Laiatu Latu puts UCLA’s success ahead of his own

LOS ANGELES — UCLA edge rusher Laiatu Latu continued his All-American campaign with his fourth multi-sack performance this season in Saturday’s 38-20 win over USC.

The senior had a big week recording a game-high seven tackles and two sacks for a total loss of 12 yards, just days removed from being named as one of four finalists for the Lombardi Award (best lineman).

“He’s the heart and soul of our defense,” UCLA defensive back Alex Johnson said. “He’s our emotional leader, our verbal leader and our physical leader. This defense goes with Latu. He’s the guy we look up to and feed off of and he’s always going so his motor is always on. That means everyone has to go and if you aren’t holding up to that standard then you can’t touch the field.”

Latu impacted the passing game throughout the day before getting back-to-back sacks on USC quarterback Caleb Williams in the red zone in the third quarter. As a result, he was voted as the Pac-12’s defensive lineman of the week.

“They put the tackle and the running back on him and he split the two of them and made an unbelievable play on Caleb,” Kelly said. “That was just a Latu play that only Latu can make.”

Latu’s 13 sacks this season ranks him third on the all-time school list, tied with Carnell Lake (1987). Outside linebacker Anthony Barr (13.5 in 2012) and defensive end Dave Ball (16.5 in 2003) are the only Bruins that rank higher.

The senior has collected 23.5 sacks in his UCLA career since transferring from Washington for the 2022 season. He’s tied for sixth on the all-time school list with Barr (2010-13) and linebacker Jamir Miller (1991-93). He also ranks sixth on the Bruins’ single-season list with 20.5 tackles for a loss.

Latu deflected the spotlight during the postgame press conference and earlier in the week when coach Chip Kelly told Latu he was named as a finalist for another award this year.

Kelly stated that Latu shrugged off the news and asked the coach not to mention it to his teammates to keep the attention strictly on the USC game.

“That’s what makes Laiatu special,” Kelly said. “He’s everything you want. And we’re just so happy that he’s here. And I haven’t seen the other people in the country but I would be hard pressed to think there’s anybody like him.”

Latu and the defense held the Trojans’ rushing attack to just 3 yards. USC had just 1 rushing yard at halftime. The Bruins did allow just their third rushing touchdown of the season to USC’s Austin Jones on a 7-yard run in the late fourth quarter.

“I couldn’t do it without my defense out there,” Latu said. “I couldn’t do it without the whole team, especially these guys in the back, we had a game and we’re on point with everything. I couldn’t do it without the rest of the team.”

USC: We’ll keep a RB home to help slow down Laiatu Latu.

Latu: “Challenge accepted.”

— Dane Brugler (@dpbrugler) November 20, 2023


Defensive lineman Jay Toia was “unavailable” for Monday’s practice, after suffering a right leg injury in the USC game.

Toia was spotted in the weight room during practice and appeared to be moving around with a limp but didn’t use crutches like he did when coming out of the locker to watch the rest of the game from the sideline.

Quarterback Collin Schlee was a participant in practice, after not suiting up for the USC game.

Schlee started in the loss to Arizona State but left in the final minutes of the game with an undisclosed injury.

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First-year defensive coordinator D’Anton Lynn was named as a semifinalist for the Broyles Award.

The award goes to college football’s top coaching assistant each year.

“He’s an amazing coach,” Johnson said. “He’s put it on tape with what he’s taught us this year and everything he’s brought in. His energy and his knowledge, it’s been great soaking in all that knowledge from him.”

Lynn has led the Bruins to a Top 12 defense, allowing 298.7 yards per game to opposing offenses. The team’s rush defense (64.6 ypg) ranks first in the nation.

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