UCLA Football 2019: Position Group Preview – Defensive Line

Go Joe Bruin starts to take a look at the defensive side of the UCLA football team as we examine the defensive line.

During spring camp in 2018, we heard how the UCLA football team will have a very aggressive defense. “Violence“ was the word that was being thrown around, but when it came to the season, it was was not exactly that.

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One of the things the Bruins wanted to improve on from the season before was to reduce the number of rushing yards allowed, which they did. UCLA had allowed 287.4 in 2017. In 2018, that dropped to 200.1.

Still, that is a lot of yards to give up. But the defensive line was not the primary suspect. Injuries on the linebacking corps and the secondary getting picked on added to a disappointing first season under DC Jerry Azzinaro. But they did have their moments.

UCLA is based in a 3-4 defense, which means that there are three defenders on the line, but they often play with an outside linebacker next to the defensive tackle on the left side. On the right, another OLB will hug the line, though not as often. So in reality, the Bruins have 4-5 players on the line. This should help in limiting the run, but it all starts with the D-line.

Defensive End

  1. Osa Odighizuwa (R-Jr) 6’285,
  2. Datona Jackson (Jr) 6’4, 280

On the ends of the line, the Bruin defensive coaches are going to want to bring pressure. One of the faults of the defense last year was that they had little to no pass rush. Part of that had to do with injuries, but the problem was compounded with exits from the program after the season. Whether it is an outside linebacker or a true defensive end, the Bruins do not have an outright pass rusher, so it is anyone’s spot for the taking. If Odighizuwa can add that element to his game, he will be a terrifying individual.

Last year, Odighizuwa had the most tackles (29) among all defensive lineman. He was often sneaky with his ability to get in between the gaps but also strong enough to push offensive linemen back. If he can shed blocks and get into the backfield more than he did last year, he will be the go-to rusher on the line. Odighizuwa also had six tackles for loss and three sacks which was second best on the team.

His projected back up is Jackson, who is a junior college transfer, so he comes in with some experience at the collegiate level. Jackson is another strong individual, and if he can develop a quick start off the line, he could also do some damage with a pass rush.

Nose Tackle

  1. Atonio Mafi (So) 6’3, 380
  2. Otito Ogbonnia (So) 6’4, 310
  3. Siale Liku (Fr) 6’3, 315

The middle of the line will have two players that showed a lot of promise last season as true freshmen. Atonio Mafi, who is the biggest player on the team, has slimmed down a bit, but he still going to be a monster at nose tackle. Not only is he going to be able to plug gaps, but if he learns to shed blocks and push offensive linemen back, then that will help out the Bruins pass rush as he will take the pressure off the edge rushers.

Ogbonnia got better as the season progresses and on any other team might take the starting spot at nose tackle. But even if he doesn’t dethrone Mafi, the Bruins are going to have one hell of a 1-2 punch in the middle of the line. Ogbonnia is sprier than Mafi, so if he can get around blocks, he should be able to disrupt the offense in the backfield more than he did last year.

Liku might be a bit of a project going forward. He has good strength and push, but he might not see the field unless something happens to Mafi or Ogbonnia. Still, if he is called upon, he will be able to hold that part of the line as he is durable and can hit hard at the point of attack.

Defensive Tackle

  1. Tyler Manoa (So) 6’2, 310
  2. Martin Andrus (Jr) 6’2, 310
  3. Steven Mason (R-So) 6’8, 250

Manoa did not see a lot of time on the field, but whenever he was inserted into the line, he made the most of every snap as he was second in tackles among DLs with 25. He has good speed and will also try to help in the pass rush, but also has a high ceiling to develop his skills.

Andrus was utilized every game last season, but he was only able to collect eight tackles. Although, he proved himself useful at getting in the backfield as he logged 2.5 tackles for loss. His development has been slow, so he might have to take a step up in his development this fall if he wants to see his minutes increased. And hopefully, that is the case because UCLA needs his experience.

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Mason is another player that could help out on the ends. He’s a big guy that can take up a lot of space, and if his development also moves forward, he will be a beast on the end of the line. He might not be a factor in the pass rush, but he could plug running holes on that side of the line.