UCLA’s defensive line has to plug some gaps


Heading into last season, UCLA’s defensive line was considered one of its strengths.

Heading out of it, that unit was a clear weakness.

Offenses ran roughshod over UCLA’s front line and ultimately torched the Bruins for 190.6 rushing yards a game. UCLA surrendered more than 200 rushing yards in seven games, including in the Pac-12 championship, when Oregon ran for 352 yards and rolled the Bruins, 49-31.

In the end, UCLA’s rushing defense ranked 96th out of 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams and next to last in the Pac-12 Conference.

“That’s not acceptable in our defense this year,” defensive lineman Cassius Marsh said Tuesday. “If they’re running the ball on us, we’ll make adjustments and that won’t happen. Our coaches aren’t going to let that happen and players aren’t going to let that happen.”

The Bruins’ defense has switched from a four-lineman, three-linebacker scheme to a three-lineman, four-linebacker scheme this season. It’s a scheme that defensive lineman Datone Jones said is set up to stop the run, and fellow lineman Brandon Willis agreed.

“The key to stopping the run is having a gap-sound defense,” Willis said. “That’s what we’re working on.”

New UCLA Coach Jim Mora said he has been pleased with the defensive line’s progression through spring practices and fall camp. He noted that he can rotate eight or nine players along it without much drop-off.

And he added that he doesn’t much care about how the team did last season, when he wasn’t here. He’s concerned only about right now. “I want them to play aggressive, fast and physical,” Mora said.