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UCLA’s defense is pretty, pretty good

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The Bruins may have one of the Pac-12’s best defensive units

Arizona v UCLA Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

The UCLA Bruins are 2-2, and sure that may not be great, but it certainly is a much better record than the previous few years with Chip Kelly at the helm. This marks just the second time that a Bruins team under Kelly has reached or held a .500 mark in a season under his lead, and both of those times have happened in 2020.

UCLA reached the 2-2 mark via a dominant defensive victory over the Arizona Wildcats on Saturday night, 27-10.

While some may point to the fact that starting quarterback Grant Gunnell was knocked out on the Wildcats first snap as a reason why the UCLA defense limited Arizona to just 153 yards in the air and just 162 yards on the ground, the fact is: UCLA routinely won up front on defense, and that’s a recipe for success.

It didn’t matter that the backup quarterback — Will Plummer — was forced into action. But it certainly didn’t help.

What UCLA did on defense is not only a great way to beat any quarterback, it’s a way to win any game, and it’s a sustainable way at that.

The Bruins pressured Arizona passers on 19 of 43 dropbacks and Wildcat quarterbacks finished the night just 4-13 for 11 yards with Plummer taking two sacks and forcing him to scramble four more times. In all, the Bruins allowed just two first downs when they recorded pressure on the quarterback.

Making matters even worse for the Wildcats, and well any foe for the Bruins this season, is the fact that the backend coverage has stepped it up and has been incredibly stingy since the game against Cal, and even Oregon.

Plummer completed just three of his pass attempts targeted 10 or more yards downfield, finishing the night 3-for-11 for just 58 yards with both of his interceptions coming on downfield shots.

Leading the way in pressuring the quarterback was the duo of Osa Odighizuwa and Otito Ogbonnia, each of whom secured four pressures with Ogbonnia leading the game with two QB hits. The pressure came from multiple players on a rotational front that kept the Wildcats offensive line and additional pass protectors guessing.

And the coverage wasn’t too bad either.

The middle of the field was patrolled beautifully by UCLA’s secondary and the boundary was secured Jay Shaw who allowed but a single catch for two yards on the night.

The safety combination of Stephan Blaylock, Elisha Guidry and Qwuantrezz Knight have quickly turned a porous UCLA secondary into perhaps the Pac-12’s best unit. Combining that with the services of Rayshad Williams, Mo Osling III, Elijah Gates and Obi Eboh, and you’ve got quite the list of studs playing lockdown coverage on the backend as of late.

Blaylock and Gates recorded interceptions on the night against Arizona while Osling and Guidry got in on the action with a pass breakup each.

The pressure upfront caused a ton of havoc, but having a pass coverage unit this deep and this talented is also proving to be a difference maker.

Both of these items for a defense are pivotal in this day and age of college football, and it honestly looks like the Bruins have turned the corner in this regard. With the safe and also sustainable offensive game plan with Chase Griffin at quarterback, this team is set up to win more than just their fair share of games to get back to .500, this team could be poised to get above .500 with a pivotal game against USC to close out the year.

One thing is for sure, the Trojans do NOT want to see this UCLA team hot heading into their December 12 matchup, and they do NOT want to see them strong in the facets listed above. USC has struggled when pressured this season and haven’t faced a secondary as talented as UCLA’s yet, and that should leave Trojan fans worried.