UCLA’s rush defense takes a holiday

UCLA countered Oregon’s run-heavy offense with a swarming, gang-tackling approach that left the Ducks flattened.

Against an even more one-dimensional Washington, the Bruins looked more like a man standing on the shore and shaking his fists at an oncoming tidal wave. They knew exactly what was coming and were powerless to stop it.

The Huskies threw the ball only 12 times Saturday at Husky Stadium during a 44-23 romp over UCLA, their fewest pass attempts since producing only 10 during a rain-swept victory over USC in 1981.

That meant they ran it. And ran it. And ran it. And ran it.

Washington ran the ball a staggering 58 times, rolling up 333 yards rushing. The Huskies averaged 5.7 yards per rush and scored five rushing touchdowns, giving them little reason to try anything else.

“I was pretty shocked they didn’t try to throw the ball more,” safety Adarius Pickett said, “but, I mean, why would you? You’re having success on the ground.”

The Bruins’ inability to do much about it was leading them toward defeat long before quarterback Josh Rosen departed midway through the third quarter because of what coach Jim Mora described as “multiple” injuries that included an apparent cut on his hand.

While UCLA (4-4 overall, 2-3 Pac-12 Conference) waits to learn whether its star quarterback can play as part of a short turnaround against Utah (4-4, 1-4) on Friday at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City, it must contemplate what to do about the dreck that is its defense, especially after the promise it had exhibited the previous week.

“It was tough coming off a game like Oregon and taking a loss like this, for sure,” said defensive lineman Osa Odighizuwa, whose fumble recovery for a 51-yard touchdown in the final minutes was one of the few highlights for UCLA.

A defense that was already worst in the nation against the run further solidified its standing; the Bruins are now giving up 307.1 yards per game on the ground.

Injuries have certainly contributed to the issue. The Bruins were missing a slew of regular contributors, including defensive tackle Matt Dickerson, defensive end Rick Wade and linebacker Josh Woods, forcing some newcomers into significant roles and others to switch positions in midseason.

“There’s a lot of young guys in there and a lot of freshman guys playing all over the place and things happen,” defensive coordinator Tom Bradley said. “Weird things, but they do happen. … As you grow, you process through yourself these things. Some of the mistakes that they make now they won’t make, you know, the same period later in their career.”

The one constant this season regardless of personnel has been missed tackles, a problem that shows no sign of abating.

“That’s what led to some big runs,” Pickett said. “But we gotta get that fixed. More emphasis on tackling this week, just get ready for Utah.”

Rosen was hurt for a second consecutive season as a result of being sacked after having missed the final six games in 2016 because of a shoulder injury that came from being brought down behind the line of scrimmage.

But offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch pointed out that sacks can result from a breakdown among anyone on offense, not just the linemen.

“Some plays, maybe it’s on a back,” Fisch said. “Some plays, it’s on the line. Some plays, it’s on the quarterback. … Whether the problems come from a missed assignment or whether it comes from an extra blitzer [not accounted for] in our protections, you know, you have hot throws. And you have to be able to find those hot throws and you have to know where to go with the ball. And other times we have to do a better job of maybe picking up the [offensive] line game.”

The 6-foot-2, 275-pound Odighizuwa, on what it felt like running for the first touchdown of his college career: “I just picked it up and I just ran as fast as I could. I don’t even really remember it. I just ran. People said I’ve got to work on ball security.”

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