UCLA defense relies on accountability over gimmicks

No. 20 UCLA’s defense continues to hold its players accountable in an effort to maximize the team’s potential this season.

The Bruins are off to a fast start this season, winning two of three home games at the Rose Bowl before earning a 35-24 conference-opening victory at Stanford on Saturday.

UCLA’s rush defense is ranked fifth nationally, among 130 FBS programs, allowing an average of 64 yards per game and just three rushing touchdowns this season.

“I think we have a great group of guys up front,” defensive back Qwuantrezz Knight said. “Not only are they good pass rushers but literally just run to the ball every time. That’s what we do.

Despite the success stopping the run, UCLA (3-1, 1-0 Pac-12) continues to experience a series of up-and-down moments with a pass defense that ranks No. 126 nationally and allows 330.2 passing yards per game.

Fresno State quarterback Jake Haener threw for 455 yards and two touchdowns and exposed UCLA’s ability to give up explosive plays in the Bruins’ 40-37 loss Sept. 18.

While UCLA managed to keep Stanford to 55 snaps and 11 first downs, the Cardinal kept the score close as quarterback Tanner McKee threw three touchdowns, including scoring passes of 52 and 56 yards in the second half.

“We need to eliminate the explosive plays,” UCLA coach Chip Kelly said. “(The defense) did a nice job but there’s some corrections we need to make there.”

The Bruins continue to draw from their accountability system, instead of pointing fingers, by swarming to the football.

“(You need) 100% effort,” safety Kenny Churchwell III said. “We play fast and we play strong.

“We just have to finish. We just have to believe, trust the process and make an effort running to the ball and having fun and congratulate the teammates making the plays.”

If defenders are not swarming toward the football, they will have to perform an up down workout.

“It’s not so much a punishment but it’s a learning experience,” linebacker Carl Jones Jr. said. “If you’re not running to the ball, you count those up. … I’ve been trying to keep (my up downs) to a minimum so I’ve been trying to fly to the ball.”

Knight and Jones were among the team’s leaders in tackles and found opportunities to be disruptive.

Knight had a team-high eight tackles and contributed on one of two sacks on McKee. Jones finished with five tackles, including a tackle for a two-yard loss.

“Practice makes perfect,” Jones said. “Luckily the plays came to me and I just had to do my job.”

The defense doesn’t thrive off the significance of a turnover chain or a reward system but rather the continued sense of urgency to locate the football, help make a tackle and possibly cause a turnover that puts the ball back in the hands of quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson and the offense.

“Right before Datona (Jackson) made that big sack, we were on the sideline saying, ‘Who is going to get the sack first?’” Jones said. “We have those little games that we play right before we hop out on the field because we know something’s going to happen and someone has to make the big play.”


UCLA’s Kyle Philips was voted as the Pac-12 special teams player of the week.

He had 74 yards on three returns against the Cardinal. Philips’ longest return went for 59 yards on the opening kickoff, before he was brought down at Stanford’s 13-yard line to set up the Bruins’ opening score.

“We got to pay respect to (Philips) for that return,” running back Zach Charbonnet said. “That was a big return and put us in great field position.”

After Philips’ return, Charbonnet started the drive with four consecutive carries, moving the ball 12 yards before Thompson-Robinson ran for the 1-yard touchdown to take the first lead of the game.


Center Sam Marrazzo is unlikely to play Saturday against Arizona State.

The senior was not listed on UCLA’s two-deep depth chart after suffering an injury against Stanford.

Duke Clemens is expected to start at center with Jon Gaines II listed as the backup center and the starting right guard.

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