PASADENA >> UCLA praised its defensive depth during the offseason and had to put it to the test Saturday in a 56-23 win over Hawaii as the Bruins lost three starters to injury.
Already without starting nose tackle Boss Tagaloa, who watched the game from the stands, the Bruins lost linebacker Kenny Young and safeties Adarius Pickett and Jaleel Wadood in the first half. None returned in the second half as they were forced to watch the rest of the game from the sideline.
Coach Jim Mora did not say whether he thought the trio of seniors would return soon.
Not only did the Bruins lose three significant playmakers, they also lost three of their top defensive leaders, forcing younger players to rise to the occasion.
“We all stepped up as leaders,” said freshman cornerback Darnay Holmes, who scored on a 30-yard interception return, the first interception of his UCLA career. “We didn’t turn to anybody but to Coach Mora or our defensive coordinator, Coach Meat (Demetrice Martin), but we had those guys (Young, Pickett and Wadood) cheering us on.”
Young got leveled on a hard block from Hawaii tight end Metuisela ‘Unga in the first quarter and lost his helmet on the play. Referees threw a flag, but ruled that the play was shoulder-to-shoulder and did not warrant a penalty despite a replay showing ‘Unga’s helmet making contact with the side of Young’s face mask. Redshirt freshman Krys Barnes took over Young’s position and led the team in tackles with 12.
Pickett appeared to hurt his right knee early in the second quarter. He was not able to put any pressure on his right leg while getting helped off the field, but was walking gingerly on the sideline and riding the stationary bike with a knee brace. He returned to the sideline for the second half in street clothes, sunglasses and a large bag of ice around his knee.
Wadood took a knee to the helmet later in the second quarter. Mora went on to the field to attend to the senior, helping Wadood undo the chin strap on his helmet before walking slowly to the sideline.
Without Wadood and Pickett, UCLA turned to backups Octavius Spencer and Will Lockett, who combined for nine tackles. Lockett also added a pass breakup.
Tagaloa, who watched the game from the stands behind UCLA’s bench, missed the game due to unspecified reasons. Backup defensive tackle Chigozie Nnoruka said he found out that Tagloa would be out early this week,…