Scouting Report: UCLA's Linebackers

Having gone up against a 4-3 defense last week, BYU on Saturday will again face another trio of linebackers. BYU running backs Harvey Unga and Manase Tonga, along with tight end Vic So'oto, give BYU fans the scouting report.

UCLA has two linebackers on the Butkus and Lombardi Award watch lists. They are sophomore Reggie Carter and with senior Christian Taylor. Meanwhile, Aaron Whittington rounds out the trio of Bruin linebackers. So let's take a look at whom the Cougars will be facing this weekend with a brief summary.

Redshirt senior Christian Taylor (#33), a 6-foot-1-inch, 220-pound middle linebacker, had a total of 83 tackles in 2006 to rank second on the team. He also ranked third on the team with four-and-a-half sacks and had 13-and-a-half tackles for a loss.

Redshirt sophomore Reggie Carter (#51), a 6-foot-1-inch, 221-pound weakside linebacker, led the Bruin defense with 10 tackles (six solo) against Stanford last week. Carter was named a Third-Team All-American by Scout.com, Rivals.com and CollegeFootballNews.com.

Redshirt senior Aaron Whittington (#42), a 6-foot-2-inch, 212-pound senior, had a career-high nine tackles (six solo) during last week's contest against Stanford. He played in 10 games as a redshirt freshman during the 2006 season and missed three due to an ankle injury.

UCLA's linebackers aren't quite as big as Arizona's, which could bode well for BYU's more physical running backs. However, what they lack in size, they make up for with speed.

"From what I've seen on film they move around very well," said Manase Tonga. "They're not too big but they play physical. On film they seem to move around really well and they get to the ball. As a linebacker group, they play very well together."

"Not to doubt those guys, and I respect them and all, [but] to me it seems that Arizona was more physical," said Harvey Unga. "I could be wrong, but on film it seems like the Arizona linebackers were more physical because they were bigger.

"The UCLA linebackers are a lot more shiftier [and] more faster, but to us it just seems like it would be a lot more fun to play smash-mouth football with them. Because, like Arizona with those big boys, we mostly had to play hard while protecting our bodies, but coming into this game I don't think anybody is going to be holding back on those guys."

The Bruin linebackers will see a physical, rotating BYU running back group consisting of over 900 pounds of horsepower in Unga, Tonga, Fui Vakapuna and Joe Semanoff.

"Like any other linebacking corps, if you dig hard enough you're going to find something," said Unga. "With these guys we've noticed they like to play man, which is something we as a BYU running back corps thrive on. We love to face those linebackers one-on-one. We just want to bang on them and hopefully wear and tear at them. Hopefully we'll get things done with that and try and take advantage of them."

The Bruins may be smaller at the linebacker position than BYU is used to playing, and while that may be an advantage for BYU, it can also potentially be a disadvantage.

"Honestly, it's a huge favor for us, but at the same time you have to respect their speed," Unga said. "There are always those guys that make plays because they're quicker than the offense is. If they have guys that may fly around the offense a lot quicker than the offense is, then it makes the game that much more harder.

"At the same time there is that advantage for us that we will be able to break tackles and hopefully be able to run through them because of their size."

The Bruins run a 4-3-4 defense with a backfield that plays multiple coverage schemes. At times, it can be difficult to figure out what the coverages are and what roles the safeties and linebackers have in those coverages.

This could be by design, or it could simply be a visible flaw in the Bruin coverages captured on film. After all, Stanford running back Anthony Kimble averaged 4.9 yards per carry (69 yards on 14 carries).

"There were some plays where we were kind of skeptical because we didn't know who was covering the running backs," said Unga. "A [Stanford] running back would go out into the flat and no one would be guarding him, so we're trying to pick out those plays and those defenses they're calling."

"With their defensive scheme they like to match up a lot," said Tonga. "They like to play a lot of man but they also will drop back into zone coverage. That's their favorite coverage: the zone. But they like to play man also. We are expecting to see their linebackers come up and play a lot of man-to-man coverage with us. We'll see what happens."

If the Bruins key in on BYU's ground game with the linebackers, BYU fans can expect the passing game to open up on the outside with the wide receivers and tight ends.

"We're going to keep things balanced," Unga said. "We're not going to change the game plan, we're not going to change anything we do, and we're going to go out there and play BYU football. We're going to go out there and beat them through the air. If that doesn't happen, we'll take it to them on the ground, but for the most part we're just going to play BYU football.

"It's a win-win situation for us. If they take on the running backs, it opens it up for the tight ends and wide receivers. If they key on the tight ends and wide receivers, it help us."

One aspect of the BYU offense expecting to help open things up through the air will be BYU's big, talented group of tight ends in 6-foot-5-inch, 230-pound Dennis Pitta; 6-foot-5-inch, 240-pound Andrew George; and 6-foot-3-inch, 233-pound Vic So'oto.

Now you can hear So'oto give his views on the UCLA Bruin linebackers.


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