One thing that has really struck out to me so far a quarter into the season for UCLA is just how improved they are on defense.
This should not be too much of a surprise, given that in the very recent past UCLA has been regarded for their defense and their defense only. But this year, they seem to have stepped it up in both the team and individual aspects of the game.
I’m talking about stepping it up at the elite national level, not just the Pac-10. Up there with the likes of Florida, Alabama, Oklahoma, Penn State, and yes, even the mighty USC.
Just look at the numbers. Of the 10 defensive categories listed on the NCAA statistics webpage, UCLA is ranked in the top 10 in eight of them.
One area on the defensive side of the ball that is leading the way for this marked, national improvement is the UCLA rush defense.
The UCLA defensive line, led by All-American candidate DT Brian Price (Jr), has shown nothing but pure dominance when it comes to the other team choosing to run against them.
Price, joined by the unforgiving, hard-hitting DE duo of Korey Bosworth (Sr) and super Sophomore Datone Jones, has led this rush defense to a lofty No. 9 ranking in total rushing defense. But if you look even deeper into that stat, you will find that they are ranked eighth in yards per rush against (2.25) and sixth in total rush TDs against (2).
Aside from the defensive line elevating their play to another level, the linebacker corps for UCLA has played just as much a role in this defensive betterment as the line.
This unit has a clear leader in All-American candidate Reggie Carter (Sr), but Kyle Bosworth (Sr) adds another veteran element this is much needed and appreciated to get the job done.
Both players are in the Top-15 in total tackles in the Pac-10 (24 and 20 respectively) and are on-the-field generals that can guide this team to wherever it is they desire to go.
The defensive line and the linebackers have clearly showed up ready to play this season, but according to the recent recruiting classes UCLA has hauled in, the secondary is where this team should flat out shine.
Last year, UCLA brought in highly touted freshman like Rahim Moore, Aaron Hester, Glenn Love, and Tony Dye. All were expected to contribute to the defense right away.
And they have done just that.
The secondary has so far this season vaulted this defense to a benevolent #4 ranking in all of college football in pass efficiency against (80.16).
This is the type of pass defense that leads a team to try running the ball, which explained earlier in the column is not really the best idea these days.
The UCLA secondary is led by All-American candidate—yes, UCLA has one at every level of the defense—Alterraun Verner (Sr). Verner is a Medusa-of-sorts type cornerback because QBs consistently never look his way. He has the ability to pick off any given pass and return it for six so I can understand why. I have seen him do it.
Moving down the line is UCLA SS Rahim Moore (So), who has come right out of the gates as a sure-fire All-American candidate as well. All he has done is lead the country with an astonishing five interceptions in three games. His play has led UCLA to a No. 4 ranking in total team interceptions this year (8).
All three of these accomplished defensive units have come together to play as a cohesive team defense.
What really makes me think this unit has taken the next step towards becoming a national elite defense is how the play when it counts.
Two statistics that really jumped out towards me are UCLA’s high national rankings in both third-down efficiency against and red-zone defense (10, 7 respectively).
The UCLA opponents are only successful at getting a first down 25 percent of the time on third down. This is a crucial number in winning football games because the main point of defense is to get the ball back to the offense. Stopping a team from achieving a first down on a third down is exactly what that does.
Another important aspect to winning football games is red-zone defense. There is a reason why this area is called the red-zone and it is because teams often score from this exact area on the field.
So the fact that UCLA has only surrendered a total of 29 points the whole season thus far has really helped an offense that has often been inept.
These two numbers on defense are pivotal to a teams overall success. So I think it should come as no surprise that UCLA has a gratifying 3-0 record going into Pac-10 play this week.
Next week, UCLA is going to be able to really test just how effective their rush defense is against the ground-heavy Stanford Cardinal.
If the UCLA defensive line can contain RB Toby Gerhart and force the Cardinal offense to turn to redshirt freshman QB Andrew Luck to throw the ball as their offense, there is a good chance that Verner, Moore and the rest of the secondary are likely to have a rather fortuitous day full of many turnovers.
All UCLA needs to do this week is just play like they have been so far this season and the defense will come though.
Also, make sure to take a look that the most recent Bleacher Report NCAA FBS Top 25 Poll voted on by all the Bleacher Report Featured Columnists Community.
My Poll - Week Five
4. Ohio St.
5. Boise St.
8. Virginia Tech
16. Penn St.
17. Oklahoma St.
21. Ole Miss