UCLA can overcome injuries to Jack, Moreau
UCLA finds itself in an unfortunate position this week. Entering Week 4 as one of the nation’s best defenses (sixth in our grades), the Bruins lost two starters to season-ending injuries. First veteran cornerback Fabian Moreau went down with a foot injury, and now star linebacker Myles Jack is out with a knee injury.
The one piece of good news is the reinstatement of versatile defensive back Ishmael Adams. Adams had been suspended for the opening three games, but returns to the team and may well find himself fast-tracked into the lineup.
What does all of this mean for the UCLA defense?
For starters, Moreau is certainly a loss. He had been enjoying a strong start to the season, as his 2.0 coverage grade made him the Bruins’ leading cover-corner. Moreau had allowed just two receptions and 17 yards on the eight passes thrown into his coverage, holding opponents to a 39.6 passer rating when targeting him. When Moreau went down against BYU, the Bruins looked to Denzel Fisher to fill the void, but the freshman struggled, allowing eight completions from 10 targets. A straight Moreau-for-Fisher swap would leave UCLA vulnerable in the secondary, so it’s a good thing that Adams is returning when he is (more on that later).
Jack is an even bigger loss, as one of the best defenders in the country last season. His versatility has seen him grade positively as both a run defender (2.0) and in coverage (4.4) this season. His cover skills are such that he’s become the primary slot defender for the Bruins this season, allowing just three receptions for eight yards while covering the slot.
Losing their leading outside corner and slot defender in one week could have been a hammer blow for an impressive UCLA defense, so it’s fortunate that they can call on Adams. Adams allowed a team-leading 0.74 yards per cover snap in 2014, which dropped to 0.7 when covering the slot, and allowed just 55.9 percent of passes into his coverage to be completed. His 2.8 coverage grade ranked seventh among returning corners in the Pac-12. He was also the Bruins’ primary slot defender in 2014, so he might be asked to fill in for Moreau on the outside on standard downs, then slide inside to replace Jack in passing situations.
There’s no doubt UCLA would rather be able to field Moreau, Jack and Adams together, but they will be glad to have at least one of them to call upon as they enter the gauntlet of Pac-12 play. The Bruins currently own the No. 6 overall defense grade and No. 17 pass-coverage grade in the country. Don’t be surprised if those numbers slip a bit without Jack and Moreau in the lineup, but their level of play shouldn’t completely drop off, either.