UCLA’s defense is preventing opponents from making a run for it
Stanford’s statistics system was down until well after the game ended Saturday. It saved the Cardinal a lot of embarrassment.
The team’s first drive against UCLA went five yards backward thanks to a false-start penalty before it had to punt.
Its second drive managed seven yards.
Its third drive netted two yards.
Its fourth drive generated nine yards, a relative bonanza.
Its fifth drive produced seven yards.
Those five drives totaled 20 yards, an average of four yards per drive and 1.3 yards per play. Stanford eventually moved the ball, generating 360 yards of offense during its 35-24 loss to the Bruins, but it never did much on the ground.
Stanford mustered only 67 yards rushing, with 30 yards coming on a well-designed quarterback run by Tanner McKee early in the fourth quarter. Nathaniel Peat, the team’s only available scholarship running back after a rash of injuries, managed 27 yards in 13 carries, an average of 2.1 yards per carry. Isaiah Sanders tried running the ball out of the wildcat formation and was pummeled for a two-yard loss.
Stopping the run has become a trend for a UCLA defense that ranks No. 6 nationally in that category, giving up only 64 yards per game on the ground. It’s only been a few years since the Bruins routinely gave up that many yards on many drives.
UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson practiced Monday, two days after leaving the Bruins’ victory over Stanford for one play because of an injury.
Defensive lineman Odua Isibor said a swarming mentality has contributed to the turnaround, along with accountability.
On Mondays, the defense gathers to watch players who didn’t run to the ball during the previous game perform up-downs.
“There’s maybe one or two guys [performing the drill], but that’s the main emphasis of every practice,” Isibor said. “We record that, that’s something that’s looked at every practice, so I think that’s what makes us a different team than most of the other teams in the Pac-12.”
Isibor has completed the up-downs twice. He doesn’t intend to do it a third time.
“I was actually very surprised and upset,” he said. “But that’s the thing, no one’s above it. … That just means I need to work harder. And whether I believe that I didn’t run to the ball or not, the coach said it, so clearly I didn’t run hard enough.”
The Bruins’ run defense will face its toughest test of the season Saturday against Arizona State, which is averaging a Pac-12-best 228.3 yards rushing.