UCLA football works to limit turnovers as prep for Utah’s formidable defense
Senior center Boss Tagaloa has picked up the start in all nine of UCLA football’s games this season. Tagaloa has now played 18 games at center after playing defensive line in his first two years with the program. (Amy Dixon/Daily Bruin senior staff)
By Sam Connon
Nov. 13, 2019 5:45 p.m.
This post was updated Nov. 14 at 12:08 a.m.
After practice, a group of Bruins can sometimes be found rolling from one field to the other.
Senior center Boss Tagaloa has never been part of that group, and he said he intends to keep it that way.
“I’ve never done it, I don’t know how it feels,” Tagaloa said. “I don’t want to know how it feels either.”
But unless the defensive lineman-turned-center converts to running back, he won’t have to. UCLA football’s (4-5, 4-2 Pac-12) running back coach, DeShaun Foster, has all the running backs lay down on the turf and roll from one end of the field to the other as punishment for fumbling in that day’s training session.
Coach Chip Kelly said the team has been focusing on limiting turnovers lately, which have led to the Bruins losing three fumbles in their last four games.
“We do ball security every day,” Kelly said. “There’s a ball security gauntlet … that we start every practice with, so it’s something we emphasize every day.”
Only one of UCLA’s seven fumbles in 2019 has come from the running back position, while sophomore quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson has accounted for five on his own.
Thompson-Robinson has also tossed eight interceptions this season, double his total from last year on just 25% more attempts. But despite the quarterback’s steady uptick in turnovers, Tagaloa said the responsibility of Thompson-Robinson’s ball security partially falls on the offensive line.
Tagaloa also said having a dynamic dual-threat passer like Thompson-Robinson is a comfort for the front line, knowing that the sophomore can improvise and successfully evade pressure when the pass rush manages to break through.
“It’s just great to have a quarterback like that,” Tagaloa said. “It gives the O-line just a sense of just being more comfortable – knowing that we have a great quarterback in the backfield – so we definitely take pride in just protecting him. We just gotta do a better job of just keeping him up.”
Kelly was also quick to spread the blame on Thompson-Robinson’s turnovers, saying interceptions are more of an accumulation of the offense’s mistakes than a black-and-white statistic.
“Sometimes the interception isn’t always the quarterback – it may have gone through a receiver’s hands,” Kelly said. “Sometimes it’s a bad decision by the quarterback, sometimes it’s an unblocked guy coming off the edge because the offensive lineman went the wrong way and then the quarterback got hit while he was throwing the ball. … You look at what happened on that play and then coach it up.”
The Bruins turned the ball over nine times in their first four games of 2019, but since solidifying a new starting offensive line unit against Arizona on Sept. 28, they have only turned it over six times in five games.
UCLA’s next opponent – No. 7 Utah – is ranked in the top third of the nation with 15 turnovers forced on the season. The Utes also boast a top-20 turnover margin, partially because quarterback Tyler Huntley has thrown just one interception on 191 attempts in 2019.
To turn the tables and force Huntley to turn it over, Kelly said it will take full effort from every unit on the defensive side of the ball to disrupt the opposing offense.
“(Utah’s offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig) put in a really good scheme for him that he has flourished in, so part of it is, can you disrupt (Huntley)?” Kelly said. “Can you disrupt the timing of the routes to the receivers, can you disrupt the timing of the quarterback, or is he just going to be able to sit back there and survey the defense and figure out where the ball’s going? So it’s going to take all phases – our pass rush and our pass coverage in trying to effect them in the passing game.”