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UCLA Has a Major Problem to Tackle

Bruin defense will need to perform with more consistency if it is to slow down Cal's Lynch.

October 06, 2005|Lonnie White | Times Staff Writer

No one would blame California running back Marshawn Lynch if he's first off the Bears' bus for their football game against UCLA on Saturday at the Rose Bowl.

Who wouldn't be in a rush to go against the Bruin defense, which struggled to bring down runners all game in a 21-17 victory over Washington last week?

"There were a lot of things that we didn't do well and our tackling on defense was poor," Coach Karl Dorrell said. "It wasn't like the way we tackled in the past."

The Bruins are 4-0 but are next-to-last in the Pacific 10 Conference against the run, giving up 179.5 yards a game.

UCLA won't have room for error against California and Lynch, a 5-foot-11, 215-pound sophomore with speed and power.

As backup to J.J. Arrington last season, Lynch hurt the Bruins with a 42-yard run and 27-yard reception in a 45-28 Cal victory at Berkeley. Missed tackles plagued UCLA on both plays.

"There's a difference between practice tackling and game tackling," said senior linebacker Spencer Havner, who leads UCLA with 34 stops, including five for losses.

"There's a mentality that you have to have.... When you miss a tackle, you're disappointed in yourself."

Against the Huskies, there was plenty of disappointment.

Washington, which came in averaging a little more than 100 yards rushing a game, ran for a season-best 213. Running backs Louis Rankin and Kenny James combined to rush for 161 yards in 27 carries and gained much of their yardage after being hit.

"It doesn't matter who you're playing, if you don't tackle you're going to have some problems," said Larry Kerr, UCLA's defensive coordinator. "Unfortunately, our missed tackles led to some glaring big plays for them."

Before the Washington game, solo tackles were rare for UCLA, which consistently had multiple defenders around the ball. For example, the gang-tackling Bruins held Oklahoma's Adrian Peterson to 58 yards rushing in a 41-24 victory.

But the Sooners had a one-dimensional offense, making it easy for the Bruins to focus on the run and make plays in the Oklahoma backfield. UCLA plans to use a similar strategy against Cal.

"The thing that is to our advantage is that we know exactly what they are going to come out and do," senior safety Jarrad Page said. "There's no doubt that they are going to come out and give it to Marshawn all day.

" ... We know they want to run. It's just like teams that play us and say they are going to stop Maurice Drew."

On Saturday, the Bruins will face a 5-0 California team that will start Joe Ayoob, a junior college transfer, at quarterback. Ayoob, who took over when Nate Longshore was injured in the season opener, is 4-0 as a starter.

Although Ayoob has completed 62% of his passes for 813 yards with eight touchdowns and two interceptions, UCLA is not as worried about him as it is about Lynch and Justin Forsett, who have much better statistics than Washington's Rankin and James. The Bears have rushed for 1,297 yards, second in the Pac-10 and seventh in the nation.

"They have some good young receivers and Ayoob has been playing well, but they are still a team that rushes the ball," Page said.

Lynch, who sat out two games because of a broken finger before rushing for 107 yards against Arizona last week, is averaging 6.1 yards a carry and 100 yards a game. But he's second on the team in rushing behind Forsett, who rushed for 422 yards in the two games Lynch sat out and has 585 yards and four touchdowns.

"Cal is going to present a huge problem in that they have a big, physical group up front and a couple of excellent running backs," Kerr said. "They have a lot of balance in their offense, but it's predicated by them running first. Even last year when they had Aaron Rodgers at quarterback, and he's in the NFL now, their run game was still the key."

It's a challenge that Havner says the Bruins are ready to tackle.

"The last couple of seasons did not turn out the way we wanted them to turn out," Havner said. "So all that matters to us is that we're undefeated and Cal is in the path where we want to go. This is our chance."

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