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Opponent Preview: UCLA Defense

NCAA Football: Colorado at UCLA Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Despite a 1-5 start in Chip Kelly’s second season with the Bruins, UCLA is somehow in a position where they can control their own destiny in the PAC-12 South, starting with a victory over the #7 Utes this Saturday. With their only conference losses coming from Arizona and Oregon State, if the Bruins win out with wins against Utah, USC and Cal, not only would this 4-5 UCLA squad secure their first bowl berth in the Chip Kelly era, but they would also clinch the PAC-12 South via tiebreakers over Utah and USC. Whether or not their defense is capable of stopping a red-hot Utah squad remains to be seen.

Through nine games, UCLA’s defense has surrendered an average of 32 points per game, including a high of 63 in a dramatic come-from-behind victory over Washington State in week four, and a low of 14 points against Colorado on November 2nd, highlighting just how up-and-down (and unpredictable) the 2019 Bruins have been.

Defensively, the Bruins rank 97th nationally in total defense, third worst in the PAC-12, just ahead of Colorado (102) and Arizona (126), however they’ve successfully limited opponents on the ground, giving up an average of 137.2 yards per game, ranking UCLA 41st nationally in rush defense. Where the Bruins suffer the most is through the air, allowing 294.3 passing yards on average, placing them 123rd nationally out of 130 teams.

While it’s easy to look at UCLA’s defensive shortcomings, sophomore defensive back Stephan Blaylock (5’10”. 192 lbs.) has been the break out player of the year for the Bruins, racking up a team high 48 solo tackles in his first full season as a starter, along with two forced fumbles and 1.5 tackles for loss.

Though Blaylock’s success has helped the Bruins muster a respectable rush defense, senior linebacker Krys Barnes (6’1”. 235 lbs) has been equally instrumental, accounting for 48 solo tackles (58 total), while managing three sacks, one interception, and one forced fumble, culminating in his most successful season since donning the powder blue and gold.

Riding a three-game win streak, the Bruins are running short of opportunities to prove that their second consecutive rough start is not indicative of this team’s potential, and with an extra week of rest to aide them, a November upset certainly isn’t out of the question for the Utes.