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UCLA is trying to defend the defense

UCLA FOOTBALL FYI

Coach Rick Neuheisel won't comment on his decision to gamble on a fourth-and-11 play late against Arizona instead of trusting the Bruins to hold the Wildcats and get the ball back for the offense.

October 31, 2010|By Chris Foster
  • UCLa cornerback Andrew Abbott brings down Arizona receiver Juron Criner after a reception in the first quarter Saturday.
UCLa cornerback Andrew Abbott brings down Arizona receiver Juron Criner… (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles…)

The lack of trust in the UCLA defense seemed apparent with the Bruins trailing Arizona, 26-21, with 2 minutes 23 seconds left Saturday.

The Bruins faced a fourth and 11 at their 19 and had all three timeouts left. The opportunity was there to put things in the hands of the defense.

Instead, Coach Rick Neuheisel gambled and quarterback Richard Brehaut's pass was incomplete.

Would a better performance by the UCLA defense have led to a different decision? Neuheisel avoided that as easily as Arizona quarterback Matt Scott did Bruins tacklers.

"That's all speculation, and since I don't have to, I don't have to answer the question," Neuheisel said Sunday, chuckling. "I make decisions based on the facts at hand. I felt like it was the best choice."

Arizona's 583 yards were one of the main facts at hand.

The Bruins spent the day chasing Scott around, as he piled up 390 yards. It was the second consecutive week UCLA gave up 500 yards.

How to prevent a third week, against Oregon State on Saturday, will be the chore.

Neuheisel and defensive coordinator Chuck Bullough each cited the youth and inexperience for the problems on defense. Four of the 14 players who play regularly on the defensive front are redshirt freshmen or freshmen. Another, tackle Nate Chandler, is playing defense for the first time this season.

Those players, though, will only be a week older Saturday against the Beavers. With UCLA's bowl chances nearly expiring, Neuheisel said, "It's time for them to now expand and become the quality players they all can be."

That will take more than a magic wand or elixir.

The Bruins tackled poorly against the Wildcats, as they did in the season opener against Kansas State. Neuheisel pointed to the expanded role of the young players as the cause of the defensive regression.

Improving tackling, he said, would be a challenge, as the Bruins are limited in practice unless they risk more injuries. But, Neuheisel said, "It's a major part of the game. We have to make a big deal about it this week."

Injury report

Wide receiver Jerry Johnson and kick returner Damien Thigpen had their seasons end Saturday. Johnson suffered a broken left ankle and Thigpen a broken right clavicle.

Thigpen had surgery Saturday night. Johnson is expected to have surgery, though he is getting a second opinion.

Middle linebacker Steve Sloan suffered a hamstring injury Saturday. His status will be determined this week.

chris.foster@latimes.com

twitter.com/cfosterlatimes

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