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In comparison to offense, UCLA's defensive line looks strong

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UCLA defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich says the defensive line will need to continue to make progress
UCLA defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich was pleased by the defensive line's performance against Virginia

While defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich addressed the media after Wednesday’s practice, offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone snuck up behind the group and jokingly asked if he was allowed to play the role of defensive coordinator today.

After UCLA’s 28-20 win over Virginia on Saturday, being associated with the defense is a far better option than being associated with the offense this week.  

The offense scored on touchdown. The defense scored three. The offense averaged three yards per carry on the ground. The defense allowed just 3.1 yards per carry.

But the biggest difference came from the respective units’ lines. UCLA’s offensive line was so bad that line coach Adrian Klemm said the unit almost cost the team the game, while the defensive line dominated.

“They played their [butts] off,” Ulbrich said. “For not bringing very much pressure, they were winning. They were winning their one-on-one battles, applying pressure and affecting the quarterback. It was kind of what we were committed to going into the game: Affect the quarterback on every single play.”

The defense didn’t record any sacks, but constantly pressured the quarterback. UCLA’s first defensive touchdown of the game came off a perfectly tipped ball from fifth-year senior lineman Owamagbe Odighizuwa. Junior Ishmael Adams intercepted the fluttering ball and raced into the end zone.

As a whole, UCLA’s defensive line was one of their best units against Virginia. Ulbrich said that sophomore Kenny Clark, who recorded an impressive eight tackles as a nose tackle, is the perfect guy to build a defense around. Eddie Vanderdoes looked more comfortable playing in the three-technique, and sophomore linebacker/defensive end Deon Hollins looked more comfortable too. Odighizuwa, who missed all of 2013 while dealing with hip injuries, looks just as good as he did toward the end of the 2012 season. Defensive line coach Angus McClure said the unit, as a whole, got off the line quickly.

So for Ulbrich, the pressure they caused is far more important than getting sacks.

“Sacks are overrated,” he said. “Sometimes, in order to get sacks, you have to do a lot of selfish things … they were committed to working together as a group of four, and they did a good job.” 

The Bruins take on Memphis this weekend in their home opener. The Tigers averaged a hair under 20 points per game last season, but also run an option offense, something that Ulbrich calls “the great equalizer in college football.”

“They will run everything you see out here from our offense, and then on top of that, load option, speed option, wishbone,” Ulbrich said. “It’s a lot of stuff to prepare for, it really is, and they do a really nice job of what they do.” 

Ulbrich, who played 10 seasons in the NFL as a linebacker for the San Francisco 49ers, compared his current defensive line with a unit he played with in the early 2000s. Clark reminds him of Bryant Young. Odighizuwa is Andre Carter. Deon Hollins is Julian Peterson. Eddie Vanderdoes is Dana Stubblefield.

Or, at least that’s what he sees in his head. It’s only been one game. 

“They took a step in the right direction, for sure,” Ulbirch said. “Are they where they need to be? Absolutely not. Learning this defense and understanding their gap fits and understanding that everybody has a job and a role, you can’t have that mentality we’ve had in the past a little bit of, ‘Oh, I’ve got to make every play.’ We’re still struggling with that every once in a while, so once we fully leave that behind and commit to this defensive front, we’re going to be pretty tough.”

For more Bruin observations, follow Everett Cook on Twitter @everettcook

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