Nearly halfway into the college football season, we’re getting a clear picture of what teams are and separating the winners from the pretenders. The Pac-12 especially has been a great conference to follow with many quarterbacks in Heisman contention. However, there are some defenses that should garner more attention. The UCLA Bruins are one of those teams.
Bruins defensive coordinator D’Anton Lynn has significantly upgraded UCLA’s defense. Lynn’s unit leads the Pac-12 in total defense, rushing yards allowed and opponent yards per play while ranking high in other key defensive metrics in the FBS. It’s the UCLA defense that will play star in its Week 7 matchup at Oregon State in the underdog role.
UCLA’s turnover strength
The Bruins passing defense has been on a roll. Washington State QB Cameron Ward hadn’t thrown an interception all year before last week when senior defensive back Alex Johnson picked him off for his third INT of the season. Then junior linebacker Femi Oladejo intercepted a pass by Ward as well.
That’s been the norm for the UCLA defense. It’s forced eight interceptions this season, tied for sixth-most in the country. Guarding the slot with assistance from linebackers in coverage has been effective for the Bruins, making the defense not only a threat to opposing quarterbacks but a reliable strength for the team as a whole.
Oregon State QB DJ Uiagalelei has four interceptions on 152 passing attempts, but three of those were at home.
It’s not just interceptions the UCLA defense is forcing, it’s also fumbles. The Bruins are tied for 13th for most forced fumbles with seven, recovering five of them. Recovering fumbles is a bit more based on luck but when a 265-pound defensive lineman is chasing you down, forcing a fumble is more skill-based. It’s that skill that could come handy against a run-heavy offense with a mobile quarterback.
The Beavers offense will now face the best turnover defense it’s seen yet.
UCLA’s quarterback pressure
The Bruins pass rush is a monster, graded second-best according to Pro Football Focus with 18 sacks. If the UCLA defense isn’t getting there with sacks, then how is it so strong? UCLA has 116 total pressures on opposing passers.
To put into perspective, Texas A&M leads the country with 26 sacks but has only 91 total pressures. Total sacks is important when analyzing matchups. However, wreaking havoc on a quarterback — forcing him to hold the ball too long, stay within a collapsing pocket or ultimately throw the ball away — can hold more weight. Senior edge rusher Laiatu Latu is a 6-foot-5, 265-pound unblockable force who could potentially be picked in the first round of the NFL Draft, if not as the first pass-rusher off the board.
DJ U has just a 44% completion rate (67th) when under pressure, for a mere 267 yards (42nd). Uiagalelei will now face the best pass rush he’s seen yet.
UCLA’s defense is showing progression through five games with another chance to build its resume this week in Corvallis. The strong defense is why backing UCLA as a 4-point underdog is the play against the Beavers. Apply quarterback pressure or force a turnover at just the right time, and the +160 moneyline is also live.