Quentin Lake snagged his first career interception early in the first quarter against Arizona on Saturday.
Once the sophomore free safety returned to the sideline, a hint of urgency crept into his roommate, Elijah Gates.
“I was on the sideline after Lake got his pick, and I’m just talking to him and (sophomore cornerback) Darnay (Holmes) like, ‘Everybody has a pick this season,’” said the redshirt freshman cornerback. “And I was like, ‘Man, I gotta get one soon.’”
Gates only had to wait until the third quarter to record an interception of his own, one of three UCLA takeaways in their 31-30 win over the Arizona Wildcats. Despite owning the No. 96 scoring defense in the country, the Bruins have won their past two games by forcing eight turnovers – they now lead the Pac-12 in turnover margin and turnovers gained.
“It’s really a momentum shifter,” Lake said. “We say it comes in bunches, so once one person gets one, you kind of see (other players get one).”
That couldn’t have been more true Saturday, when Lake’s interception preceded arguably the most impressive play by a UCLA defensive player this season.
Midway through the second quarter, Holmes stood flat-footed at the 50-yard line as Arizona running back J.J. Taylor sprinted through a gaping hole on the right side of the line of scrimmage. Although Taylor had a couple of steps on Holmes, the corner slowly closed the gap until they were almost neck and neck.
Once the running back reached the 5-yard line, Holmes swung and punched the ball out of Taylor’s grasp and into the end zone. Holmes then recovered the fumble to prevent a sure touchdown.
“You see it on SportsCenter and you’re just like, ‘Wow,’” Lake said. “But when you see it in person, it’s kind of like you’re speechless. … My eyes just opened up. I was shocked.”
UCLA could add a couple more turnovers Friday against Utah, which ranks No. 10 in the conference with 12 so far this season.
The Utes fumbled three times and lost two last week against the Trojans – a strip sack that USC returned for a touchdown and a muffed punt.
But Utah coach Kyle Whittingham’s squad also recorded two interceptions from USC’s freshman quarterback JT Daniels, so turnover margin will be key Friday.
“You look at what they did last week to (USC) in all three phrases, they were dominant,” said coach Chip Kelly. “There are not a lot of flaws in Utah.”
Freshman quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson didn’t practice during the 20-minute media viewing sessions Sunday and Monday, but he was throwing on the field and going through drills Tuesday.
But graduate transfer Wilton Speight still took the first-team reps, as Thompson-Robinson’s throws didn’t have their usual velocity to them.
Barring any last-minute injuries, the freshman’s progress in the next couple of days will determine who starts against Utah.
“We got three or four days of training, then we’ll figure it out,” Kelly said. “We’ll get to the weekend and find out who’s playing.”