In football, one man’s loss is another’s opportunity.
Injuries to UCLA’s corps of linebackers has allowed senior Aaron Wallace to have a greater role, as a player and a team leader.
Wallace stepped in, and up, in the Bruins’ game against California last Thursday, finishing with 2 1/2 sacks in a 40-24 UCLA victory.
“I’m feeling more comfortable out there and not second-guessing myself,” Wallace said. “During the game, I really didn’t think too much about the sacks. Afterward, it felt really good to have them.”
UCLA sacked Cal quarterback Jared Goff five times and pressured him often.
Wallace made only two starts in his first three years with the Bruins, but Cal marked his fourth start this season as others were sidelined.
Myles Jack suffered a season-ending knee injury in late September and then dropped out of school to prepare for the NFL draft. Deon Hollins played little against Cal because of a knee injury. Isaako Savaiinaea left that game with a high ankle sprain.
It was unclear whether Hollins or Savaiinaea would be available when UCLA meets Colorado on Saturday at the Rose Bowl. Hollins appeared close to ready during practice this week.
Against Cal, Wallace filled in for Hollins and played the best game of his career.
“He can adapt and play different positions and can play them well,” defensive coordinator Tom Bradley said.
The increase in playing time has given Wallace more confidence to take a leadership role.
“I can help hold everybody on defense accountable to do their jobs,” Wallace said.
He also holds himself responsible.
“I was put in more positions to make plays, so I had to go out there and make plays,” Wallace said.
Line of credit
Just what college football needed, another trophy. The Joe Moore Award was established this season to honor college football’s best offensive line.
UCLA was among the 14 teams being considered for the award in a recent news release.
The Bruins have allowed only nine sacks this season, tying them for 26th nationally. The past three seasons, UCLA quarterbacks were the most battered in the nation, taking 128 sacks.
This dramatic improvement was well timed. UCLA has a first-year freshman quarterback, Josh Rosen, running the offense.
“When you think about it, we have a true freshman quarterback playing and true freshmen certainly can struggle,” Coach Jim Mora said. “But when he can stand behind an offensive line that’s got some consistency and experience, it gives him a sense of comfort. They know how to pick up the pressures and communicate well.”
Mora said running backs Paul Perkins and Nate Starks were “on track to play” against Colorado.
Perkins left the Cal game with a knee injury. Starks sat out that game with a concussion.
“I was more worried about Paul earlier in the week,” Mora said. “He’s done fine. We’ll see.”
Receiver Devin Fuller practiced Wednesday and Thursday but his availability was less certain. He left the Cal game with a head injury.
“When dealing with someone that — I don’t want to use the word concussion, not sure it was a concussion,” Mora said, “but he had a little head trauma. What I’m completely and supremely confident in is if our medical staff clears him to play, then he is OK to play.”