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Opponent Preview: UCLA Defense

UCLA v Washington Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

UCLA is still poised to potentially win a top-heavy PAC-12 South holding a 3-2 conference record, but if they make it through to Vegas at the end of the season, it likely won’t be thanks to their defense. Despite looking like one of the division’s best teams heading into week nine, even abysmal Arizona and hapless Colorado are statistically better on the defensive side of the ball than the Bruins, who rank 71st nationally in total defense and dead last in the PAC-12 South, allowing 26.25 points per game and 5.65 yards per play.

Senior safety Qwuantrezz Knight (6’0”, 199 lbs) has settled into Pasadena nicely after previously playing for Kent State, and more recently, Maryland, becoming the team’s leading tackler, tallying 42 total tackles (an impressive 30 of which were solo efforts), along with 1.5 sacks, two pass deflections, and three forced fumbles. Knight possesses the kind of speed one would expect to see out of a Chip Kelly-coached receiver or running back while laying down violent hits akin to a linebacker.

Speaking of linebackers, another senior graduate transfer who found their way to UCLA is inside linebacker Jordan Genmark Heath (6’1”, 225 lbs), who is fresh off a career performance against Oregon, where the native of Stockholm, Sweden recorded a collegiate-best eight total tackles and an interception returned 20 yards that set up an eventual Bruins touchdown. Genmark Heath has quietly improved week after week since joining UCLA and could very well have a(nother) breakout performance against the Utes in a #PAC12AfterDark matchup on the hill.

Fittingly, senior juco transfer Datona Jackson (6’3”, 275 lbs.) leads the Bruins defense with 3.5 sacks on the season, tied for seventh in the conference. If Utah’s offensive line play continues to improve as they have, keeping Jackson contained and off of Cam Rising shouldn’t be as much of a chore as it was last week against Oregon State’s dynamic Andrezj Hughes-Murray.

Chip Kelly-led teams have rarely, if ever, been known for their defensive prowess. If anything, Kelly’s defensive gameplan is seemingly “score more than the other team”, and that’s mostly held true this season as well. As long as the Utes can control the pace of the game, there’s every reason to believe they can cover as -6.5 point favorites.