Defense pulls out all stops
The numbers were impressive, even if the grading was on a curve.
UCLA improved in nearly every area defensively in its 28-3 victory over Washington State on Saturday.
The Bruins’ defense got itself off the field. The Cougars were two for 14 on third down. UCLA had four sacks, matching its total through the first four games. The Bruins also had eight tackles for a loss, and held the Cougars to 177 yards. Cornerback Alterraun Verner had an interception that set the offense up for a short touchdown drive.
It was a tremendous leap for a defense that had given up 126 points in the three previous games, all losses. But it was also Washington State, a team that has circled the drain much of the season.
“What we talked about after the game was this was a win,” Coach Rick Neuheisel said. “A win is great tonic for whatever ails you. It allows us to coach even harder this week because the kids would like to have a couple more of them.”
A week ago, defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker was most concerned about the efficiency on third-and-less-than-seven situations. Washington State had seven of those opportunities in the first half and had one first down to show for it.
“We did a few more coverage things and came with three-man pressure,” Neuheisel said. “We played more coverage than the previous games and we played some zone.”
The Bruins managed only 100 yards rushing against a Washington State defense that had been surrendering 269 per game. Neuheisel attributed that to the Cougars’ efforts to take the run away.
“There were a couple things they did that created some confusion in terms of targeting,” Neuheisel said. “I think we’ll get that straightened out. After that, it’s just about sustaining blocks, staying with blocks and reading blocks.”
Another concern may be tailback Kahlil Bell, who had 43 yards in 21 carries. But Bell “tweaked” his injured left ankle in the first half.
Neuheisel said that Bell was “fine” and would practice Tuesday. Bell suffered a high-ankle sprain in the season opener. He is also only 10 months removed from surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee.
“Hopefully, we’re rounding the corner on the ankle and will be able to get more out of him,” Neuheisel said. “He does still have lingering effects of the ankle. He also has lingering effects from the ACL injury.”
Defensive end Tom Blake might sit out some practices this week because of a lingering injury, but Neuheisel said he expected Blake to play Saturday against Oregon.
Tailback Raymond Carter strained a groin against Washington State and will be evaluated as the week progresses.
Quarterback Ben Olson is still not close to returning to practice. Olson re-broke a bone in his right foot Aug. 10 and was expected to be out six to eight weeks.
The recovery has been slow and Neuheisel said that Olson’s return probably would come during the Bruins’ off week the last week of October.