UCLA defense does not view lapse against Memphis as an omen

Sitting behind a microphone at Saturday’s post-game press conference following UCLA’s narrow win over Memphis, Jim Mora didn’t sugarcoat anything.

“I was disappointed in the way we played on defense, especially coming out of last week,” the UCLA coach said.

While the end result on Saturday was a win for the Bruins, there was no moral victory for the defense. Surrendering five touchdowns and 469 yards to a Memphis (1-1) offense that ranked No. 119 out of 124 in the nation in total yards last season was ill-befitting for a UCLA defense that was the main reason for the Bruins’ week-one win.

Behind a slew of missed tackles, blown assignments and big gains allowed, the Bruins’ defense looked lost.

And as with any problem, the Bruins (2-0) were quick to point fingers at who was responsible. Each finger pointed at themselves.

Following the game, defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich shouldered the responsibility.

“I think schematically I probably made it a little too simple this week,” said Ulbrich, a first-year play caller. “I put that on me and I’ll continue to improve on that.”

Sophomore outside linebacker Myles Jack disagreed.

“Just as a defense, we really hurt ourselves,” Jack said. “Coach put us in the best position to possibly succeed. It really just came down to us making mental errors.”

To Jack and his teammates, there was nothing wrong with the scheme and where Ulbrich had them on the field. It was just them failing to execute when the time came.

“We were all in position to make these plays, and it comes down to making them,” said junior cornerback Ishmael Adams.

With all the details UCLA’s defense struggled with, Mora’s primary defensive adjustment was a broad one: simply to get back to playing the way his team normally does; specifically, following up offensive scores with defensive stops. Three of UCLA’s four first-half scores were followed by Memphis touchdown drives of 75 yards or more.

The defense’s inability to answer left UCLA with just a seven-point halftime lead, and kept Memphis hanging around all game despite UCLA’s offensive success. The UCLA defense that produced a standout performance against Virginia was nowhere to be found.

“You’re not gonna have three touchdowns scored by a defense every week,” Jack said. “Teams are gonna score, teams are gonna make plays, but we have to answer as a defense. I think that’s one of the traits that our defense has, that we can answer. We just didn’t do it last week (against Memphis).”

Whatever the cause of Saturday’s defensive lapse, no Bruin seemed worried about it becoming a recurring issue. In fact, Tuesday’s practice was unlike any Mora has seen this year.

“I feel a focus like I haven’t felt this season, and this is a very focused football team, so I think that’s a good sign,” Mora said. “I think they’re really starting to figure out what it takes on a daily basis to achieve our goals, so that’s encouraging as a coach.”

With two wins that felt like anything but to the players, and the schedule just now starting to pick up in difficulty, the Bruins are showing the sense of urgency that they need to fix their problems — both of defense and offense. But the inconsistent play has proven unimpressive to voters, as No. 12 UCLA has slipped five spots in the AP poll since the start of the year.

But Mora doesn’t mind about that. In fact, he kind of likes it.

“We’re an underdog. That’s who we are,” Mora said. “We like it when people doubt us.”

Read more here: http://dailybruin.com/2014/09/09/ucla-defense-does-not-view-lapse-against-memphis-as-an-omen/
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