UCLA Football: Expecting More from the Defense


‘Disappointing’ may be too strong of a word for a defensive effort that holds a power conference opponent to three field goals outside of garbage time. Given UCLA Football fans’ expectations for Tom Bradley‘s defense, however, Saturday’s performance was underwhelming.

The key match-up in last week’s game was between UCLA’s offense and Virginia’s defense. The Bruins had the unknown at quarterback, and Virginia has a sneaky-good, stingy defense. The Cavaliers’ offense doesn’t merit nearly that level of respect. You can expect to see them continue to struggle to move the ball, sustain drives, and score as the season wears on.

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With the unmatched talent the Bruins have on the defensive side of the ball, Virginia should not have been able to put together scoring drives of 10 plays for 60 yards, 8 plays for 72 yards, and 13 plays for 73 yards all in the first half. The UCLA defense clamped down in the red zone and held all limited each of those possessions to three points, but that’s a lot of sustained movement by an anemic offense against what is supposed to be a vastly improved defense.

Cavalier running back Taquan Mizzell racked up 155 all-purpose yards at 6.2 yards-per-touch. Add to that the touchdown scored on UVA’s final possession, albeit once the game was out of reach, and ‘underwhelming’ starts to seem a little diplomatic.

Sep 25, 2014; Tempe, AZ, USA; UCLA Bruins defensive lineman Eddie Vanderdoes (47) against the Arizona State Sun Devils at Sun Devil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

I don’t bring all this up to blame Bradley or the defense. I think Virginia’s periodic success moving the ball was a function of UCLA’s defensive game plan. Bradley seemed content to limit the pass rush to his front four (Takkarist McKinley, Eddie Vanderdoes, Kenny Clark, and Deon Hollins) and let his linebackers and defensive backs hang back in coverage.

Whether because of quarterback Matt Johns‘ limitations or coordinator Steve Fairchild‘s game plan, the Cavaliers were not throwing the ball more than 10-15 yards downfield, so Bradley appears to have opted to flood that intermediate area with defenders to prevent Virginia’s ball-carriers from having any space to run once they got past the line of scrimmage. The result was an offense that averaged 4.9 yards-per-play and tended to stall in the red zone. This is what a successful bend-but-don’t-break defense looks like.

With the possible exception of this coming game against UNLV, which shouldn’t tax the defense too heavily, I think it’s safe to say that we will see more complex pressure plays moving forward throughout the season. Especially with Vanderdoes out, Bradley is likely to supplement line pressure with various blitzes. We should see a more aggressive approach, and consequently more Bruins in the opponents’ backfields.

Next: The Fallout from Eddie Vanderdoes' Injury

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