As practice came to a conclusion on Tuesday morning, the UCLA football team started to exit the field.
While most exited to the locker room to start their day, junior defensive end Owamagbe Odighizuwa went to the practice dummies to work on his technique, continuing to prepare for the coming Pac-12 Championship game against Stanford.
“I need to bring my A game this week,” Odighizuwa said. “I need to play physical, I need to play fast and I need to be technically sound to beat that offensive line.”
Last week, Odighizuwa was called upon to play a stand-up defensive end/outside linebacker hybrid position that he had not played yet this season to combat Stanford’s size advantage.
Odighizuwa, who stands at 6 feet 3 inches and 270 pounds, is a big upgrade size-wise from the usual players at that position.
“I felt good about playing there,” Odighizuwa said. “According to the coaches, I did a pretty good job playing that position and I was happy to get out there and help.”
Throughout the season, Odighizuwa has shown versatility by playing at both the right and left end positions, and his ability to transition smoothly has not gone unnoticed.
“I’ve been impressed with Owa’s ability to adapt week in and week out with the things we’ve asked him to do,” coach Jim Mora said. “Last week, we had him play that pseudo-outside linebacker position and he did a good job.”
Odighizuwa has 31 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss and two sacks off the bench this season, and the coaching staff has been pleased with his production.
“He’s played well for us,” Mora said. “He’s always been very physical but he’s becoming much more aware and a much better technician and I’m excited to see where he takes it.”
Kicking in the rain
Freshman kicker Ka’imi Fairbairn has dealt with adversity this season, and this week’s contest in Palo Alto, Calif. looks to present yet another hurdle for the young kicker.
The weather forecast shows a likely chance of rain on Friday, which could mean messy kicking conditions for Fairbairn.
“Every kick is the same no matter what environment,” Fairbairn said. “The coaches work every week on trying to get us out of our comfort zone to make sure we don’t get fazed.”
Fairbairn hails from Hawaii where there is no shortage of rain, so he isn’t the least bit concerned about the potential rainfall.
“I think we’re ready for it,” Fairbairn said. “I’ve probably kicked in worse conditions, so I’m not worried about it.”
Round two in the trenches
UCLA’s offensive line got beaten last week against a good Stanford front seven, to put it lightly.
The Bruins’ offensive line gave up seven sacks while committing several penalties that put the UCLA offense on its heels all night.
Redshirt freshman center Jake Brendel, who received All-Pac-12 honorable mention this week, had one of his worst performances of the season as he racked up three penalties against the Cardinal.
“They are very disciplined and very committed to their technique,” Brendel said. “We had a few assignment errors and had a few penalties that were unacceptable against such a sound team.”
Brendel knows that in order for UCLA to win Friday, both he and the offensive line will have to step up their game.
“We have to stick to our game plan,” Brendel said. “We need to make sure our communication gets better and we don’t miss assignments. If we do, it should fix all of the problems on our end.”