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Defensively Speaking: UCLA

Our best defensive player rose to the occasion yesterday against UCLA. He saved the day from what was shaping up as an epic collapse.

Kedon Slovis.

Without his jaw-dropping, record-setting performance, I am convinced that UCLA defeats us yesterday. When I watched the game replay late last night from an undisclosed location (ok, it’s just Arkansas) it was a blessing that I knew the outcome ahead of time or I would have lost it…big time.

That was one of the worst, most confusing defensive game plans I’ve witnessed since Alabama, Ohio State, Notre Dame, Oregon, UCLA (2018) and others, but you get my point. Offensively, Chip Kelly has us totally figured out. It goes something like this:

1) Play physically strong along the LOS and control the DL

2) Attack the secondary, in particular our safeties since they represent the last line of defense. 

3) Use multiple formations, lots of motion while attacking a confused, young and ill-prepared defense.

4) Adjust the offense to what is working and attack the vulnerable parts of our defense.

It worked last year in the Rose Bowl with a dominating run game and a defense that quit. This year it almost worked again, but for an explosive offensive performance when the offense knew it had to out score UCLA to win this game. It was painfully obvious that yesterday’s defense was going to be successful only if they weren’t on the field. Some might think that is too harsh of an assessment. I don’t

Frankly, I am looking for an assignment-sound defense with an attacking, penetrating game plan. If we get beat for being too aggressive and risk-taking, so be it. But to sit back and play soft zone in the some of the 3rd and 4th quarter while UCLA is piling up yardage and points is counter-productive to good, inspired football. You remember, USC football.

I am writing this report now but I will re-watch the replay again and combine a more thorough statistical review to report to you. However, here’s some of what I observed yesterday:

  • Drake Jackson got handled by UCLA’s OT…often. This was one of his toughest days on the field.
  • I really don’t know what Olijah Griffin is doing on run plays other than avoiding contact. His matador move near the goal line for UCLA’s first TD was humiliating. He is starting to remind me of Jack Jones (without the off-field problems). He wants to be a “coverage guy,” not a complete football player.
  • Hufanga and Palo-Mao accounted for 30 tackles yesterday. That’s 30 tackles out of 82. That is a full day’s work and indicative of the poor play by the DL and linebackers.
  • Nice interception by Taylor-Stuart. He continues to improve.
  • Special teams are awful and getting worse. Burn a timeout because of 10 on the field, missed FG, KO coverage spotty (one really good cover play, so credit for that).

We used a lot of zone coverage in the second half. Pendergast likes to go to two-high safety with a Cover 7 look, four-man rush. We just couldn’t get consistent pressure on the UCLA QB with this four-man rush. So, we brought some occasional pressure with five and six-man pressure. Frankly, this was defense in-depth…meaning Clancy knew he had a lead and was willing to trade yards (and points) for minutes. Pretty lousy way to defend a rivalry opponent. I was confident that we would beat UCLA, I just didn’t think we couldn’t muster an aggressive, fundamentally sound defensive performance. Thank you Kedon Slovis and the offense for answering the bell. Way to go. Fight On…

Kevin Bruce

Kevin earned his MBA and BS in Business Administration/Finance & Econometrics from the University of Southern California, where he also played four years of varsity football, serving as co-captain and playing in three Rose Bowls. Kevin’s college honors included All-American (AP-Honorable Mention), All Pac-8 Conference - Linebacker (1st) and Academic All-American, two NCAA National Championships (football), NCAA Post Graduate Scholarship recipient and Trojan Diamond Award-outstanding graduating senior. He is a member of Football Writers Association of America and is a contributor to WeAreSC.com.

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