touchdown.

"We're always looking to get to the end zone in practice," Adams said. "We put our money in the bank during the week. We withdraw it on Saturday and have some fun."

The good times continued when Kendricks dislodged the ball from receiver Kyle Dockins. Goforth scoop it up and took off while nearly everyone else watched.

"My instinct is to get to the end zone unless I hear a whistle," Goforth said. "I didn't hear a whistle."

Kendricks pushed the lead to 21-3 moments later on the next series. By halftime, the Bruins' offense had 136 total yards and the defense had a 132 in returns.

"Three steals a game," defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich said. "That's kind of our defensive goal. Three scores a game, I don't know if you can make that a standard."