The Bruin defense is interesting. They aren’t bad. They have the best defensive prospect not named Jadeveon Clowney this season in linebacker Anthony Barr. They are allowing 20 points per game (good enough for 38th in the nation). They also have had some amazing moments (picking off Travis Wilson six times this past week probably ranks on the high end). But they, at times, make silly mistakes and it can lead to teams who have no business being in games with a team as talented as UCLA being in games with them.
The worst case of this was against Nebraska. The offense was not playing very well to start the game, and Nebraska’s rush-happy offense was running amok all over UCLA. The Huskers were up 21-3 at one point early in the first half. To be fair, the UCLA defense was not being helped by the Bruin offense, which was having an absolutely horrible day, but they still let a Nebraska offense (which is overrated in my opinion) look very much like a top-end team. Luckily for the Bruins, things started coming together late in first half and UCLA went on an 18-point run that ultimately led to a 41-21 win over the Cornhuskers in Lincoln.
UCLA has a devastatingly good defense when they’re on. They have created nine turnovers this season (two fumbles and seven interceptions). They also cause a lot of havoc in the backfield, as they have nine sacks, 26 tackles for a loss, and a quarterback hurry through four games this season. As I said before, they are led by one of the best linebackers in the nation, but they are not a team that only have one good player. In fact, UCLA features one of the best defensive lines in the nation, a very good freshman linebacker who is bound to create problems for Cal for years to come and a defensive secondary that loves to eat up quarterbacks for breakfast.
I must start with the disgustingly good Anthony Barr. Barr, who is a senior this season, is the team’s second leading tackler (24 tackles), eight of them were for a loss. He has three sacks and four forced fumbles. He is the kind of player who can really hurt the other team. No matter what a defensive coordinator has drawn up to try and block him, he seems to get in on every play. Even during the games where he hasn’t had the final stat line that is something to look at in awe, he draws enough attention to let his other teammates free. He is a player who changes the game, no matter how he performs. I don’t know if he’ll be a top-notch linebacker in the NFL when he’s drafted in a few months, but right now, he is the best linebacker in the nation. And it really isn’t that close.
Barr is not the only guy that really makes this defense purr. In fact, the linebackers on this team are just super solid. The unit includes junior Eric Kendricks, who leads the team in tackles (39 tackles, 1.5 for a loss, and an interception), senior Jordan Zumwalt (22 tackles and 1 for a loss), and freshman Myles Jack (20 tackles, 2.0 for a loss and an interception) all rotate in and out of the game. Jack is, in fact, someone who we really need to keep an eye on, as he is a freshman and if he keeps playing the way he is now, he could be the kind of player who makes us forget about Barr.
The linebackers get a lot of help from the line, which is solid. The guy on the defensive line who I really like is senior Cassius Marsh. Marsh has been someone who really has been very consistent over the last two seasons. Last season, Marsh may have been UCLA’s best defensive player last season, as he ended the season with 49 tackles, 9.5 tackles for a loss and six sacks. He may actually end up with a better season, as he currently has 20 tackles, 2.5 for a loss and one sack. He sometimes doesn’t look like he’s doing much of anything when he’s trying to get into the backfield, but for two years now, he has been able to get back there and disrupt the offense.
Finally, the UCLA defense features a really good secondary. I won’t really get into how many different guys produce in that secondary for the sake of keeping this article short. The guy to watch is Ismael Adams, a sophomore corner back from Woodland Hills. Adams already has picked up two interceptions. He will be tasked with going up against the best receivers on the Cal side of things, and I think he may actually be good enough to stop the Cal receiving corps. I will say, one thing that Adams does not have that is somewhat vital to the success of the corner backs is size. He is only 5’8, which is not good when covering a 6’0 or even 6’1 receiver. He is also a little young, getting his first taste of real action this season. He can be beaten, but he also is no slouch.
Cal is averaging over 500 yards of offense per game. They do a lot of this thought the passing game, because the rushing game is almost a non-factor this season. UCLA will probably unload a four-man rush to cover the non-factor rushing attack, but keep the linebackers (all of whom are very fast and very capable of covering slot receivers and tight ends) and defensive backs laid back in coverage to ensure that the dangerous passing game Cal has will not be able to eat up chunks of yards the way they’ve been able to against lesser defenses. Cal, once again, would really need to have the running game to have a break out game in order to make a go of this one. UCLA is entirely too talented to play as bad as they did against Utah. I doubt we see a bad outing by this defense again and I doubt Cal is able to deal with the supreme defensive superstars that they feature.