Uh-oh. Things appear to have gotten a bit awkward between UCLA’s struggling offense and its better half.
Linebacker Oluwafemi Oladejo repeatedly used the word “disunified” Monday to describe the team during its 27-10 loss to Arizona on Saturday, saying the defense was paying too much attention to the offense’s inability to produce points late in the game.
“I think slowly by slowly we just started to kind of get disunified, which we can’t let happen,” Oladejo said. “ … I think people were discouraged in the third and fourth quarter down by two touchdowns and we just had a loss of focus, so we need to all bring it back together, stay motivated to finish the season strong, three games left.”
There’s no sugarcoating that UCLA’s defense has vastly outperformed an offense that has repeatedly switched quarterbacks and is averaging 28.6 points per game, tied for No. 62 in the nation. The Bruins’ defense is giving up just 16.3 points per game, tied for No. 13.
Oladejo acknowledged the defensive players felt pressure to get stop after stop to compensate for a sluggish offense, contributing to the outcome Saturday. UCLA’s scoring output was its second worst this season, topping only a 14-7 loss to Utah.
“I think that’s what messed us up,” Oladejo said. “We shouldn’t look at it like that, we should look at it like regardless of what the offense does, we have to handle business. That wasn’t the mindset, so that definitely caught us off guard, that’s what made us be disunified. We shouldn’t be paying attention to that regardless, we should go, ‘Hey, every drive we get is a chance for us to get a turnover, a three-and-out or a stop.’ That should be the mindset.”
In an effort to reunify the team, defensive coordinator D’Anton Lynn showed players a video of the 2001 Baltimore Ravens pulling together to win the Super Bowl after the team was peppered with questions about linebacker Ray Lewis pleading guilty to obstruction of justice in connection with the stabbing deaths of two men.
“That was very encouraging and very compelling,” Oladejo said.
For the Bruins, reunification efforts start with staying positive Saturday when UCLA (6-3 overall, 3-3 Pac-12) faces Arizona State (2-7, 1-5) at the Rose Bowl.
“Lifting each other up, using words and encouraging your teammates,” Oladejo said of the approach. “They mess up on the play, ‘Hey, you’ve made that play before, I know you can do it again.’ Just not putting anybody down.”
Dante Moore and Ethan Garbers injury update
What appeared to be a dire situation at quarterback could improve quickly.
Center Duke Clemens said one of the Bruins’ injured quarterbacks was expected to return and play against the Sun Devils.
“We’ll have at least one guy coming back, I think,” Clemens said, “and whoever that is they’ll be our starter.”
Dante Moore appeared closer to returning than Ethan Garbers based on Moore’s appearance at practice Monday. Moore stood watching in the end zone without a helmet during the portion of practice open to reporters, a play card in his hand. Garbers was nowhere to be seen.
Moore and Garbers departed the Bruins’ loss to Arizona with unspecified injuries. Garbers appeared to sustain a right leg or foot injury that prevented him from putting any weight on the area as he was helped off the field. Moore hit the back of his head against the artificial turf and returned to the locker room, leading to speculation that he had entered concussion protocol.
Coach Chip Kelly did not supply any meaningful updates Monday, saying only the training staff would assess the quarterbacks before determining how much they could participate in practice.
Redshirt senior Chase Griffin and junior Collin Schlee were the only quarterbacks who threw passes while wearing the blue jerseys of starters and top reserves. Redshirt freshman Justyn Martin and true freshman Luke Duncan wore red scout team jerseys, meaning they were not expected to be in the rotation to play against the Sun Devils.
Even with quarterbacks potentially in short supply, UCLA opened as a 17-point favorite over Arizona State because the Sun Devils are also severely short-handed while coming off their worst conference defeat in school history.
Arizona State was down seven offensive lineman and forced to use its fourth-string quarterback during a 55-3 loss to Utah. The Sun Devils managed just 83 yards of offense.
Wide receiver Kyle Ford, who did not play against Arizona, returned to practice with a wrap on his right arm. Ford landed awkwardly on his elbow during a game earlier this season but had not sat out any games until last weekend.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.