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Bruins aren't defenseless

It's certainly a lot better than 59-0, as UCLA keeps Arizona in check for three quarters despite poor field position.

September 21, 2008|David Wharton | Times Staff Writer

Four touchdowns.

In scoreboard terms, the UCLA defense played four touchdowns better this week.

That wasn't much consolation to the players.

"A loss is a loss," defensive end Korey Bosworth said. "We've got to do better."

But in a season edging perilously southward, the Bruins' football program must take encouragement wherever it can be found -- and defense offered a glimmer of a silver lining in Saturday afternoon's 31-10 loss to Arizona at the Rose Bowl.

"All I care about is improving every week," defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker said. "My instincts say that we did improve."

This wasn't anything like the 59-0 humiliation at Brigham Young, the Bruins reaching the fourth quarter against Arizona within striking distance at 17-10.

The defense had scored their only touchdown, linebacker Reggie Carter forcing a fumble and Bosworth pouncing on the loose ball, lunging into the end zone.

And the defense had given up those relatively miserly 17 points despite repeatedly poor field position.

In the first quarter, a fumbled punt gave the Wildcats possession at midfield that they converted into a field goal and a 3-0 lead. Similarly advantageous starting points led to a couple of touchdowns before halftime.

So, after a scoreless third quarter, 17-10 didn't seem so bad.

"We were right where we wanted to be," defensive tackle Brigham Harwell said.

Or, as Coach Rick Neuheisel put it, "defense tried valiantly to keep us in the game."

The effort fell apart in the fourth quarter when Arizona's Mike Thomas returned a punt to the UCLA 26-yard line. The Wildcats scored quickly to extend the lead to 24-10. They followed with their only long drive of the day, marching 75 yards to score again.

Asked about having to defend a short field so often, Harwell said: "It's tough."

Walker laid some of the blame on the coaching staff.

"That's been a weakness for us ever since we've been here," he said. "The coaches, we've got to do something about that."

This clearly is not last season's defense. Not with lineman Bruce Davis, linebacker Christian Taylor and much of the secondary departed.

The new starters include freshman safety Rahim Moore and some upperclassmen who, in the coaches' view, made some very good plays while suffering occasional lapses.

Twice, safety Bret Lockett got beat by Arizona's stellar tight end, Rob Gronkowski, for touchdowns. Walker thought Lockett had decent coverage on both occasions but added, "you've got to make a play."

Arizona's final scoring drive was sparked by a 43-yard pass from Arizona quarterback Willie Tuitama to Thomas. The Wildcats finished with 333 yards of total offense and converted on seven of 16 third downs.

"I knew they were young just by looking at them," Thomas said of the UCLA defensive players. "But they flew around pretty good. They're going to be OK."

After vowing to avenge last weekend's embarrassment, the notion of gradual improvement provided little solace to the Bruins.

"The feeling on the defensive side isn't any different than it was after the BYU game," Bosworth said. "We got hit hard."

--

david.wharton@latimes.com

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