UCLA's Tony Dye, No. 6, and Sean Westgate, No. 11, try and catch Texas'… (Harry How / Getty Images )
Tony Dye sat outside the UCLA football team's locker room, his head resting against a wall while ice packs soothed his muscles.
His body was winding down after a practice, but his mind was churning full speed.
"This is going to be different this week, I promise you," said Dye, the Bruins' starting free safety and a team captain. "There will be big hits. There will be great tackles."
Dye never raised his voice but spoke with the intensity of a big-tent preacher. With UCLA preparing to face a downtrodden Oregon State team Saturday in Corvallis, it was clear he'd had enough of the way the Bruins — himself included — play defense.
After a season-opening loss at Houston, Dye talked about the mess the Bruins made on the field and then went around the locker room picking up towels, playfully yet purposefully reprimanding teammates about sloppy habits.
After the loss to Texas last Saturday, Dye sat in front of his locker seething and politely requested a day off as team spokesman.
The Bruins defense had held a players-only meeting the week before the game to talk about discipline, then went out and gave up 284 yards rushing in a 49-20 drubbing.
UCLA gives up an average of 215 yards rushing per game, ranking 108th out of 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams. The Bruins held the same ranking last season and chose to change defensive coordinators.
Dye said he spent part of Sunday "very angry, watching the tape. I could see guys, including myself, doing things that were uncharacteristic. I was thinking way too much instead of playing instinctively."
He added, "I thought we had this all ironed out. Obviously, we haven't."
Joe Tresey was brought in to do the ironing, taking over as coach of a defense that was overtaxed by injuries and overwhelmed by opponents last season.
Tresey preached aggressiveness during training camp, with the mandate of eight tackles for a loss per game. UCLA has 10 through three games.
Houston shredded the passive-looking Bruins with short passes. Winless San Jose State, a huge underdog, stayed close by running for 202 yards. Texas trampled all over the Rose Bowl turf, scoring touchdowns on six of its first eight possessions.
Dye's solution: turn up the heat during practice.
He even gave a friendly heads up to scout team running back Steven Manfro.
"We're not going to kill Manfro, but he is going to feel some stuff this week," Dye said. "We need to be more physical. We have physical guys here."
Dye is hoping the intensity will carry over from practice to game, reasoning, "You just can't flip the switch and all of a sudden everyone is physical. You have to brainwash guys. I'm going to be shouting it all week. I want to smack heads. That's how I want to play defense."
Tresey's defenses in three of his four seasons at South Florida, Cincinnati and Central Michigan ranked no lower than 20th against the run. He says players on those teams "had a better knack" for the fundamentals, though.
Defense was supposed to be UCLA's backbone this season, and some Bruins say it still will be.
"The talent is better, there is more speed," said linebacker Patrick Larimore, a team captain. "I think guys know their assignments. Sometimes we're overreacting, trying to cover up spots."
Coach Rick Neuheisel encouraged Bruins defenders this way: "Instead of being the hero, be the guy who is in the right place."
There were glaring examples of that not happening against Texas. Cornerback Aaron Hester rushed up on what he thought was a wide receiver screen, allowing Texas' D.J. Grant to slip behind him for a 45-yard touchdown reception. Later, defensive end Datone Jones flew past Longhorns quarterback Case McCoy, who sidestepped two other Bruins and completed a 25-yard pass to the two-yard line.
Both were third-and-long plays. Texas converted on nine of 15 third-down situations.
"If we're going to beat ourselves before the snap, they don't even have to make a play," Larimore said. "We have to find a way to execute and get off the field."
Tackling would be a good start. Securing stops got to be such a problem during the Texas game that one press box observer speculated that the Bruins were doing just fine — if the game had been touch football.
Tresey said the tackling was better against Texas than in the opener against Houston, but "it was disappointing to see them get two or three more yards after the first hit."
Dye said that has to stop, and Oregon State would seem to provide a prime opportunity. The Beavers, who lost to Sacramento State and were shut out by Wisconsin, are 10th in the Pacific 12 Conference in offense (390 yards per game) and last in scoring (14.0 points).
"It's time to stop losing," Dye said. "The urgency isn't just because I'm a senior. Even when I'm gone, I will still be frustrated if this still is happening to the program.
"I'm tired of it."