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Decimated UCLA Defense Faces Uphill Climb in Pac-12

Myles Jack

Myles Jack

Eddie Vanderdoes. Fabian Moreau. Now Myles Jack. It could get worse for the UCLA defense, but not much.

The Bruins embark on Pac-12 play Saturday with a Top 10 ranking and designs on the program's first league championship since 1998. Their first test is a considerable one, No. 16-ranked and defending divisional champion Arizona.

UCLA has had Arizona's number since the arrival of head coach Jim Mora in 2012, going 3-0 against the Wildcats in that time. The Bruins defense has flourished against a typically potent Arizona offense like no other team in the conference, holding it to 17 points total in two of the last three meetings, including seven last year.

The versatile Jack's ability to defend both the run and pass with equal efficiency is central to UCLA slowing an uptempo, multifaceted offense like Arizona's, though Jack is more famous for disrupting the Wildcats as a running back.

Still, Jack's absence throughout Pac-12 will be glaring. His diverse playmaking allowed defensive coordinators, whether it be Lou Spanos, Jeff Ulbrich or current play-caller Tom Bradley, to adjust for run or pass with minimal personnel shifting.

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The Bruins operated primarily in nickel packages a season ago, relying on the players up front to control the line of scrimmage. Vanderdoes did so effectively, perhaps never more so than against Arizona when he swallowed up ball-carriers eight times at or behind the line of scrimmage.

Week 3's win over BYU was UCLA's second game this season without Vanderdoes at end. Tackle Kenny Clark and end Takkarist McKinley have effectively held down the line, one of the deeper units on the UCLA roster, but the secondary behind them is battling the war of attrition.

Moreau took over as UCLA's shutdown cornerback in lieu of Ishmael Adams, suspended for the first three games for an arrest just before the season. Moreau is an NFL-caliber talent who began to hit his stride, just as felony charges against Adams were dropped and Adams was reinstated to the team.

But the dynamic duo is not meant to play together any time soon. Just as Mora announced Adams' reinstatement, the head coach also announced the loss of Moreau for the season to a foot injury.

The Bruins secondary has been key to holding opponents to a sub-100 pass efficiency rating, and just 179 yards per game. Pass-happy offenses like Arizona, Cal and USC plan to test UCLA sans Moreau. Freshman Denzel Fisher could be an option ot help fill the void, but must acclimate to more responsibility quickly.

— Written by Kyle Kensing, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Kensing is publisher of Follow him on Twitter @kensing45.