For A Change, Bruins Getting It Done With Defense
Oct. 6, 2001
By JOHN NADEL
AP Sports Writer
LOS ANGELES - Linebacker Robert Thomas remembers the low points - andthere were many - as a member of the UCLA defense in the last three seasons.
Even when the Bruins were highly successful in 1998, coming within one winof playing for the national championship, their defense was terrible at themost critical of times. Things didn't get any better in 1999 or 2000, whenUCLA went a combined 10-13.
Now, it's a different story under first-year defensive coordinator PhilSnow, and Thomas swears he expected it.
'We knew we were going to come in this year with a new attitude, prove weare one of the best defenses in the country,' the 6-foot-2, 237-pound seniorsaid.
With Thomas leading the way, that's precisely the situation through fourgames as the usually offensive-happy Bruins are getting it done on the otherside of the ball.
A leading candidate for the Butkus Award, which goes to the country's toplinebacker, Thomas already has been involved in 39 tackles, 13 for losses -nine shy of the school record.
'I attack the target,' Thomas said. 'That's my job - attack and make playsin the backfield, that's what linebacker play is all about. I give thedefensive line all the credit in the world, the better they are, the betterI am.'
The Bruins, who allowed more than 29 points per game from 1998-2000, usednine starters on the defensive line last season due to injuries.
'I thought if we got off to a good start and we got a little confidence, wecould be pretty good if we stayed healthy,' said Snow, UCLA's fourthdefensive coordinator in the last five years.
That was a big problem last year, when 11 members of the defense wereinjured, and UCLA allowed a school-record 368 points (30.7-point average) in12 games.
So far this year, No. 9 UCLA (4-0, 1-0 Pac-10) has given up 47 points(11.8-point average) to rank eighth nationally in scoring defense.
Alabama gained 458 yards in losing to UCLA 20-17 in the season-opener, theBruins allowed only 628 yards in their last three games and now rank 14th intotal defense, having given up 271.5 yards per game.
'I think our confidence level is rising with every play, every quarter,every game,' senior safety Marques Anderson said. 'And our defense hasn'tput it together, I feel like we have so much more.
'We've got a lot of senior leadership, we're able to do what coach Snowwants. We're not going to have to go through what we went through anymore,the ridicule.'
Anderson said he's learned more about playing defense since Snow arrivedthan he had previously at UCLA.
'I'm not just relying on my athletic ability to make plays,' Anderson said.'Coach Snow is a very wise coach, a coach who really knows the game, whoknows how to teach us the game.'
The 45-year-old Snow, who came to UCLA after spending nine years as anassistant at Arizona State - the last seven as defensive coordinator - hasspent considerable time teaching his players offense, as surprising as thatmight sound.
'I think that's really helped them,' he said. 'They can recognize things byformation. The better you understand offense, the better you can playdefense.'
UCLA's school-record 20-game winning streak ended at Miami in its finalregular-season game in 1998 when they lost 49-45 as the Edgerrin James-ledHurricanes rolled up 689 yards of total offense.
A victory and the Bruins would have played for the national championship.
Bob Toledo said that game was the only time there has been open frictionbetween the offense and defense in his eight years at UCLA - two asoffensive coordinator, the last six as head coach.
Toledo said his team's defense is as good as any he's been around in hiscoaching career, which spans nearly 30 years, although he realizes there's alot of football left.
'If we had this defense around the last couple of years, we would have had adifferent record,' he said. 'We're physical, we're athletic, we've gotquality depth.'
Idle this weekend, the Bruins return to action Oct. 13 at the Rose Bowlagainst No. 11 Washington - a winner of 11 in a row entering Saturday's homegame against Southern California.