MEMPHIS >> UCLA’s defense prides itself on position flexibility and the Bruins had to get extra creative Saturday for its linebackers.
Without senior Kenny Young, who was held out due to injury, and junior Josh Woods, who was suspended for the first half due to targeting, the Bruins transformed defensive end Keisean Lucier-South into a hybrid linebacker for their 48-45 loss to Memphis on Saturday at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium.
The third-year sophomore had one tackle for loss and a forced fumble in his new position. During training camp, the team occasionally had Lucier-South practice the position and revisited the look this week.
“Give Keisean credit, I thought he handled it well,” defensive coordinator Tom Bradley said. “He did a really good job because a lot of times, there’s things going on there that he hasn’t really had the chance to practice.”
Redshirt freshman Breland Brandt, who was expected to possibly start at strong-side linebacker, was mysteriously not with the team Saturday, leaving the Bruins even more short-handed.
“Our mindset here is next Bruin up,” sophomore middle linebacker Lokeni Toailoa said. “So some guys go down, we all prepare like starters, so we all come in here ready to play.”
Toailoa had three tackles and one tackle for loss as he was the lone starting linebacker remaining for the first half before Woods’ return. Sophomore Krys Barnes got his first career start and had six tackles. After watching the first half from the locker room, Woods tallied four tackles in the second half.
The odd defensive front that often included five defensive linemen and two linebackers gave up 162 rushing yards, but 80 of them came on Memphis’ first play from scrimmage.
“Besides that first run where we missed two tackles, we were right there and missed the tackles,” Coach Jim Mora said. “Those guys did a heck of a job playing the run. But it wasn’t good enough.”
Injuries continue to mount
Jaelan Phillips left the game in the third quarter with an apparent right leg injury. The star freshman defensive end was quickly taken into the locker room on a cart. He watched the remainder of the game on the sideline on crutches with ice wrapped around his right ankle and was seen walking out of the locker room in a walking boot.
Running back Nate Starks was spotted in the second half on crutches on the sideline. Mora did not know the extent of the injury, but said it may have been a knee issue that sent the senior to…