LOS ANGELES — Eddie Vanderdoes’ return from a torn ACL was supposed to fix the UCLA run defense. When Vanderdoes departed Saturday’s win over UNLV with a left knee strain, fellow defensive lineman Eli Ankou feared the worst.
“Man, my heart dropped. It was kind of like nerve-wracking,” Ankou said Monday.
Vanderdoes took to social media Sunday to downplay the extent of the injury, and coach Jim Mora was hopeful the redshirt junior will play at BYU this week. It was welcome news after Vanderdoes hurt his right knee and was lost for the season during last year’s opener, the first domino in an injury-ravaged campaign that saw the Bruins give up more than 200 yards rushing five times.
But Vanderdoes’ presence has not been not the cure-all for UCLA’s issues stopping the run. Texas A&M rushed for 203 yards and three touchdowns in the Bruins’ opener, averaging 5.0 yards per carry. The Rebels ran for 175 yards and two touchdowns, also at a clip of 5.0 yards per carry.
“I feel like we performed decent, but there is always room to grow and we can always get better,” defensive back Tahaan Goodman said.
Both opponents had success running their quarterbacks against UCLA, something the Cougars are more than capable of exploiting. Taysom Hill has eight career games with more than 100 yards rushing, including his memorable 259-yard outburst against Texas that led to the firing of defensive coordinator Manny Diaz, and 26 rushing touchdowns.
Mora praised the resilience and competitiveness of Hill, the sixth-year senior who did not play against UCLA last season because of a Lisfranc fracture, his third season-ending injury.
“If you watch the Utah game, you saw some great runs,” Mora said. “You saw just what you would expect of him, that toughness and that grit that he has displayed his whole career.”
Hill was unable to score on a quarterback draw as BYU went for the win on a 2-point conversion in the final minute against the rival Utes, with the Utah defensive line showing the composure that UCLA was lacking at times against UNLV. Quarterback Johnny Stanton was able to exploit some overly aggressive pass-rush tendencies on draws, Ankou said.
That matches the overall struggles of the run defense, where a desire to deliver the big play can supersede the basic fundamentals.
“Everybody just has to do their job,” Ankou said. “Relax a little bit, not try to do too much and I think we’ll be good.”
BYU rushed for 161 yards against UCLA last season despite not having running back Jamaal Williams available. Williams has 220 yards in games against Arizona and Utah this season, and he rushed for 1,233 yards as a sophomore.
Pushing Pac-12 South teams to the brink in consecutive weeks showed Ankou that UCLA cannot look past BYU.
“It kind of gives a clear image what kind of players they are. BYU is a team that should be respected,” Ankou said. “We shouldn’t take them lightly.”
Having Vanderdoes and defensive end Takkarist McKinley (groin) available certainly wouldn’t hurt. Mora said Vanderdoes could be a game-time decision.
“It’s just how fast he heals and how well he feels on Saturday,” Mora said. “Being able to get him out there would be something we’d love to see, obviously.”