Bru­ins find their identity in a cri­sis

Los Angeles Times - - Morn­ing Brief­ing - chris.fos­ter@la­times.com twit­ter.com/cfos­ter­la­times

and lead­er­ship in the ab­sence of be­ing able to help on the field. “I get to see a lot more of what’s go­ing on out there,” he said Tues­day. “I read our crit­ics. I bring things to the guys’ at­ten­tion.”

Af­ter a slow start, Viney liked what he saw against Texas.

The Longhorns had first downs on their first three plays. But then, on a third­down play, Ay­ers ar­rived at the same time as a pass, clob­ber­ing Texas run­ning back Fozzy Whit­taker two yards short of an­other first down.

From that point on, the Longhorns’ of­fense was un­set­tled.

Ay­ers had two tack­les for losses— in­clud­ing one sack — forced a fum­ble and made an ac­ro­batic in­ter­cep­tion.

“Akeem is al­ways around the ball,” said Chuck Bul­lough, UCLA’s de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor. “We let him go do his thing. But those plays he makes, go­ing up to get the ball like that, that’s . . . in his genes.”

Ay­ers has done it two games in a row. Against Hous­ton, he made a leap­ing in­ter­cep­tion at the goal line to thwart a first-and-goal sit­u­a­tion. And he’s been get­ting some help.

Mid­dle line­backer Pa­trick La­ri­more had 11 tack­les in the Hous­ton game, in­clud­ing three for losses, and forced a fum­ble. Against Texas, strong safety Tony Dye twice made one-on-one tack­les on fourth-down plays in UCLA ter­ri­tory, line­backer Sean West­gate was in on 11 tack­les, free safety Rahim Moore had seven solo tack­les, and cor­ner­back Shel­don Price had six, dou­bling his sea­son to­tal.

This from a de­fense that laid down for Kansas State’s Daniel Thomas, who gained 234 yards rush­ing in the sea­son opener.

That game, how­ever, marked the first start for six of seven play­ers along the UCLA de­fen­sive front.

“My first year as a starter I was think­ing a lot about ev­ery­thing but play­ing,” Ay­ers said. “When you think, you re­ally can’t play fast. Guys who haven’t been start­ing are start­ing to get com­fort­able and are not think­ing as much, so they are able to fly around and make plays.”

The Bru­ins may have just re­quired the sink-or­swim mo­ment de­liv­ered by Stanford. The Car­di­nal plunged UCLA into the deep end by rush­ing for 211 yards in a 35-0 em­bar­rass­ment on Sept 11.

Af­ter that game, “There was a big em­pha­sis on dis­ci­pline and do­ing your job,” Dye said.

Play­ers be­gan show­ing up for ex­tra work­outs and film ses­sions.

“At the start of the sea­son, there were maybe 10 guys down there do­ing that ex­tra work,” Carter said. “Now we have 50-60.

“Ev­ery­body found their niche and learned what they needed to learn about them­selves in those first two games. Now we’re go­ing out and build­ing our re­sume.”

Bren­dan Maloney

CON­VER­GENCE: UCLA safeties Dal­ton Hil­liard (19) and Tony Dye stop Texas run­ning back D.J. Mon­roe in first quar­ter Satur­day. The Bru­ins gave up first downs on Longhorns’ first three plays, then clamped down.

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