This post was updated Sept. 5 at 11:05 a.m.
The Bruins’ season-opener left much to be desired, but the defensive line is hoping to build on its first performance.
UCLA football (0-1) fell 24-14 to Cincinnati (1-0) on Aug. 29 at Nippert Stadium in a game that included four Bruin turnovers. UCLA will have a chance to earn its first win of the season during its home opener Saturday against San Diego State.
Despite recording just one sack, the Bruins held the Bearcats to 3.6 yards per carry – 1.6 fewer than Cincinnati’s season average from a year ago – and managed to force a number of third-and-long situations by plugging the running lanes on early downs.
Sophomore defensive end Tyler Manoa said that the defensive line has been focused on protecting the line of scrimmage while maintaining a solid pass rush attack, but added that it can do better than what it showed Thursday.
“We improved a lot,” Manoa said. “We still got a lot of work to do. Being just the first game, I think we only got one sack, so I think it’s just a big point of emphasis for our whole (defensive line) just to work on our pass rush moves to get to the quarterback. It’ll help our defense out in so many ways.”
Even sophomore defensive lineman Atonio Mafi – who recorded a career-high nine tackles – said he feels he has room for improvement after missing out on a few tackles and sack opportunities.
“(I’m) just trying to do what I’m taught from the coaches and I definitely left a lot of plays out there too,” Mafi said. “It’s nothing to hang my head on or anything like that, I’ve just got to keep getting better and improve to keep trying to raise the bar every week.”
Despite Mafi’s tough self-assessment, Manoa had high praise for his teammate and the effort he brings every time they hit the field.
“(Mafi) is good, his weight is down, as you can tell, he’s moving on the field.” Manoa said. “(Mafi) is just a big help to our defense clogging the holes in the middle and we just need to feed off his energy going into this next week, and hopefully we can all produce.”
Mafi also partially attributed his big night to his weight loss over the past few months. After spending last season at around 380 pounds, Mafi said he is now down to 357 pounds.
“Being at the other weight back last year and then where I’m at now, definitely I feel better and I feel like it’s shown,” Mafi said.
Mafi also caught the attention of fans after a video of him dancing at a recent practice began circulating online.
“Yeah, it was all in good fun,” Mafi said. “You know, just trying to bring juice and energy out and they played a great song so might as well dance out a little bit before we get to the real work. Good vibes.”
Manoa said he wasn’t surprised by the fans’ reaction towards the video given Mafi’s personality and sense of humor.
“Yeah, that’s just (Mafi),” Manoa said. “That’s his character. He brings a lot of comedy to our team and everybody loves the big guy.”