The adrenaline coursing through UCLA’s defensive linemen on each snap hasn’t generated much of a rush.
The Bruins’ nine sacks in five games rank seventh in the Pac-12 Conference, and a big culprit has been the three massive bodies up front.
The defensive linemen have combined for only three sacks, two by Osa Odighizuwa and one by Rick Wade.
“Most of our sacks are coming off blitzes,” said nose guard Atonio Mafi, a true freshman still seeking his first collegiate sack.
Linebacker Keisean Lucier-South has two sacks and cornerback Nate Meadors and linebackers Krys Barnes, Jaelan Phillips and Lokeni Toailoa have one apiece. What’s it going to take for the linemen to make a greater contribution to the sack tally?
“We just need to get our motors started,” Mafi said. “You know, work our techniques and transition what we do in pass-rush drills over here into the game because we obviously know what to do. It’s just whether or not we’re going to do it in the game. It’s a decision. It’s a choice.”
UCLA coach Chip Kelly hopes his defensive linemen choose wisely. The Bruins need a better pass rush to help a secondary that has held up admirably given the lack of containment on opposing quarterbacks.
“I think we’re doing a decent job in coverage,” Kelly said. “I mean, if we can cover for that long then we need guys that have got to be able to get home.”
Getting Phillips back would certainly help. The player who might be the team’s best pass rusher sat out the game against Washington last weekend, did not practice Monday because of an unspecified injury, and was absent at the portion of Tuesday’s practice reporters were permitted to watch.
One first-to-almost-worst turnaround Kelly has endured upon his return to the college game has come in the turnovers forced department.
Oregon led the nation in takeaways over Kelly’s four seasons with the Ducks, but his new team hasn’t been nearly as skilled at thievery. UCLA has forced only five turnovers, ranking 10th in the Pac-12 and . 109th nationally.
“Part of that is rush, part of that is the ability to affect the quarterback so that he can throw inaccurate passes and getting your hands up and tipping balls and things like that,” said Kelly, whose team has intercepted two passes and recovered three fumbles. “But we definitely need to generate more turnovers.”
The Bruins have also struggled in third-down defense. They rank last in the nation in that category, allowing opponents to convert 43 of 80 third downs (53.8%).
The Bruins celebrated only a handful of seconds into their last game after stuffing Washington at its 13-yard line on the opening kickoff return.
The most animated player was Soso Jamabo, who hasn’t whined about going from one of UCLA’s leading running backs to a special teams dynamo under Kelly.
“That’s part of ‘How do I contribute and how do I make plays,’ ” Kelly said, “and he did a really nice job on that kickoff cover. … He’s really done a nice job since he’s been back on special teams for us.”
Jamabo’s role as a ballcarrier has diminished in each of the three games since he returned from a two-game suspension for violating unspecified athletic department rules. The senior had four carries against Fresno State and one against Colorado before not carrying the ball once against the Huskies.
Like Jaelan Phillips, Kyle Philips was absent from the portion of practice reporters were permitted to watch Tuesday. Offensive lineman Justin Murphy was the only player wearing a yellow jersey, signaling he is recovering from an injury. He participated in warmups but was limited during drills.
Times staff writer Blake Richardson contributed to this report.
Follow Ben Bolch on Twitter @latbbolch