Defensive line coach Angus McClure hailed his position group as one of the deepest for UCLA during fall camp.
The Bruins have started eight different defensive linemen so far this season, varying their looks based on injuries, suspensions and scheme.
But despite the fluctuating rotation, UCLA (3-2, 1-1 Pac-12) ranks second-to-last in the conference with only nine sacks, one of which was an intentional grounding penalty against Texas A&M.
“We only have nine sacks through five games and that’s not enough, so we have to do a better job there,” said coach Jim Mora. “There’s a certain design to each pressure to hopefully get a guy free or get a guy a man advantage. That doesn’t mean everyone can’t be aggressive, but not everyone’s meant to get the sack on every play and you have to know your role.”
Unlike last season, when Takkarist McKinley wreaked havoc on opposing backfields with 10 sacks and 18 tackles for loss from his defensive end position, no true pass rusher has stood out for the Bruins.
Some players, however, have shown flashes of dominating opposing offensive lines.
Redshirt sophomore defensive tackle Chigozie Nnoruka has started the last three games after true sophomore Boss Tagaloa suffered a minor injury. The Nigeria native has only one sack, but he has gotten close to recording more on several occasions.
Early in the second quarter against Colorado, Nnoruka shoved aside the Buffaloes’ right guard and ran straight for quarterback Steven Montez, only for Montez to sidestep and elude him.
“We worked hard on it last week – understanding who you’re trying to sack,” Mora said. “If it’s a mobile quarterback, you’ve got to be able to break down and move laterally, know where your help is and take the proper leverage angle as you try to sack the guy. If it’s a statue guy then you can try to run right through him.”
This weekend, UCLA will face another mobile quarterback in either Arizona starter Brandon Dawkins or backup Khalil Tate, who rank as the Wildcats’ top two rushers.
Dawkins was injured on Arizona’s first drive of the game against Colorado on Saturday, and Tate filled in by setting a Football Bowl Subdivision record for a quarterback with 327 rushing yards in the game.
So while Mora said he would like to see more sacks from the defense, the Bruins also have to play safely and limit the potential for a big running play by a quarterback.
“It’s hard to play these running quarterbacks because it tempers your ability to just turn it loose and go,” Mora said. “If you create escape lanes, you’re really gonna pay for it. … We just have to make sure that we’re very disciplined in the way we rush this guy, and that we keep our eyes on him, and that we’re able to get off blocks.”