UCLA’s No.20 Race Defense Seeks to Contain Arizona State
LOS ANGELES (AP) – There were plenty of games in Chip Kelly’s first two seasons at UCLA where the Bruins would give up at least 70 rushing yards by the end of the first quarter.
The times have changed.
The 20th-seeded Bruins face Arizona State on Saturday with the nation’s sixth-ranked run defense, giving up just 64 yards per game.
“I think our performance now is what we should have done in recent years. It’s been a long time coming but we’ve started to get to where we want to be, ”said senior defensive lineman Odua Isibor.
In last week’s 35-24 win over Stanford, the Bruins limited the Cardinal to 67 rushing yards. Quarterback Tanner McKee ended up leading the team with 42 yards and had the longest win of the day with a 30-yard scrum in the fourth quarter.
Safety Qwuantrezz Knight and defensive lineman Mitchell Agude, who are the team’s two top tacklers, are also among the highest-rated stopers in their posts, according to Pro Football Focus. Knight is fourth among safeties and Agude fifth among onboard rushers.
“I feel like we have a good group of guys up front who aren’t just smugglers. They will literally run for the ball all the time, ”he said. “That’s what we do. Even at the back, the secondaries, the linebackers, everyone on the team is just going to run for the ball.
The Bruins also took advantage of not facing teams with strong rushing attacks. Stanford only had one stock player in the running back position due to injuries. LSU, which was limited to 49 yards, was also missing three of its running backs.
UCLA (3-1, 1-0 Pac-12) will face its biggest rush test yet against Arizona State, which is 25th nationally and second in the Pac-12 with 211.5 yards per game.
The Sun Devils (3-1, 1-0) have 29 rushing touchdowns in their last seven games dating back to last season, the most nationally. Dating back to 2019, they have also walked over 200 yards in six of the last 10 games.
Not only do the Bruins need to prepare for double-threat quarterback Jayden Daniels, but also for a group of deep backers consisting of Rachaad White, Daniyel Ngata and DeaMonte Trayanum.
Daniels rushed for 125 yards earlier this season against UNLV, while White has the most touches in the conference by a running back. The elder leads the Sun Devils by rushing and receiving.
Kelly said the Sun Devils have become a more race-oriented team over the past two seasons under Herm Edwards. Even though the state of Arizona is deep, the first priority will be to contain Daniels.
“We just want to make sure that we also recognize his ability to lead the ball,” Isibor said. “But everything is the same, we are still working hard, we are still running for the ball, all things like that. We don’t treat him too differently, we also focus on his racing abilities.