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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Bruins bring defensive woes

UCLAs Terrence Austin (4), Johnathan Franklin (23), and Stan Hasiak celebrate Franklins 74-yard touchdown in the second quarter, Saturday, October 17, 2009, in Los Angeles, California. (Michael Vasconellos/Orange County Register/MCT)
UCLA’s Terrence Austin (4), Johnathan Franklin (23), and Stan Hasiak celebrate Franklin’s 74-yard touchdown in the second quarter, Saturday, October 17, 2009, in Los Angeles, California. (Michael Vasconellos/Orange County Register/MCT)

UCLA head coach Rick Neuheisel’s teleconference Tuesday had the tone of a man searching for answers.

The Bruins (3-3, 0-3 Pacific 10 Conference) began the year with promising wins in each of their first three games, including an impressive road win over Tennessee in their second week. However, once conference season began, UCLA has failed to see any such success and progressively stepped backward in each of the following weeks.

Last weekend, the Bruins suffered their worst loss, a 19-point thrashing in the Rose Bowl in the hands of California. Neuheisel’s team gave up 292 yards of rushing to a pair of Golden Bear running backs in addition to a 205-yard, three-touchdown day by quarterback Kevin Riley.

An abundance of missed tackles and shoddy coverage brought the defense to the forefront during UCLA’s preparation week for Arizona (4-2, 2-1 Pac-10).

“”There are some breakdowns we need to get shored up,”” Neuheisel said. “”We look at (the defensive situation) and say, ‘About 90 percent of the time we’re where we need to be.’ But we can’t use inexperience as an excuse. We simply need to be more focused.””

While the Bruins’ coaching staff refuses to blame the team’s shortcomings on its youth, there is an abundance of young players contributing to the UCLA defense, including eight underclassmen, two of whom are freshmen.

The inexperienced UCLA squad will certainly be challenged Saturday as the Wildcats’ sharpened offense comes off a 553-yard performance last week against Stanford. With Arizona’s top running back, junior Nic Grigsby, still nursing a sore shoulder, UCLA must put the attention on sophomore quarterback Nick Foles, who threw for 51 attempts to a dangerous receiving core that allotted for 415 yards of the Wildcats’ offense a week ago, including a trio of passing scores.

“”(Foles) is a very, very good quarterback and has done a great job at what they’re asking him to do,”” Neuheisel said. “”The quick game is his style, and that makes it very tough to get pressure on him.

“”Arizona had a very effective game plan last week offensively, and we’ll need to be prepared for that as well as all the others they have shown this season.””

While the Bruins will have their hands full defensively on Saturday afternoon, UCLA’s chances of success increase on the offensive end. Not only did Arizona allow over 500 yards of offense last week to Stanford, but they also gave up five touchdowns, including two on the ground. The Bruins have struggled through the air with only three passing touchdowns this season. However, their running backs have seen more success with six trips to the end zone.

For the struggling UCLA offense, a consistently-lackluster Arizona defense could jumpstart a desperate Bruins team and keep their Pac-10 leading kicker, Kai Forbath, off the field.

“”We’re certainly searching for that formula to start winning again,”” Neuheisel said. “”We are going to come out and play with everything we have. But the dangerous team is the one in Tucson. We’re really going to need to play well to stop them.””

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