Pass breakups get broken down

Times Staff Writer

The art of one-on-one coverage is tricky business, made more so by the ever-shifting line between solid pass defense and pass interference.

UCLA players and coaches learned that lesson against Washington State last week. The Bruins were called five times for pass interference, four by cornerbacks, though players disputed some of the flags.

Still, the problem needed to be addressed, but with more finesse than Bruins’ defensive backs have been known to use.


Defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker, who also coaches the cornerbacks, said, “I don’t want to take that aggressiveness away.”

Walker said he draws from a comment Jimmy Johnson made when he coached at Miami, where Hurricanes players were constantly walking the line between blanket coverage and a yellow linen.

“Jimmy said, ‘We’ll go back and look at the film and we’ll make our decision if it was pass interference or not,’ ” Walker said. “He never talked his guys into playing passive by telling them, ‘don’t, don’t, don’t.’

“I never coach, ‘Don’t, don’t, don’t.’ We just coach, ‘Was it? Was it? Was it?’ Then we move on.”

That advice will be handy Saturday when the Bruins face Arizona, which, like Washington State, runs a spread offense.

UCLA, which ranks fifth in the Pacific 10 Conference in pass defense, has an experienced secondary, though the Bruins are a little undersized at cornerback. Trey Brown is listed at 5 feet 9 and Alterraun Verner at 5-11.

Still, Brown leads the nation in passes defended with 12 breakups and three interceptions. Verner is tied for fourth with 10 breakups and three interceptions. He was also called twice for pass interference against Washington State.

Those problems were subtly dealt with in film sessions this week.

“You can see if you could have turned and looked back at the ball a little bit,” Brown said. “Maybe you could get in position better. But you don’t want to take away your aggressiveness out there. That’s what we do.”

Still, Brown said, “We don’t want any yellow hankies on field.”

Aleksey Lanis will start at left tackle Saturday, replacing Micah Kia. Lanis, a sophomore, started 12 games last season.

“He is playing more consistent,” Coach Karl Dorrell said. “He has been a starter before, so we’re drawing on that experience. He was a 12-game starter last year. He’s playing well. Let’s get him back in there and give him another shot.”

Defensive end Nikola Dragovic, who began the season as a starter, is expected to have hernia surgery that will end his season, a source familiar with the situation said. Dragovic, a senior, will have one more examination to confirm an earlier doctor’s recommendation.

Dragovic has missed the last three games. He missed two games earlier this season because of a concussion.

Wide receiver Brandon Breazell, who suffered multiple rib contusions against Washington State, said he was “sore” but would be available to play Saturday. . . . Linebacker John Hale missed a second consecutive day of practice with a hamstring injury and will not play Saturday. . . . UCLA ranks 107th nationally in penalties per game, averaging 8.1. The Bruins are 102nd in penalty yards per game, averaging 66.9 yards.