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UCLA football offensive line looks to boost communication ahead of Week 6 game

Redshirt junior offensive lineman Bruno Fina moves to his left to block linebacker Cody Moon during UCLA football’s game against San Diego State. (Daily Bruin file photo)

By Jack Nelson

Oct. 3, 2023 6:22 p.m.

This post was updated Oct. 3 at 9:26 p.m.

Dante Moore spent nonconference play getting to know the weapons at his disposal.

But when the freshman quarterback’s first Pac-12 contest rolled around, he wound up befriending the turf most of all. He came face-to-face with it seven times – and thrice more on scrambles.

Those seven sacks surrendered by UCLA football’s offensive line surpassed its entire season total up to that point. And with Moore going against then-No. 11 Utah in the road environment of Rice-Eccles Stadium, the sacks came despite an aggressive plan to safeguard the true freshman.

“We felt like we had to max-protect him, and we did do that,” said coach Chip Kelly. “There was a lot of seven-man protections on Saturday and giving him an opportunity, so there wasn’t free hitters coming off the edge.”

Moore wasn’t free from mistakes either, delivering a game-opening pick-six, going 15-of-35 through the air and leading 12 consecutive scoreless drives. But with Utah defenders regularly penetrating the pocket, the reality check of Pac-12 competition wasn’t his alone.

With three of 2022’s starters departing for the NFL, the Bruins’ front five faced turnover and uncertainty even before taking the field in 2023.

Redshirt junior Spencer Holstege, senior Josh Carlin and redshirt junior Bruno Fina have taken up the mantle, starting each of UCLA’s four games thus far. And until a nine-yard performance against the Utes, plugging the trio into the equation had worked for the run game. The Bruins entered Salt Lake City sitting No. 3 nationally in rushing offense.

But pre-snap miscommunications manifested in a big way before the bye week, and redshirt sophomore Garrett DiGiorgio said his group is focused on limiting further breakdowns.

“We’ve been pressing the communication button a lot, trying to really focus on getting all of those guys to turn into one brain and one unit,” DiGiorgio said. “We had a little talk about imposing our will against the other person and doing that together as a group.”

(Daily Bruin file photo)
Offensive linemen redshirt sophomore Garrett DiGiorgio and Fina knock
helmets. (Daily Bruin file photo)

The line of communication takes on a new importance when considering UCLA’s new offensive development. With Dorian Thompson-Robinson no longer there to provide the Bruins with a dual-threat signal caller, the offensive line has had to adjust to Moore’s pocket-passer tendencies.

Thompson-Robinson had 170 rushing yards through four games last season, while Moore has -53 to his name – largely a product of lost yardage on sacks.

“Dorian is a special quarterback when you look at him from that standpoint, so I wouldn’t compare him to other people,” Kelly said. “But Dante, Garbs (redshirt junior quarterback Ethan Garbers) and Collin (redshirt junior quarterback Collin Schlee) can affect the game with their feet in terms of keep plays.”

With No. 13 Washington State next on the docket, UCLA’s communication up front will have the chance to improve against a less formidable test. The Cougars’ total defense ranks No. 79 nationally – a far cry from the Utes’ No. 15-ranked unit.

Still, quarterback Cameron Ward and new offensive coordinator Ben Arbuckle will bring the country’s No. 2 passing offense – and No. 5 total offense – to Pasadena when they clash with the Bruins on Saturday.

DiGiorgio believes, in good time, the line will be where it needs to be so that UCLA can keep pace in a conference featuring four of the country’s top five offenses.

“It just takes a while to be able to build that group and trust each other,” DiGiorgio said. “We obviously trust each other, but just building that cohesiveness and camaraderie.”

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Jack Nelson | Sports senior staff
Nelson is currently a Sports senior staff writer. He was previously an assistant Sports editor on the softball, men's tennis and women's tennis beats and a contributor on the men's tennis and women's tennis beats.
Nelson is currently a Sports senior staff writer. He was previously an assistant Sports editor on the softball, men's tennis and women's tennis beats and a contributor on the men's tennis and women's tennis beats.
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