Run defense isn’t the only area in which UCLA ranks among the nation’s worst teams.
Junior quarterback Josh Rosen threw an interception for the fourth consecutive game, and junior running back Soso Jamabo coughed up a fumble as the Bruins dropped to the third-lowest turnover margin in the country following their game Saturday against the Wildcats.
“The fundamental things you have to be able to do in football is take care of the football, number one,” said coach Jim Mora following the game. “We’ve had 11 turnovers on the road in our three road losses, and it’s going to be really tough to beat anybody when you do that.”
With those 11 turnovers comes a -7 margin outside the Rose Bowl. The only game this season in which UCLA finished on the positive side of the turnover battle was against Hawai’i, a 33-point home rout for the Bruins.
The first two of Rosen’s three picks Saturday led to at least a 14-point swing. Early in the second quarter, redshirt senior receiver Darren Andrews was open in the back corner of the end zone, but Rosen threw late and his arm hit a defender, leading to an warmup-caliber interception by Arizona cornerback Jace Whittaker.
On Rosen’s next drop back, he stared down redshirt junior receiver Jordan Lasley once the ball was snapped, then fired an outside pass that Whittaker jumped in front of and easily returned for a touchdown.
“You practice coaching them where to go with the ball, and then you assume on gameday that’s going to happen,” said offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch. “Unfortunately it didn’t happen. We had three interceptions, and therefore we have to do a better job of coaching to make sure there’s no confusion on where your read might take you.”
Most of Rosen’s interceptions this year have occurred when he’s either outside the pocket or under heavy pressure. After he threw his first pick-six of the year against Memphis, Fisch said the quarterback had to do a better job of just throwing the ball away instead of taking sacks or throwing across his body.
UCLA’s final turnover of the game essentially wiped out any chance of a comeback. The Bruins were inside the Wildcats’ red zone with five minutes left in the game, and Rosen’s slant pass was picked off by an Arizona linebacker dropping back in zone coverage.
But the turnovers don’t stop with Rosen’s faulty reads.
Six different offensive players have also coughed up a fumble this season, including three of UCLA’s top-four rushers this season – the exception being sophomore running back Jalen Starks.
“Offensively, the turnovers hurt us,” Mora said on Monday. “They stopped drives where we could have really tightened up the game. Those were the things that were disappointing.”
Another related issue is the points off turnovers disparity. Opponents have tallied five touchdowns and six field goals after the Bruins’ 15 turnovers, while UCLA has only scored a touchdown and a field goal from its opponents’ miscues.
As the Bruins work on getting back to .500 in conference play, Fisch has a seemingly simple task for the offense.
“We’d like to go a game without one (turnover) happening,” Fisch said. “That’s our goal for the coming week against Oregon.”
Running game makes strides
Aside from Jamabo’s first quarter fumble, UCLA’s running backs put together their best performance of the year – 28 carries for 198 yards and a season-high four touchdowns.
Junior running back Bolu Olorunfunmi rushed the ball seven times for 89 yards and two scores in the second half alone, as he finished with the Bruins’ second 100-yard rushing effort this season.
“We knew coming into the game we had to run the ball,” said redshirt senior center Scott Quessenberry. “I think we were certainly efficient. First down, second down, moving the chains, but at the end of the day it wasn’t enough.”