UCLA defensive backs try to get it together

UCLA's secondary went to single coverage Tuesday, three days after a 43-17 loss to California.

It was rough night for Bruins defensive backs. Cornerback Sheldon Price was beaten deep by receiver Keenan Allen. Cornerback Aaron Hester nudged along two Cal scoring drives with penalties.

Coach Jim Mora has preached accountability, but the only defensive back to address UCLA's pass coverage was senior safety Andrew Abbott, who said he would be speaking for the entire unit from now on.

"That is just how it is in our secondary," Abbott said. "We have to hone on the little things, narrow our focus, get back on track. We took it upon ourselves. We're a family, a close-knit group. Whatever we decided to do as players, that's what we need to get done."

Opponents have completed nine passes of 31 or more yards — including touchdown plays of 75, 42, 34 and 31 yards — in the last three games, so something needs to change.

"On the back end, you can't afford to take any plays off," Abbott said. "If you make a mistake, it's magnified. Everybody sees it. Other groups make mistakes and we can kind of cover it up. On the back end, you have to be on your stuff."

Asked about the deep passes, Mora turned analytical.

"It can be a combination of guys getting beat, the right call against the wrong defense, a good catch, a busted coverage, any number of things," Mora said. "That's what is frustrating. You try to plug your finger in the dike and another hole opens up."

Hester and Price, both seniors, are the Bruins' most experienced cornerbacks. Price has four interceptions — three against Houston — and Hester is fourth on the team with 27 tackles.

The two are backed up by freshmen Marcus Rios and Fabian Moreau.

Mora called cornerback one of the toughest positions.

"People are coming at you full speed on every down and they know exactly what they're going to do," Mora said. "You're reacting to them and that's tough."

Abbott played cornerback the last three seasons and said, "most of the time, you're mano a mano, there's not much help. The toughest part is having that short memory. Something goes bad, you have to forget about it."

Against California, Hester was called for a personal foul in the first quarter, giving the Bears first and goal at the eight-yard line. It led to a field goal. Hester was called for a facemask penalty on a second-and-21 play in the third quarter. It led to a touchdown.

"A lot of his penalties are technique," Mora said of Hester. "The facemask the other night, he was supposed to keep outside leverage. He got beat to the outside, reached out and grabbed. Some of the pass-interference calls, he's in good position. But it's having the confidence to look back and defend the ball."

Price got beat by Allen two plays after the facemask penalty. The touchdown gave the Bears a 29-14 lead.

"We're supposed to be playing inside leverage and our left corner jumped and got beat to the inside," Mora said. "That's a physical thing. That player beat him on that play."

A request to talk with Price on Tuesday resulted in Abbott appearing as unit spokesman.



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