UCLA defense looking to keep pace

UCLA will need to be ready for a fast pace against Houston, and hopefully get some plays from its secondary like this one by Andrew Abbott against Nebraska. Richard Mackson/US Presswire

LOS ANGELES -- Case Keenum may be gone, but the aerial attack employed by the Houston Cougars remains.

The Cougars and new quarterback David Piland have picked up right where Keenum, the NCAA's all-time passing leader, left off. Piland ranks No. 2 in the nation with 791 yards passing and Houston is No. 4 in the nation in passing offense with 395.5 yards per game.

They run a high-tempo version of the spread, similar to the one UCLA is running, and got off a mind-boggling 115 plays last week in a 56-49 loss to Louisiana Tech. It's a style that is certain to keep the UCLA defense on its toes.

"They are up-tempo and do a tremendous job of protection and they get the ball out quickly so it's hard to get pressure on them," UCLA coach Jim Mora said. "That means our coverage has to be good downfield."

Last year, the UCLA secondary couldn't quite keep up. Keenum completed 30 of 40 passes for 310 yards and Houston racked up 469 yards of offense in a 38-34 victory over the Bruins. Safety Dalton Hilliard said the key this year is to be ready on every play.

"Get lined up because they are coming," Hilliard said. "We have to have the mindset that we are going to be ready every play and ready to play fast."

Because of Houston's high tempo, the UCLA secondary got caught out of position and the players had a difficult time making on-field adjustments before the snap. A few tweaks at halftime helped and Houston scored only one second-half touchdown in that game, but, by then it was too late.

"Communication is key," cornerback Aaron Hester said. "I think last year we weren't on the same page a lot in the first half and that's when they put up all their points. In the second half we slowed them down so now it's just all about starting fast and staying fast."

That hasn't been easy for the Bruins so far this season. In the first two games, UCLA has given up 48 points in the first half and only six in the second half. While it's nice to know that the halftime adjustments are paying off, the Bruins would like to play a solid defensive game from the get-go. Against an offense like Houston's, the Bruins have a chance to prove they can do just that.

"We want to be a full 60-minute defense," Hilliard said. "We see this as a great opportunity to show what we can do against such a high-powered offense."

Helping matters this year is the fact that the Bruins have been going against their own offense for the last two months. UCLA keeps the offensive pace high during practice, which is quite a change from last year when the Bruins ran a more methodical pistol attack.

"We see speed all day, every day, in practice so I feel like we’ll be much better prepared for the game, Hester said. "Essentially, it’s kind of the same thing as far as concepts and tempo. It's pretty familiar to us now so we won't be overwhelmed by it."

Other notes:

Prince among men: After starting at quarterback in each of the last three seasons, Kevin Prince has been relegated to the bench this season as Brett Hundley won the starting job during camp.

He remained there in the fourth quarter of a blowout victory over Rice and when Hundley came out briefly because of an ankle injury against Nebraska, as Richard Brehaut got those calls instead. Still, Mora has been impressed with how Prince has handled the transition.

"What impresses me about Kevin is how supportive he's been of Brett and his head is in the game," Mora said. "When called upon, he'll be ready to go. You watch him in practice and he's always into it. Watch him in meetings; he's always into it. His mind doesn't wander. I guess it would be a level of understanding if it did, but it doesn't and I think that's just a credit to his character."