UCLA Preview – Defense and Special Teams


UCLA’s Defense – generally a strong, talented unit, even in a relative down period for the team overall – has had a rough year thus far.  They’re yielding a whopping 436 yards a game, and 34.4 points (!).  In individual games, they’ve given up 38 to Houston (well, they did just put up 73 on Rice last night..), 49 to Texas, 45 to Stanford, and 48 last Thursday to Arizona.  Not so good…

Defensive Line:

The line will be without its best player, the one and only Cassius Marsh.  He’s a supremely talented player who committed to virtually every team in the country a few years back, but he’s out for the Cal game (and another) for being the catalyst of the UCLA-Arizona brawl last week.  He leads the team in sacks (with 2) and tackles for loss (3.5) – which tells you just how good he is when he’s in.  I’ll be nice and move on at this point.

There is still talent on the line.  6’4″, 272 pound senior Datone Jones is paired with 6’4″, 264 pound  Owamagbe Odighizuwa (Owa!) at the end spots, making for a supremely athletic and talented duo.  They have the speed to rush the passer and good size too.  With no Marsh available, the Bruins will likely turn to

Justin Edison (6’4″, 292) and Donovan Carter (6’1″, 305), with support from Nate Chandler (a converted tight end/offensive lineman who goes 6’5″ 298).


Sean Westgate starts at WLB, at 5’11”, 223.  He ha sa nose for the ball and had 90 ackles, 11 TFLs and 4 sacks last season, and this has continued with 27 ackles this year.   Patrick Larimore mans the middle, at a burly 6’3″, 253.  He’s leading the Bruins in tackles with 46.  Jordan Zumwalt, a true sophomore who goes 6’4″ 230, mans the other side.  Zumwalt was tied with Marsh for the team lead in TFL and has 34 tackles total.  They are supported by Isaiah Bowns and Glenn Love.

The unit has tons of speed with Zumwalt, Love and Westgate, and depth.  Larimore is a stout force in the middle and Zumwalt has become a playmaker.  Westgate also is tied for the team lead in picks with 2.

Defensive Backs:

Beyond Brehaut and the suspended players, UCLA has another recent loss – starting safety Tony Dye. He was arguably the most talented player on UCLA’s D (excepting Marsh), and his leadership will be missed.

Dietrich Riley – a highly touted recruit a few years ago, now in his second year starting – mans the strong safety spot.  He’s 6′, 205, and has a great blend of size, speed and change of direction ability. He has 31 tackles on the year.

At the other safety spot, the Bruins will turn to Dalton Hilliard, who is 6′ tall but lacks ideal size at 189 pounds.  He has 22 tackles, though his role will surely increase with Dye gone.

At corner the Bruins have 6’1″, 209 pound Aaron Hester, 6’2″ 178 pount Sheldon Price, and the 5’10”, 181 pound Andrew Abbott.  Hester leads the secondary in tackles with 42,
and last year led the team in interceptions. Price is a third year starter, and while he doesn’t have a ton of mass he does have length and can bother smaller receivers.  Abbott is technically providing depth, but has already found a way to make an impact – he stands tied with Westgate to lead the team with 2 interceptions.

The thing that stands out about this unit, even without Dye, is its size. The starters are all 6′ tall – something that could allow them to defend Keenan Allen and Marvin Jones better than most.  They aren’t burners though.

Special Teams:

Kip Smith, Jeff Locke and Tyler Gonzalez have all spent time place kicking (a three-headed kicking monster!).  As a unit they’re 16 of 20 on extra points (they’ve missed more than us!) and 5 of 7 kicking field goals.  Locke handles punts, and is averaging a sterling 45 yards a punt, and he also does kickoffs where he averages 67 yards net with a touchback percentage of 41.9%.  He’s pretty good.

Taylor Embree was the primary punt returner, averaging a yawn-inducing 3.29 yards a punt.  Jordon James is among the several candidates that may get a look in his absence.  Josh Smith does the bulk of the kick return work, averaging a solid 23.57 yards a game.

Greatest Advantage Against Cal Offense: Size at DB.  With so many 6 footers back there, Maynard will have a difficult time simply throwing jump balls to Keenan Allen whenever he feels he needs to.  UCLA’s depth at LB may also pose a problem for Cal’s inconsistent run game.

Greatest Disadvantage Against Cal Offense: Playmaking.  While the Bruins do okay in the tackle for loss column, they do not generate turnovers.. with a -3 margin on the
year.  And without Marsh on the line to create havoc, UCLA will need guys like Owa and Datone Jones to step up and get pressure.