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Bruins Have an Issue to Tackle

October 14, 2003|Mike DiGiovanna | Times Staff Writer

UCLA defensive coordinator Larry Kerr is as tough as any college professor when it comes to grading, so when he broke down the film of Saturday's 24-21 victory over Arizona, he didn't cut the Bruins any slack.

If a UCLA defender got so much as a firm hand on a ballcarrier and didn't bring him down, Kerr counted it as a missed tackle. It was apparent that the Bruins had missed lots of tackles -- that happens when the nation's worst offensive team rolls up 519 total yards -- but the final tally was staggering:

UCLA, with a defense that ranked first in the Pacific 10 Conference and 16th in the nation in yards allowed, missed 37 tackles against the Wildcats.

"It was atrocious," Kerr said. "We missed more tackles in that game than we did in the first five games combined. It's something we've really been stressing, but it reared its ugly head in this game. If you don't tackle, it doesn't matter what else you do."

The Bruins have a quick, aggressive defense, led by a strong, experienced line and three talented linebackers, and many coaches have been impressed with the way the Bruins "fly to the ball."

But Kerr's defense is predicated on players covering assigned lanes. When too many defenders shun those responsibilities on the same play, there are problems. Saturday, Wildcat running backs Clarence Farmer and Michael Bell bounced off defenders in the middle, broke containment and ran toward the sidelines for huge gains.

"Sometimes we over-pursued, sometimes we over-ran the play," Coach Karl Dorrell said. "We've got to be a little more patient, more conscious of staying in our gaps. The defense is playing with confidence, they're running to the ball, but they have to play with what I call harnessed aggression. You can still play hard, fast, the way you need to play, but within the responsibilities you're supposed to play in."

Arizona, which was averaging 248.2 yards a game, had 276 yards rushing and 243 passing against the Bruins, breaking off six runs of 25 yards or more.

Four plays most disturbed the Bruins: Farmer's 26-yard draw, in which he ran through the middle and found daylight toward the left sideline, consecutive runs of 41 and 29 yards by Bell in the second quarter, and a fourth-quarter play in which Farmer caught a quick pass on the left side, cut to the middle, bounced off three or four Bruins and caromed back toward the left sideline for a 31-yard gain.

"We were in a position a lot of times to make plays," Dorrell said, "and we just didn't bring the ballcarrier down."

Kerr said that the Bruins worked on tackling every day in practice -- it's not something they cover in fall drills and revisit on occasion throughout the season -- and that those fundamentals would be stressed again before Saturday's game against California.

Kerr would like to think the performance against Arizona was a one-game aberration, but ....

"I don't call anything a fluke," he said. "When you're playing well, it's not a fluke; when you're playing poorly, it's not a fluke. We didn't wrap up, we didn't take the proper angles [against Arizona]. Their backs did a nice job too, but the majority [of our problems] was just poor tackling.

"You fix that by addressing the players, by letting them know it's not acceptable, and you make sure everyone understands we will do it over and over until it's done right. And if it's not done right, you will be replaced."

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