UCLA Football Defensive Preview
Baby Bears got some bite
UC Los Angeles, for all its troubles, uneven offense, and tirefire of coaching rumors, has put forth an elite defense this season. Their front 7 is flat out terrifying, making quarterbacks like Caleb Williams and Shedeur Sanders look more human than we’ve ever seen. They are in the backfield in the blink of an eye, pursue the ball with controlled reckless abandon, and are ready to force a fumble even when a play is made down the field. It’s a tall order for Fernando Mendoza and the Cal offense to get the job done, and they’ll unequivocally need their best if they want that 6-6 record and a bowl game.
The Bruins are led by DC D’Anton Lynn
Lynn is the son of former Chargers HC Anthony Lynn
This is Lynn’s first season as DC for UCLA
Previous work includes secondary work with the Baltimore Ravens and Houston Texans
UCLA will run variations of 4-3/4-2-5
2022 Defense in Review
FEI Ratings: 80th on defense
Gave up 29 points per game last year
surrendered 273 yards per game through the air last season, good enough for 2nd to last in the Pac 12 behind Cal
UCLA’s defense last year was lead by the late Bill McGovern, who had to take a backseat towards the midpoint of last year and unfortunately later succumbed to cancer. The Bruins looked like they were turning a corner under his tutelage, only giving up 25 points per game through the first seven games of the season and helping UCLA achieve a top 15 ranking. Once McGovern was forced to step away, the pass defense especially cratered. The secondary wasn’t focused, getting thinned just about everywhere from teams like Arizona, UCLA, and Cal. However, this year has been anything but the undisciplined mess to end last season.
The Provisional Starters
OLB Laiatu Latu, DL Gary Smith III, DL Jay Toia (questionable for Saturday’s game), OLB Gabriel Murphy/Grayson Murphy
ILB Kain Medrano, ILB Darius Muasau, ILB Femi Oladejo
CB John Humphrey, S Kamari Ramsey, S Kenny Churchwell III, CB Devin Kirkwood
Players to Watch
If I could list pretty much all of the defensive line for UCLA, I would. Far and away the player to watch is OLB Laiatu Latu, who took a visit to Cal after entering the transfer portal from Washington but ultimately went down to Westwood. Latu, the brother of former Cal TE Keleki Latu, has been singehandedly wreaking havoc in opposing backfield. He has a deadly first step, workmanlike motor, and a phenomenal ability to get to the quarterback. Latu has totaled 20.5 tackles for loss this season and has amassed 13 sacks. He’s a bulldozer that will require the bulk of attention for the Cal offensive line, and more than likely will be a top 10 pick in next years NFL draft.
Not to be outdone, the rest of the Bruins defensive line can also get the job done. The Murphy twins, Gabriel and Grayson have combined for 19.5 TFL’s and and 10 sacks on the year and benefit from the extra attention that Latu is subjected to on a weekly basis. Gabriel Murphy has a great first step and is able to use his leverage well off the edge, especially when working a stunt with Latu lined up in the middle. Jay Toia, who is listed as questionable for this game, is a run stuffing DT who plugs all sorts of holes for UCLA. Of course, even if he isn’t able to go Saturday, there are a plethora of players who can make plays including Carl Jones Jr, JonJon Vaughns, and our old pal Femi Oladejo.
If you wanted to find a weakness for the UCLA defense, its that their secondary can occasionally come unglued, but most times they don’t have to worry about it since the pass rush is already in the backfield. The Bruins give up a stonewalling 71 rushing yards per game and 219 yards per game through the air, both league bests. Despite not playing Oregon nor Washington this year, make no mistake this UCLA defense is elite, and the Bears can’t bring anything but their best.
How Cal can win this game
Cal needs to hope that the UCLA offense self destructs several times throughout Saturday night’s game, because Cal is going to have more than a tough time in sustaining long drive after long drive. Jake Spavital will need to find the balance between tunnel screens and calling max protect to let plays develop down the field, because there isn’t an exact science 11 games in on how to beat this Bruins defense. If Cal can’t keep Laiatu Latu out of the backfield, they are in for a long evening. If Jaydn Ott can’t get going, they may be in for a long evening. Fernando Mendoza, Ott, and everyone else needs to bring their best on every single play otherwise Cal will not score more than 17 points in the Rose Bowl finale.
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