CORVALLIS, ORE. – With the defense down after a dreadful performance against Texas and starting senior safety Tony Dye out with a stinger, UCLA needed someone to emerge last week as it prepared for Oregon State.
Yet the Bruins were unenthusiastic, whispering, quieter than a monastery during a prayer service.
Senior linebacker Sean Westgate heard it – or didn’t hear anything, rather – and figured he’d need to fill the white noise.
UCLA responded to Westgate’s rallying cry and held the Beavers to 88 rushing yards in a 27-19 win at Reser Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
“No one was really stepping up into that vocal spot,” Westgate said. “That’s not my strong suit, never has been – I’m a lead by example guy, do my own thing, stay quiet, humble – but with Tony down and the morale down, someone had to step up. I sat there and said, ‘Why can’t I do it?’, because I feel I’ve earned trust of players.”
So Westgate yelled, and his teammates yelled back. He pumped his fist, and his teammates punched theirs, Spaulding Field turning into Rocky’s gym. They whooped and they hollered and more importantly, they ran to the ball, turning a week’s worth of intensity into a key effort.
While the Bruins allowed 287 passing yards and 8-of-16 third-down conversions, they tackled better than they have all year and a defense that has seemingly bent at the will of its opponents did not break.
“I talked about it last week against Texas – in the fourth quarter, we kept fighting,” defensive coordinator Joe Tresey said. “That’s gotta be our attitude from kickoff, and it was. We kept fighting. Got in some bad situations, but we bent – it was the old bend but don’t break deal. We just kept fighting and kept fighting. Gotta fight, gotta have that blue-collar mentality for 60 minutes. I don’t know any way else.”
UCLA rebounded from a dreadful Longhorn lashing – Texas gained 488 yards and converted 9-of-15 on third down – with better gap-consciousness and containment. Beavers starting running back Terron Ward had 13 carries for just 26 yards, unable to move past the second unit, while the Bruins finished with a season-high six tackles for loss and added two takeaways.
“Whenever you put so much time and effort and passion into something and it’s not going the way you want it, you lose maybe not a sense of pride, but it’s devastating,” linebackers coach Clark Lea said. “We all pride ourselves on our work ethic, and that hadn’t waivered from Week 1 until now. But you want to gain back some of the respectability on the field. I think we saw some of that today.”
Perhaps more importantly, though, UCLA improved in the tackling department, which has been a plague the first three weeks.
Oregon State converted just four of its last 11 third downs and did not pick up a single third down on the ground.
“It pisses you off,” Westgate said. “If you’re a front-seven guy, it just pisses you off. That’s your job. That’s your baby, the run game. Giving up run plays, especially on missed tackles, it hurts. We wanted to stop that, and I feel we did today.”
Not Saturday, though. It started mid-week, with Westgate bringing a little vocal adrenaline.
It carried into game-time, though, as his teammates responded, flying to each other after a good play, dragging each other up by the shoulder pads after a mistake.
“What really excited me, what kept me doing it, was the response I got from the guys,” said Westgate, who had the team’s lone interception. “I did it, and I had young guys jumping in, jumping on board ready to go, guys who are tired of losing, everybody tired of losing.
“I just got it started a little bit.”