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UCLA football defense plays to potential, finding footing in Stanford matchup

Redshirt sophomore defensive lineman Odua Isibor and UCLA football’s defense posted a season-high seven sacks in the Bruins’ win over Stanford on Thursday. Isibor has tallied six tackles and 2.5 sacks for the 2019 season. (Axel Lopez/Daily Bruin senior staff)

By Jared Tay

Oct. 22, 2019 12:55 a.m.

While the Bruins’ offense put up 34 points Thursday night, the defense was the unit that posted a season-best performance.

UCLA football (2-5, 2-2 Pac-12) managed to keep the Stanford offense out of the end zone until there was 2:50 left to go in the fourth quarter. The Bruins held the Cardinal to under 200 total yards for the night, something the squad hadn’t achieved since the 2009 season against Washington State.

UCLA racked up seven sacks on Stanford third-string quarterback Jack West, something redshirt sophomore defensive lineman Odua Isibor attributed to the Bruins’ game plan of penetrating the backfield.

“We definitely tried to attack more,” Isibor said. “The D-line tried to dent the line of scrimmage as much as possible, and we tried to affect the game because that’s something we’ve been lacking before then.”

Isibor also said the Bruins’ aggressiveness up front has always been a part of their game plan, but it hadn’t translated in the box score in the first half of the season. In its previous six games, UCLA allowed an average of about 503 total offensive yards from its opponents and averaged a total of just 1.5 sacks per game over that time period.

“It’s the mindset,” Isibor said. “As a D-line, we just need to focus and do what we’re being told to do. Our coach tells us to dent the line of scrimmage, penetrate, wreak havoc in the backfield, and when we do that, we are successful.”

The Bruin secondary also posted season-best results, holding the Cardinal passing offense to just 143 receiving yards.

Junior cornerback Darnay Holmes led the secondary with two pass deflections and sophomore defensive back Stephan Blaylock led the team in tackles with nine.

“Before the game, we just told each other to play free,” Blaylock said. “Our coaches tell us, ‘Go out there and play instinct football,’ and that’s what we went out there and did.”

Coach Chip Kelly said he saw improvement within his defense as a whole, as solid coverage in the secondary allowed for pass rushers to disrupt the Cardinal’s pass plays.

“I think we covered really well on the back end,” Kelly said. “When guys aren’t open, the quarterback has to hold the ball a little more, so if you can take away his first or second read, it gives you an ability for your rushers to get home.”

Kelly also said the Bruins’ secondary has matured with each game this season. In Thursday’s game, UCLA held West to 15-of-32 passing and didn’t allow any touchdowns through the air.

Through its first six games, UCLA allowed an average of 3.5 passing touchdowns, including five against Oregon State.

“I think (the secondary) is just maturing,” Kelly said. “We’ve got a lot of young guys back there that are playing for the first time. (Redshirt freshman defensive back Rayshad Williams) is playing well and Blaylock is really coming into his own. I think it’s just a combination of maturity and growth at the back end.”

UCLA will face Arizona State at the Rose Bowl on Oct. 26. The Sun Devils rank among the bottom half of FBS schools in total offense and were held to just three points in their matchup with No. 12 Utah last week.

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Jared Tay | Sports senior staff
Tay is currently a Sports senior staff writer. He was previously an assistant Sports editor for the baseball, men's soccer, men's tennis, cross country and women's tennis beats. Tay was previously a contributor on the men's tennis beat.
Tay is currently a Sports senior staff writer. He was previously an assistant Sports editor for the baseball, men's soccer, men's tennis, cross country and women's tennis beats. Tay was previously a contributor on the men's tennis beat.
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