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Spaulding Roundup: Looking For Aggression

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Let’s begin out Friday roundup with a note on our defense. The pressure will be on Bruin defense this weekend to contain Stanford’s potent rushing attack. While Harwell and Price will do their part to clog up the middle, the spotlight will be on the Bruin DEs and LBs. They will need to step up for our defense to contain Gerhart and Kimble. One of the guys who will be looking to make a difference this weekend is Reginald Stokes, who had his second last weekend against Oregon. Kevin Pearson shines the spotlight on the redshirt sophomore from Alabama:

A redshirt sophomore from Montgomery, Ala., Stokes will make his second consecutive start at defensive end on Saturday against Stanford, going from a little-used reserve role into a significant contributor.

"I can play with anybody," Stokes said. "I have the experience now, so there should be no excuses. I want the coaches to judge me like they judge the normal starters."

Stokes finds himself in the starting lineup because of the injury to strong-side end Tom Blake, who is out indefinitely with a sports hernia. Stokes responded in his first start with a five-tackle performance against Oregon last week.

Having not seen any game action prior to this year, Stokes played in a limited role in UCLA's first five games. He did well against Oregon in his first significant action, and UCLA defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker said Stokes was starting to mature as a player.

"He's a smart player, an IQ player, and I think he's tough," Walker said. "There is no secret that he's a little limited athletically, but every time you put him in there, for the most part, he does his job.

"It's a great experience for him to get some playing time. I think he can be a significant contributor down the road."

As I mentioned following the Oregon game, our defense got off to a slow start against the Ducks, but I was very encouraged by what I saw from our front 7 most of the game. Yes, there were disappointing breakdown at the end of the first half and during the fourth quarter. Still the defense made adjustments and were holding the Oregon offense in check.

The key this weekend I think will be how players like Stokes, Datone Jones, Akeem Ayers, and Glenn Love perform out of the gate against Stanford’s offense power running game. They will have to come in with an aggressive mindset early instead of waiting to adjust like they did against Oregon.

Speaking of being aggressive, CRN is hoping his offense will get him some TOs to work with this weekend:

Rather than attempting to drive 60-plus yards for a score every time UCLA gets the ball, coach Rick Neuheisel wants to see a few short drives leading to touchdowns.

So, in addition to better tackling, more emphasis was placed on creating turnovers in practice this week as the Bruins look to improve on their national ranking of 107th when it comes to the defense taking the football.

"It's a ball-stripping thing, it's aggressiveness, it's playing hard, it's forcing the action," Neuheisel said. "My instincts are they come in bunches, and hopefully there's a bunch coming."

So far, the shelves have been barren. UCLA has forced six turnovers this season, and its margin of minus-0.83 per game ranks 100th in the nation. Although opposing teams have fumbled nine times, the Bruins recovered only two of them.

Conversely, UCLA has turned the ball over 11 times.

"It would be huge to get short fields," Neuheisel said. "We've been getting some in our return game, but (we need more often) to get some short fields ... and not give the defense short fields, which unfortunately, was the story of the second half against Oregon."

My feelings are somewhat mixed about that approach. I do think it is essential for our defense to play with an aggressive mentality looking to force turnovers. But I always come from the school of though that you gotta learn to walk before you start running. Our defense needs to focus on tackling right now and worry about stopping opposing backs and receivers, before worrying about stripping the ball. Then again I am assuming coaches are emphasizing that part of the game already in practice.

On the other side of the ball, CRN talked about getting KC some help with a credible rushing effort tomorrow afternoon:

"We're getting a lot out of him," Neuheisel said. "I think he's had his moments where he's been really good and he's had his moments where he's really struggled.

"I think when we're able to manage the game in a way that doesn't mean throwing on every down, I think he does fine. And I think that's a real must as we go forward as we try to manage the game and not just make it a throw-fest."

Well, hopefully that help will come from players like Derrick Coleman, who is profiled in the LA Times today. I think for the Bruins to win the game tomorrow (BTW I believe they are now about 2 point underdogs against the Cards), they will need 100+ yards from the ground.

The key I think here will be for this team to come out and play with aggression on both sides of the ball and take it right to Stanford. They can’t wait to react and adjust like they did against Oregon last weekend. Hopefully, the home coming crowd will get them fired up and ready to go.

GO BRUINS.