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Walker seeks a way to fix third down

October 01, 2008|Chris Foster | Times Staff Writer

The concerns that UCLA defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker has are rooted mostly in the Bruins' efforts on third down.

The pressure has not been consistent and the coverage a little loose. As a result, the Bruins are a worrisome 48% on third downs, which ranks them 106th out of 119 Division I teams.

"The third and less than seven is the key," Walker said. "If we were better at that, we'd get off the field a lot more. We've been pretty good on third downs the last two years. This is the first time we've struggled on that down and distance. We've got to look at the variables."

Part of that may involve personnel adjustments.

For starters, freshman Tony Dye got plenty of reps in the nickel defense.

"We're giving him a good look in practice," Walker said. "He's a bigger guy and a smart guy. He has the ability to do the things we want done. We're trying to find matches we think can help us."

That might also mean more time for Akeem Ayers and, possibly, defensive end Datone Jones. The Bruins have only four sacks through three games. They had 13 in the first four games in 2007.

Part of that was due to defensive end Bruce Davis. He tied for the Pacific-10 lead with 12 sacks. In 2006, the Bruins' Justin Hickman led the conference in sacks.

"It's kind of hard to replace guys like Davis and Hickman," Walker said. "Those are special guys. Even when we were not bringing pressure, they were able to get to the quarterback. We'll look a little bit at personnel."

Walker said that Ayers and Jones were players who could help the pass rush.

"It's something where we either have to blitz more or use more guys to cover," Walker said.

Harkey returns

Tight end Cory Harkey returned to full practice after being limited because of a sprained ankle. He was injured against Arizona and played only on special teams against Fresno State.

"We don't pretend to have great depth," Coach Rick Neuheisel said.

"With Harkey back, we have him and Ryan Moya and Nate Chandler and Jeff Miller. All of a sudden the position looks a lot better."

Chandler, who moved from tackle, will stay at tight end through the remainder of the season. As to whether he will move back to tackle after the season, Neuheisel said, "That's probably looking too far ahead."

Bell curve

Another practice, another altercation between Kahlil Bell and a teammate.

Bell was drilled on one play working against the scout team Tuesday. A play later, he and two scout team players went at it, butting heads before being separated.

"That's Kahlil being Kahlil," Neuheisel said. "He's a feisty player. He has to temper that so it doesn't cost us in a game. I like that he's competitive."

Last week, Bell and tailback Derrick Coleman briefly mixed it up.

Neuheisel says he has had conversations with Bell and if "this gets to a point where it's a distraction, I'll say something to him. He knows where he stands and what he cannot do."

Trivia time

Since 1991, which Pac-10 team has the best record against UCLA?

Washington State, which has a 10-4 record against the Bruins.

The Cougars, a heavy underdog, come to the Rose Bowl on Saturday.

"I couldn't tell you why that is," Bell said. "I really don't have an answer for that.

"The last couple years, they've had good game plans for us, and executed better than us. It's a new year, new day and they're coming into our house. They're going to have to beat us at home."

The Cougars have done that the last three times they visited the Rose Bowl. Still, extending that winning streak to four would seem to require a lot more than Washington State has offered so far this season. The Cougars have been out-scored 129-17 in two conference games. Neuheisel, meanwhile, has a 5-0 record against Washington State.

Odds and split ends

Tackle Jeff Baca sat out practice with what Neuheisel said was a "little case of strep. I think he'll be ready to go tomorrow with all the antibodies we're pumping into him." . . . Aundre Dean (sprained ankle) participated in practice, but wide receiver Marcus Everett (dislocated toe) did little beyond individual drills. . . . UCLA's game against Oregon on Oct. 11 in Eugene will start at 7:15 and be televised on FSN.


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