UCLA defense can't afford lapses vs. Murray, No. 6 Sooners
By DAN GREENSPAN
LOS ANGELES (AP) One bad quarter by the UCLA defense proved costly in the Bruins' season-opening loss to Cincinnati, allowing 17 points and 159 yards in the second quarter of the 26-17 defeat to spoil an otherwise promising performance.
One bad quarter against No. 6 Oklahoma and its robust offense Saturday could have the Bruins looking like their futile selves of the previous two seasons, something outside linebacker Jaelan Phillips believes the team has moved past under new head coach Chip Kelly and defensive coordinator Jerry Azzinaro.
"I thought that, overall, we looked really good," Phillips said Wednesday. "I thought we played with great energy. I thought we flew around to the ball. Obviously, some things we need to clean up, but, overall, I was pretty happy with how we played."
In the first quarter and second half, UCLA allowed 145 yards of offense and 2.79 yards per play. The only touchdown UCLA conceded came at the end of the game when the Bearcats scored on fourth down from the 1 following a too-many-men-on-the-field penalty by the Bruins on a field goal attempt with a chance to keep it a one-possession game.
But those breakdowns in the second quarter proved to be critical, something Phillips attributed to a loss of focus. When UCLA was able to regroup at halftime, the defense held Cincinnati to 115 yards over the final 30 minutes.
"As a game goes on, you kind of lose sense of what you are doing," said Phillips, who had nine tackles with one sack. "We got the opportunity to get back in there, discuss what was going on, discuss what the plan was, and went out there and executed it."
Kelly was troubled by 15 missed tackles on defense, knowing that any similar lapses against the Sooners could be catastrophic after they blasted Florida Atlantic 63-14, with four of Oklahoma's eight offensive touchdowns covering at least 41 yards.
"They're big physical guys that you are going to have to get them wrapped up and down on the ground," Kelly said. "It's going to be a real challenge for us from a tackling standpoint, so that's something we have to work on all week."
Kelly was just as impressed by the athleticism of Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray, who was 9 of 11 passing for 202 yards and two touchdowns in the first half.
"Obviously, he was a very, very high pick in the baseball draft, and you can see his athleticism," Kelly said. "I'd hate to have to get him in a rundown if I was a baseball player because I don't know if you could (catch him) cause he can really move, but he also throws the ball very, very well. He's not just a runner back there. He can beat you with his arm, and he's got a bunch of talent around him. But he's as good an athlete as we'll face at the quarterback spot."
Keeping the Oklahoma running game in check will be a main responsibility for nose tackle Atonio Mafi, the 380-pound freshman tasked with occupying the two A-gaps on either side of the center. Mafi missed the first week of training camp because of an undisclosed injury, but quickly settled in as a key piece of the defense and had two sacks with 1/2 tackle for loss in his debut.
Mafi is excited for his first road game, but understandably determined to avoid the mental mistakes that doomed UCLA in the second quarter, especially after seeing Murray crisscross the field for 16 seconds on a 15-yard scramble.
"Players like him, you can't give up," Mafi said. "Play's not over until the whistle, so you just keep going."
NOTES: QB Wilton Speight (undisclosed injury) did not participate in the portion of practice open to the media after going through warmups.
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Updated September 5, 2018