Much was made over the off-season about the conversion of the UCLA defense from a 3-4 front (three down linemen, four linebackers and four defensive backs) into a 4-3 (four down linemen, three linebackers and four defensive backs). This was actually a misnomer considering how rarely the Bruins actually used their “base” defense last year. Defensive Coordinator Tom Bradley and Head Coach Jim Mora used a nickel defense (four down linemen, two linebackers and five defensive backs) almost exclusively.
. . . the Bruins used the nickel on 93% of the defensive plays Saturday. . .
Well we finally get a peek at the Bruin defense against Texas A&M last Saturday, and guess what? It was the same story as last year; there was never a moment in the game when the Bruins used more than two linebackers, and they used a 4-3 alignment a grand total of one time.
Now this is not necessarily a bad thing. The argument could be made that last years struggles on defense had more to do with injuries (Myles Jack, Fabian Moreau, Eddie Vanderdoes, etc.) than anything schematic. But Bruin fans hoping for a different look or any change in strategy saw nothing new against the Aggies. Here are the stats regarding the Bruins defensive alignment last weekend:
This is still the real Bruin “Base” defense: the Nickel (4-2-5 alignment):
Note four linemen, two linebackers in the middle of the field and five defensive backs (the extra DB was Randall Goforth for most of the game). The Bruins used this defense on approximately 93% of the defensive plays on Saturday.
UCLA showed a 4-3 alignment only once during the entire game, and it was on this play:
The 3rd “linebacker” in the middle of the field is actually DB Tahaan Goodman, but the alignment is a defacto 4-3 with 1 deep safety.
The Bruins also employed a “dime” defense on some long yardage situations. Here you can see the four linemen with only one linebacker and six defensive backs:
With all that being said, there was a slight change in personnel from last year to this year that should be beneficial. Instead of having a smaller linebacker type (such as Deon Hollins) line up as a defensive end every snap as they did in 2015, Bradley used a bigger tackle or end type player lined up as the 4th lineman for most of the game. Theoretically, that should make them more physical to stop the run this year.
. . . On the 83 snaps, the Bruins blitzed around seventeen times (about 20%). . .
As far as the aggression goes, Bradley and the Bruins didn’t show an increased interest in blitzing against A&M. On the 83 defensive snaps, the Bruins only blitzed approx seventeen times (about 20%). Of those blitzes, all but one were linebackers (usually crashing straight down the A or B gaps to either side). There was one safety blitz (Jaleel Wadood made a nice tackle on a run outside), and they faked a safety blitz once that resulted in an interception.
. . .The defense seemed to be at its best when the blitz was used sparingly. . .
They showed some other looks as well. On a couple of occasions, the Bruins decided to “show” a blitz (meaning they walked player(s) toward the line of scrimmage in an aggressive stance). Here, one of the linebackers stepped up to the line on the left side of the formation and the rest of the line shifted right:
On this alignment, the Bruins set up in an overload of the right side of the formation (trying to overwhelm one side of the field with a rush of defenders):
The Bruins also used defensive line stunts a couple of times to try and manufacture pressure. On this play (they ran it twice), the defensive line never got into a stance:
When the ball was snapped they ran a twist with DE Takkarist McKinley in order to get him pressuring up the middle of the field. On one play he forced QB Trevor Knight out of the pocket.
All in all, the defense seemed to be at its best when the blitz was used sparingly. The only drive in which the Bruins blitzed more than twice was on the Aggies 1st touchdown drive of the second half. All in all, Bradley was fairly vanilla, but it was probably for a reason. UCLA was able to get a decent amount of pressure without blitzing and the Bruins were able to bottle up Christian Kirk for the majority of the game. Although the Bruins didn’t give up any big plays, the concern going forward will still be stopping the run. The Bruins gave up over 200 rushing yards for the 3rd consecutive game. If that issue can’t be solved, it will be a long and tiring year for the UCLA defense.