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New Faces Will Shape UCLA Defense

Jim Mora

Jim Mora

PASADENA, Calif. — Linebacker Kenny Young let the most subtle of smiles crack when discussing his first career sack, made in UCLA's 42-21 win over UNLV. 

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"I was pretty hyped, man," said Young, a ballyhooed recruit in the 2014 class now getting his chance to shine in a rebuilt Bruins' front seven. "We had a chance to get off the field with them facing third-and-long." 

As UNLV chipped away at a lead that had been three scores in the first half, Young picked a great time for a career first. 

UCLA needs other new faces to make similar, first-time plays — and fast. The Bruins are 1-1 after winning their home opener, with a road trip to BYU in Week 3. Then, Pac-12 Conference play opens with the quintessential test of the Bruins' place in the league, with defending champion and repeated UCLA roadblock Stanford coming to the Rose Bowl on Week 4. 

The coming stretch sets the course for UCLA, and it may begin with some proven playmakers on the shelf. 

Defensive end Deon Hollins has yet to appear in 2016 with concussion symptoms. Lineman Eddie Vanderdoes, who missed all but one game of the 2015 campaign with an ACL tear, came out of the locker room Saturday in street clothes and ice on the other knee. Another end, Takkarist McKinley, came out of the Texas A&M loss with a groin injury and was held out against UNLV. 

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That's three first-string players, all missing from one unit. 

With McKinley and Hollins out, UCLA misses it's two most prolific pass-rushers. For a player like Young to pick up the mantle with a sack is exactly the remedy the Bruins need. Linebacker Josh Woods is one candidate after seeing significant opportunities against UNLV, recording four tackles - fifth-most on the lineup. 

"You can trust Josh Woods," Young said. "He's got pretty good size for a sophomore, and [he's] a good who's really, really smart. He'll do some great things in the future for us." 

They have other issues still to address in the immediate future, though. 

UNLV's offense posed UCLA's defensive front some problems. Coordinator Tom Bradley described blocking assignments unlike anything he'd seen in the last 30 years, describing the Rebels' alignment to the Wishbone offenses Barry Switzer's Oklahoma teams ran. 

"I haven't seen that in a long time," he said, adding: "I hadn't seen [UNLV] do the down-the-line option [in film study]." 

While the option reads UNLV quarterback Johnny Stanton made were unexpected, the Bruin defense can anticipate plenty more such looks in the slate to come. BYU's Taysom Hill is a celebrated dual-threat quarterback, and the Bruins can expect to see more two-way playmakers in Pac-12 play, like Arizona State's Manny Wilkins and Utah's Troy Williams. 

UCLA's defense can anticipate less of the unexpected like it saw Saturday as the season progresses. Conversely, the Bruins' championship aspirations might well hinge on some unexpected performances from some new faces. 

— 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.