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UCLA FYI

Bruins' defense stresses starting strong after letdowns

Trend of third-down penalties has UCLA trying to control its eagerness early on.

September 18, 2009|Chris Foster

UCLA's defense stopped San Diego State on its first drive -- twice. The Aztecs still took a 7-0 lead in the season opener.

The Bruins handled Tennessee on its first drive -- twice. The Volunteers still tied the score, 3-3, last Saturday.

That is a disturbing trend for defensive coordinator Chuck Bullough. UCLA penalties have provided too many do-overs early in games.

"Dumb penalties will kill you," Bullough said.

He said that message has been delivered repeatedly this week heading into Saturday's game against Kansas State.

"The first drive this week, we have to make a statement," linebacker Reggie Carter said. "I think it is anxiousness. Guys are reaching, trying to make plays. It just ends up hurting you. We can't start slow."

Against San Diego State, UCLA twice had third-down penalties that extended the Aztecs' first drive: an offside call on a third-and-four play, and linebacker Akeem Ayers getting caught holding on a third-and-goal play at the seven. The Aztecs scored a touchdown.

Against Tennessee, the Bruins again had two third-down penalties: an offside call on defensive tackle Jerzy Siewierski, and a facemask on Korey Bosworth on a third-and-12 play. The Volunteers kicked a field goal.

The Bruins have held opponents to three-and-outs and scoreless on 15 of 28 possessions this season.

"If we can get a three-and-out right away this week, that would be huge," Bosworth said. "Guys have been so ready to get out there that as soon as we think the ball was going to be snapped, we were gone. We have to calm down and relax. But you can't overthink it because that does lead to penalties. We can't have three-and-outs turning into seven-and-scores."

Bullough said he opened each meeting this week with similar words.

"If they beat you, they beat you," Bullough said. "If you're competing for a ball and they call one on you that's different than jumping offside or holding a guy. We're off the field, and the other team gets to keep driving. You give them extra plays, they will eventually get you."

QB or not QB

Senior quarterback Kevin Craft took most of the reps with the first team Thursday, though Coach Rick Neuheisel said not to read anything into it.

Still, Craft handled almost all the reps the last two days of practice, while freshman quarterback Richard Brehaut worked mostly with the second team.

Craft and Brehaut spent time after practice picking out footballs for the game -- a chore usually reserved for starter Kevin Prince, who is out because of a fractured jaw. Neuheisel reiterated that he may use both, though that runs counter to offensive coordinator Norm Chow's philosophy.

"I'm not a real two-guy guy," Chow said. "But we're going to do whatever it takes to win."

Neuheisel said he and Chow would make a decision today.

"I got my druthers, he's got his druthers," Neuheisel said. "We're going to try to meld them. Ultimately, it will be my decision. I want his counsel, with all his experience with quarterbacks."

Quick hits

With Aaron Hester (broken fibula) injured and Courtney Viney serving a one-game suspension for violating team rules, redshirt freshman Andrew Abbott and freshman Sheldon Price are expected to share one cornerback spot. . . . Tailback Christian Ramirez (ankle) and wide receiver Gavin Ketchum (hamstring) will be available in an "emergency," Neuheisel said. The Bruins are light at both positions. Tailback Milton Knox, receiver Morrell Presley and receiver Randall Carroll are also serving a one-game suspension.

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chris.foster@latimes.com

twitter.com/cfosterlatimes

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