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Defense is called for not holding

Times Staff Writer

The contrast is striking.

UCLA’s defense made a strong statement at the start of the 2006 season, a message that was received loud and clear.

That has been reduced to a whisper in 2007. The Bruins, with 10 returning defensive starters, have seemingly meandered through the first four games.

There was an acceptable performance against Stanford in the opener, and a couple of key plays that staved off a loss the following week against Brigham Young. Then came a rock-bottom effort against Utah, which made last week’s 44-31 victory over Washington an improvement.

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“I think consistency is the one thing we need to get,” defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker said. “I’ll say 75-80% of the time, I’ve seen the type of defense that we are. Like last week’s game, through 52 minutes we played lights-out football. I’m looking for that the whole game.”

This week, against Oregon State, would be a good place to start.

The Bruins are giving up an average of 389 yards a game. Even Stanford, arguably the Pacific 10 Conference’s worst team, rolled up 383 yards -- 331 passing. UCLA is giving up 27.2 points a game.

“Every team is a little different, actually a lot different,” linebacker Christian Taylor said. “They will try to skin you a different way. But we have to be better.”

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The Bruins were last season -- with the same personnel. Through the first four games in 2006, they gave up averages of 221.5 yards and 13.7 points a game. It was the jumping-off point for a unit that finished 35th nationally in total defense after being 113th in 2005.

UCLA is 69th this season.

“All summer, since the end of the season really, people kept talking about our 10 returning starters,” Walker said. “At the end of the day, I know we’re going to be happy with how we play defense. But I had a funny feeling we were going to hit some times when we needed to wake everybody up, including myself.”

Injuries have been part of the problem. Defensive tackle Brigham Harwell (knee), defensive end Nikola Dragovic (concussion), linebacker Aaron Whittington (concussion) and cornerback Rodney Van (ankle), all starters, have missed significant playing time. Dragovic, Whittington and Van will play Saturday.

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But no matter who has been in the lineup, the Bruins have been unable to snuff out an opposing team’s offense, as they did several times last season.

The defense managed to postpone defeat by a week with two big plays against BYU -- cornerback Trey Brown returned an interception for a touchdown and defensive end Bruce Davis forced a fumble with the Cougars on the UCLA 13-yard line.

Those moments haven’t occurred enough in Walker’s eyes. That was apparent the following week during a 44-6 loss to Utah. After a Bruins turnover, the defense gave up an 80-yard touchdown drive that gave the Utes a 24-6 lead.

“Handling sudden changes, getting a big stop when we need it, those are the things I don’t think we’re doing enough of right now,” Walker said. “That’s what we’re lacking in terms of being a shutdown defense.”

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Walker accepts part of the blame.

“Last week was really the first week that I felt like myself,” Walker said. “I think I gave in a little at the start of the season.

“We’ve been together and the guys knew what it takes. But what we went through the first three games, especially Utah, I learned that you can never let up, regardless of who is coming back. Especially when you’re dealing with college kids.”

Coach Karl Dorrell ruled out using wide receiver Osaar Rasshan, a converted quarterback, as the emergency quarterback Saturday. Chris Forcier will make the trip as the Bruins’ third quarterback.

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“If we have to we have to, but we’re not talking about that, please,” Dorrell said.

Dorrell would like to redshirt Forcier, who is a true freshman.

Freshman defensive tackle Brian Price is expected to get more time this week in his second college game. Price was on the field for at least three plays last Saturday against Washington.

Said Dorrell: “We’d like to increase his workload every week.”

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chris.foster@latimes.com

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Running (and passing) through stop signs

The UCLA defense was good last season -- and was supposed to be better this season with almost all of the starters back. It hasn’t turned out that way. The Bruins through four games this season and last:

2006

*--* Opponent Result Rush yds. Pass yds. Tot. yds. Comment Utah W, 31-10 112 175 287 Utes always the perfect tomato can to have on the nonconference schedule, right? Rice W, 26-16 53 131 184 Defense feasted on Rice, asked Bruins’ offense to stop for a bite sometime. Washington L, 29-19 49 200 249 Numbers don’t lie -- defense wasn’t to blame in loss. Stanford W, 31-0 49 117 166 Really, who couldn’t hold the Cardinal under 200 yards? *--*

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2007

*--* Opponent Result Rush yds. Pass yds. Tot. Comment Stanford W, 45-17 52 331 383 John Elway didn’t re-enroll, Bruins secondary just leaky. Brigham Young W, 27-17 44 391 435 Bruins have good seats for Max Hall aerial show. Utah L, 44-6 122 264 386 Utes almost always the perfect tomato can to have on nonconference schedule. Washington W, 44-31 124 216 340 QB Jake Locker still running around in Bruins nightmares. *--*

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Source: Los Angeles Times

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