For most of the season, the UCLA offensive line has been strong in pass protection. Last week, the unit fell off, giving up five sacks in a 47-30 loss at Arizona.
“We’ve been really good up front and we struggled tonight,” said coach Jim Mora after the game. “Tonight was bad. We’ve got to get back to being good.”
The task is much easier said than done for UCLA (3-3, 1-2 Pac-12), considering its upcoming matchup against Oregon (4-3, 1-3) on Saturday at the Rose Bowl. As it attempts to rebound from the five-sack performance, the Bruins’ offensive line will have its hands full Saturday with the Ducks’ front seven.
Oregon ranks third in the nation in sacks, with 24 on the season in seven games, and are eighth in tackles for loss, averaging nearly eight per game.
Defensive ends Jalen Jelks and Henry Mondeaux anchor the front, freeing up teammates by routinely demanding double teams while still generating pressure and penetration of their own.
Starting for the first time in his career, Jelks has produced a breakout campaign this year as a redshirt junior, earning his way onto the midseason watch list for the Chuck Bednarik Award, given annually to the nation’s top defensive player.
With 10.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks, Jelks is currently the top-ranked 3-4 defensive end in the nation, according to Pro Football Focus’ player grading system.
He has dominated against both the run and the pass, leading all draft-eligible interior defenders – a positional classification that includes defensive tackles and 3-4 defensive ends – in both pass rush pressures and run stops, per PFF.
Mondeaux has been excellent as well, ranking fifth in pressures among draft-eligible interior defenders.
Behind Jelks and Mondeaux up front, the Ducks boast a speedy linebacking corps anchored by Troy Dye and Justin Hollins, who each have seven tackles for loss on the year.
“This defense we’re about to face is a fast defense,” said offensive line coach Hank Fraley. “We’ll have to be ready for some stunts and some pressures.”
Fraley’s line has generally been up to the task this season, but will need to bounce back from the five-sack performance last Saturday.
“Hopefully, they clean it up this week,” Fraley said. “You’ve got to give credit to Arizona, scheming a good stunt game on us, and then a couple of (the sacks), we had a protection breakdown issue.”
A huge ‘if’
UCLA’s inability to stop the run has been well-documented. The Bruins are allowing 313 rushing yards per game – second-worst in the nation – and are coming off a week in which they coughed up 457 yards to the Wildcats.
On the bright side, the Bruins are a .500 team with an obvious area for improvement.
“If we could stop the run, I believe that we could be a really good football team and a really good defense,” Mora said. “But that’s a huge ‘if.’”
The Bruins can also improve in the turnover department. Only two teams in the nation have a worse turnover margin than UCLA’s mark of -10.
Junior quarterback Josh Rosen, who threw three interceptions against Arizona, didn’t have an elaborate explanation for the mistakes.
“I threw to the wrong team,” Rosen said.
What does he need to do to fix that this week?
“Throw to your team,” Rosen said.