Bruins cornerback Tevin McDonald returns his second interception of the… (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles…)
This would be a problem for most teams.
UCLA is down to third-stringers at both safety positions, according to how the depth chart read at the start of the season. Yet, Tevin McDonald and Stan McKay hardly seemed liabilities in the Bruins' 31-14 victory over California last Saturday.
McDonald intercepted three passes. McKay tied for the team lead with six tackles.
The Bruins have been without Tony Dye (neck injury) and Alex Mascarenas (concussion) for weeks, and lost Dietrich Riley (neck injury) during the Cal game. It has left the safety positions so thin that linebacker Glenn Love, a former safety, was getting a refresher course at the position this week.
Fortunately for the Bruins, McDonald and McKay have accelerated their development.
"I had to keep working as if I was the No. 1 guy," McDonald said. "Unfortunately, we lost Tony and Alex. I needed to make sure there was no drop-off."
McDonald, a redshirt freshman, played in nickel and dime packages early in the season. He has started the last five games at free safety.
"I think he sees what he is capable of doing when he plays within the defense," Coach Rick Neuheisel said. "Hopefully, he will continue to do so."
McDonald's first interception led a field goal that gave UCLA a 10-7 lead. His next two led to touchdowns that extended the lead to 31-14.
"I was looking forward to working hard this season and getting any minutes I could," McDonald said. "I was going to prepare in the off-season to win the job. Now I couldn't be happier."
McKay, a redshirt sophomore, was also looking at next season as his time. He has played mostly on special teams since coming to UCLA.
"Some people, when they are third- or fourth-string, give up on themselves and start thinking about transferring," McKay said. "I kept my focus on my goal to help the team as much as I can. Tony Dye kept me focused since the day I got here. He took me under his wing."
McKay was ready to fly last week. He leapfrogged Riley and Dalton Hilliard to make his first career start.
"He has urgency," defensive coordinator Joe Tresey said. "He is one of those guys who keeps fighting and fighting and, all of a sudden, he appears."
McKay had five solo tackles against California. He made two as the last man standing on a drive that ended in a missed field-goal attempt, preserving a 17-14 UCLA lead.
"I was so jittery before the game," McKay said. "It was my first start since high school. Tony told me to relax and just play like I did in practice. I had my motor running and got to the ball as fast as I could, even when I messed up."
Quarterback Richard Brehaut, who has been out three weeks because of a fractured bone in his leg, has been cleared to return to practice next week.
Brehaut has sat out the last two games. He was the team's starting quarterback when he was injured against Washington State.
More on injuries
Defensive end Iuta Tepa (back) and punter Jeff Locke (shoulder) are both listed as probable for Saturday's game against Arizona State. Tepa didn't do much during practice this week. Wesley Flowers moved over from the scout team to fill some of Tepa's role.
Locke is expected to punt. Quarterback Nick Crissman is expected to replace Locke as the holder for field goals and extra points.
Guard Chris Ward (kneecap) will not play.