Despite a three-game winning streak in which the defense has held opponents to 88.7 rushing yards per game, UCLA is shaking up its defensive line.
Freshman phenom Owamagbe Odighizuwa, who was rated the No. 2 defensive end in the country by Rivals.com and No. 8 by Scout.com, is slated to move into the starting lineup opposite redshirt freshman Keenan Graham. Former starting defensive end Nate Chandler, who converted from tight end during the offseason, will slide into the starting defensive tackle role next to senior David Carter, and former starter Justin Edison will move to the second unit.
“We’re trying to create some more depth there, and some more energy up the field,” UCLA head coach Rick Neuheisel said. “It’s great to have competition, so we’re going to continue to compete there and see us who can give us our best four, and spell them as often as we need to.”
With linebacker Akeem Ayers’ pass-rushing abilities affording defensive coordinator Chuck Bullough some flexibility in his front line, the move was seemingly made as much to add Odighizuwa to the outside as Chandler to the inside.
Odighizuwa has freakish size and speed for a freshman but needs to improve his fundamentals and technique, while Chandler’s speed as a former tight end is expected to improve the interior pass rush. In a 42-28 win over Washington State on Saturday, the Bruins allowed quarterback Jeff Tuel to complete 20-of-37 passes for 311 yards and two touchdowns. However, UCLA’s pressure increased throughout the game, and Tuel was sacked five times, including Carter’s career-high three sacks.
“Owa is very strong physically, and he can compete – and dominate – at this level,” defensive line coach Todd Howard said. “As a freshman coming in, he’s still trying to learn the techniques, learn how to read the keys that I’m given him, but he’s not there yet.”