UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr sacks USC quarterback Matt Barkley. (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles…)
UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr has been terrorizing quarterbacks for weeks. But against Stanford, he was put in reverse.
Barr spent most of Saturday's game tied up with Cardinal tight ends Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo. And Barr can expect more of the same when the Bruins play Stanford in the Pac-12 championship game Friday.
"That's what they have asked me to do, so that's what I'm going to do," Barr said. "Those guys are not only physical blockers, they are primary receivers."
Ertz, who is 6 feet 6, 252 pounds, and Toilolo, who is 6-8, 265, are too much for most defensive backs to handle.
Barr, who is 6-4, 235 pounds, is a former running back and receiver who has the speed to handle pass coverage and the size to handle Ertz and Toilolo.
Ertz is Stanford's leading receiver, with 63 receptions for 818 yards. Toilolo has 23 catches for 387 yards.
Ertz had five receptions for 71 yards in Stanford's 35-17 victory over the Bruins on Saturday. Toilolo had one catch for 10 yards. Neither caught a touchdown pass. They have 10 of Stanford's 18 touchdown receptions this season.
"Those guys like to push off, use their bodies to get some separation," Barr said. "I just try to trail them. They are not going to outrun me. I just stay close and don't let them push me around."
Barr, who played offense his first two years at UCLA, moved to linebacker this season. There is a difference of opinion about whether pass coverage has been the most challenging part of his learning curve.
"In his career, it has been all about running forward," Coach Jim Mora said. "As a running back and receiver, you are moving forward. You also know the play and the path you have to take. In coverage, you're moving backward and he can't predict what the offense does."
Not a problem, Barr said.
"That might be the easiest part," he said. "I thrive in space."
What is certain is that when the Bruins use Barr in pass coverage, they lose their best pass rusher. Barr is tied for eighth nationally with 12 sacks.
Running back Damien Thigpen's knee injury has Fabian Moreau back on offense. Moreau came to UCLA as a running back but moved to cornerback during training camp.
Moreau is available for defense and offense this week.
"I'm surprised how quickly he picked the offense back up," Mora said. "He's there just in case we need his speed."
Linebacker Dalton Hilliard had his right arm in a sling Monday. Mora said Hilliard had a shoulder injury.
Tackle Simon Goines, who left the Stanford game in the first quarter after his injured left knee became worse, limped into practice. Asked about Goines, Mora said, "He'll be fine."
Mora then laughed and joked, "What answer did you expect? Goines? He'll be fine. Dalton? He'll be fine."