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Bruins special teams struggles on kickoff coverage

UCLA ranks 118 out of 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in kickoff coverage, despite playing well in other aspects of special teams.

October 16, 2009|Chris Foster

Oregon's Kenjon Barner took the kickoff three yards deep in the end zone and did a high-speed streak through UCLA coverage.

Unfortunately for the Bruins, this was not a one-time situation. It was only the one time, so far, that a kickoff was returned for a touchdown.

While UCLA has been exceptional at other areas of special teams play, the Bruins rank 118th out of the nation's 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in kickoff coverage.

Against Oregon, it finally cost them, as Barner's touchdown at the start of the second half erased a 3-0 UCLA lead.

"We got to get off blocks, we got to get off blocks, we got to get off blocks," said special teams coach Frank Gansz, Jr.. "When you got you locked up, you got to get off of it."

UCLA has blocked two field goals and one punt. Alterraun Verner returned one blocked field goal for a touchdown. Terrence Austin is averaging a respectable 24.8 yards on kickoff returns and 10.5 yards on punt returns. Opponents are averaging only 4.1 yards on punt returns.

But in the last three games, the Bruins' kickoff coverage has struggled. Kansas State averaged 33.8 yards, Stanford returned one kick for 34 yards and Barner went the distance on Oregon's only return.

"We've made a few changes in practice, and emphasized some things," linebacker Sean Westgate said. "We have to make sure we have the back side contained. You got to make sure you're not jumping off the block wrong. If the ball is going inside, you can't jump to the outside."

The Bruins have one effective weapon, kicker Jeff Locke. Of his 27 kickoffs, 10 have been touchbacks. Only six kickers in the nation have more.

But UCLA can't only rely on Locke's leg. He had three touchbacks against Stanford, but a fourth kickoff was returned 34 yards, setting the Cardinal up with decent field position with four minutes left and the Bruins trailing by eight points.

Barner fielded the kick he returned three yards deep in the end zone.

"When the ball is three yards deep in the end zone, we got to do a better job," Gansz said. "It wasn't that they did anything magical or they had a scheme we hadn't seen. We got to get off our blocks."

Top recruit to visit

Temple (Texas) High's Lache Seastrunk, considered one of the top running backs in the nation, will make an official visit to UCLA this weekend, said a source close to his family.

Seastrunk, who is 5 feet 11 and 192 pounds, is the nation's No. 1-ranked running back by He ran for 3,073 yards and 33 touchdowns as a sophomore and junior. He is also being recruited by USC, Auburn, Baylor, California, Florida, Louisiana State, Miami, Nebraska, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas and Texas A&M.

Quick hits

Tailback Johnathan Franklin (sprained ankle) practiced for a second day and is expected to play against California on Saturday, "but we'll have to make a determination how much," Coach Rick Neuheisel said. . . . Linebacker Reggie Carter (sprained knee) did not practice and his availability remains a game-time decision. . . . Reserve linebacker Patrick Larimore has a concussion and will not play.


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