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Defense may give up passing yards, but team still wins

Times Staff Writer

SALT LAKE CITY -- To hear UCLA defensive players talk, giving up an average of 360 yards passing is a good thing.

In a way, they are right.

“We got our standards on defense,” strong safety Chris Horton said. “Teams come out and throw the ball 50 times, but when you look at it, we’re not giving up a lot of touchdowns. So they’re throwing the ball and getting some yards here and there, but we’re not letting teams get into the end zone on us.”

Said cornerback Rodney Van: “When you look at stats and see 55 passes [attempted] and 300 yards, there is a story behind that. Either you’re a great passing team or the run wasn’t working.”

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Numbers are on the Bruins’ side through two games. Though they rank 114th out of 119 Bowl Subdivision teams in passing yards given up, they are 16th against the run, giving up 48 yards a game. Even better in their eyes is giving up 34 points in winning the first two games.

“How are teams going to attack us?” defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker said. “I mean, two teams have tried passing and both teams have lost. If teams continue to do that, if we end up giving up a million yards passing, yet we’re winning games, I’m not going to worry about it as long as we’re keeping them out of the end zone.”

But the ease with which Brigham Young’s Max Hall carved up the Bruins, throwing for 391 yards last week, was cause for some retrenching. When the game was on the line, the Bruins were up to the task, bottling up receivers long enough for defensive end Bruce Davis to get to Hall and force a fumble to end a drive deep in UCLA territory.

“I’ve been in a lot games where you look at the stat sheet and say, ‘Whoa, they threw for a lot yards, but we lost by three touchdowns,’ ” Coach Karl Dorrell said. “The most important thing is winning the game.”

Still, the 27-17 victory left some concerns.

“We did an OK job [on defense], but by no means have we lived up to our standards,” Van said. “As of right now, it is something we have to look into because eventually, we may not have that good run defense. We might have a game where they run and pass, then what are we going to do then?”

Walker looks at a wide-screen picture, ranking passing yards well down on his agenda.

“To me, I look at other areas as more important,” Walker said. “Scoring defense, third-down conversions, rush defense, pass efficiency, in all those four areas we’re doing really well. From an ego standpoint, yeah you hate to see all those yards, but when you really get down to what’s really important, those four areas we’re doing very good and those are the things we’re focusing on.”

The Bruins’ run defense has yet to be tested by a quality running back, and that will probably remain the case again today against Utah. The Utes lost Matt Asiata, their top running back, to a broken leg.

Diligence, though, is the Bruins’ mantra.

“We’ll play teams that want to pound the rock and will try to do it a lot longer,” linebacker Christian Taylor said. “If we stop them like we have been, they’ll have to throw the ball more.”

Still, Taylor said, the Bruins are giving up more yards than they would like and need to be better in third-down situations.

“We played good our first two games but not at the level we want to be at,” Taylor said. “We’re on an upward climb.”

UCLA has a 47-7-2 record against teams from the Mountain West Conference, including an 8-0 record against Utah. . . . This is the Bruins’ first game against the Utes in Salt Lake City since 1974.

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chris.foster@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Keys to the game

No. 11 UCLA (2-0, 1-0) at Utah (0-2) Today, 2 p.m. PDT TV: Versus. Radio: 570.

1 ressure or protect? When quarterback Brian Johnson went down because of a separated shoulder, Utah’s offense changed. Tommy Grady, his replacement, is nowhere near as mobile. If the Utes give him time, the fifth-year senior can be effective. If not, Grady will be spending a lot of quality time with the Bruins’ Bruce Davis.

2 in the battle beyond the line of scrimmage. The Bruins’ best playmakers are at receiver. Yet, they were neutralized for much of last Saturday’s game against Brigham Young. The Bruins need to throw, and their receivers need to catch it -- something that was a problem last week. If they don’t, the West Coast offense goes south again.

3 The first quarter. Utah has been battered and beaten -- twice. A certain amount of bravado is expected on the Utes’ part, and a good start will have them, and the crowd, believing. A couple of quick scores by UCLA will remind the Utes they are not the better team.


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