After offseason overhaul, UCLA defense set for opening test

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LOS ANGELES – When Chip Kelly signed a four-year extension to remain as UCLA’s coach, making changes to his defensive staff was at the top of his to-do list.

It turned out the offseason changes weren’t just confined to the coaching staff.

When the Bruins open the season Saturday at the Rose Bowl against Bowling Green, the defense will have only two starters and one assistant returning from the unit that took the field nine months earlier in the regular-season finale against California.

“I think (the staff has) meshed well as a group in presenting the package and making sure the group has grasped it before going on to the next step,” Kelly said. “I’ve been impressed with how they played in the spring preseason game and now we get a chance to test it on Saturday against another team.”

Headlining the changes is Bill McGovern at defensive coordinator following the resignation of Jerry Azzinaro. McGovern was on Kelly’s staff with the Philadelphia Eagles from 2013-15 and was the inside linebackers coach for the Chicago Bears last season.

McGovern, who is a coordinator for the first time in 10 years, when he was at Boston College, was pleased with the installation process and how players adapted to new schemes throughout preseason camp.

“The guys we have are sharp guys, they pick stuff up very quickly,” he said. “One of the biggest things is finding out what our guys do well and try to put them in those situations and let them excel in there.”

McGovern’s biggest task is fixing a pass defense that has struggled in recent years. The Bruins allowed 260.2 passing yards per game last season, the worst in the Pac-12 and 56th out of 64 Power Five schools.

UCLA allowed over 300 yards three times and at least 280 yards in half of its 12 games.

The Bruins ran a nickel as their base defense the past couple seasons, but McGovern has changed things up a little bit with a variation of a 4-3. North Texas transfer Gabriel Murphy and Bo Calvert, one of only two returning starters, will be expected to provide the pass rush as hybrid defensive linemen/outside linebackers.

Murphy had seven sacks at North Texas last season and is one of three transfers who will start Saturday, along with linebacker Darius Muasau (Hawaii) and Azizi Hearn (Wyoming) at cornerback.

“Everybody always wants to know, ‘Are you 3-4, 4-3?’ You gotta be everything,” McGovern said. “You can’t live just in man or in a straight zone. You’re gonna have to have what we call tools in different coverages to help with different routes. Guys are getting a hang of that, but we’re running a complete defensive package.”

Kelly also brought on former UCLA standout and three-time Super Bowl champion Ken Norton Jr. as inside linebackers coach. Norton had been coaching in the NFL since 2010 and had been a coordinator the past seven seasons with the Raiders and Seattle Seahawks.

Norton has been the most vocal coach during practices when it has come to instructing and motivating his players.

“Just through our research, we wanted to get some NFL-style coaching,” Kelly said. “I think we’ve done a really good job against the run, but we need to do a better job in pass defense, so some of the principles that Bill and Ken have and pass rush schemes is kind of what we were looking for.”

Chad Kauha'aha'a (defensive line) and Ikaika Malloe (outside linebackers/special teams), who have experience in the Pac-12, were also added to the staff.

Safety Stephan Blaylock, who has made 31 straight starts for the Bruins, said forcing turnovers has been an increased focus since spring drills.

“We want to be physical, run to the ball and get off the field,” he said. “We don’t want to keep our offense cold. We wanna get our playmakers out there and put points up on the board.”

With temperatures expected to reach 102 degrees Fahrenheit (39 Celsius) Saturday, UCLA will be cycling through plenty of players. The first three nonconference games – which also include FCS foe Alabama State and South Alabama – should also give the Bruins a chance to get plenty of underclassmen some game experience.

Minnesota football players’ discrimination lawsuit dismissed

Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
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MINNEAPOLIS — A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by nine former University of Minnesota football players who were accused of sexual assault in 2016 in a case that roiled the school’s football program.

The lawsuit against the school claimed that the players faced emotional distress and financial damage after being falsely accused of being sex offenders. The players, who were identified in the lawsuit as John Does, sought unspecified damages for willful and malicious discrimination.

A woman alleged up to a dozen football players raped her or watched and cheered at an off-campus party in 2016. None of the players were ever charged.

The university found that 10 football players committed sexual misconduct. Five of them were expelled or suspended for violating student conduct codes, and the others were cleared on appeal.

In their lawsuit, the players alleged that the woman initiated the sexual encounters with players and an underage recruit.

U.S. District Court Judge Donovan Frank dismissed the lawsuit last week, saying the former players did not prove any of their claims, including allegations of bias by university investigators or pressure from Athletic Director Mark Coyle and former President Eric Kaler, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported.

David Madgett, an attorney for the players, said Tuesday that they are considering an appeal but have to determine if it makes sense financially and in terms of letting the former players get on with their lives. He said it was disappointing that the outcome was determined by the judge’s version of events and not decided by a jury.

“It’s disappointing to see disputes decided in this way,” Madgett said. “That’s the way things are decided more and more these days. … It’s disappointing you don’t get your day in court.”

When the allegations became public in 2016, players threatened to boycott the team’s trip to the Holiday Bowl. But after a graphic report of the investigation was released, the players agreed to play in the game.

University of Minnesota spokesman Jake Ricker said the school appreciated the judge’s decision affirming the actions taken in the case. He said the university would continue its work focusing on sexual misconduct awareness, prevention and response.

Frank dismissed the lawsuit in 2019, but an appeals court reinstated part of it in 2021 and returned it to Frank.

The players, all of whom are Black, also initially claimed racial discrimination, but that claim was previously dismissed.

The only remaining claim alleged Title IX gender discrimination. The former players noted that they never faced criminal charges, but Frank’s ruling said that “is certainly not evidence of a judicial adjudication or that plaintiffs ‘were proven innocent.'”

The men also claimed that an investigator for the university’s Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action used “manipulative tactics” with them in interviews and that their accuser helped draft the report. The players also alleged that “prior failed investigations motivated” the the school to punish them.

Frank said all the claims were unsupported by the evidence and “no reasonable jury could find that the University disciplined plaintiffs on the basis of sex.”

Michigan State player who swung helmet gets probation

Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports
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ANN ARBOR, Mich. — A Michigan State football player who swung his helmet at a Michigan player in a stadium tunnel expressed regret Tuesday and said he’s “just looking forward to wuppin’ some maize and blue” on the field.

Khary Crump, a defensive back, was sentenced to probation. He was one of seven Michigan State players charged in a skirmish that followed a loss at Michigan Stadium on Oct. 29.

Crump was the only Spartan facing a felony, but that charge was dismissed in an agreement to plead guilty to misdemeanors. His record will be scrubbed clean if he stays out of trouble while on probation.

“Unfortunately, an exchange of words (took place), I felt attacked and unfortunately I did what I did,” Crump said of the tunnel altercation involving Michigan’s Gemon Green. “I’m not proud of that. I’m looking forward to moving forward.”

Crump was suspended by coach Mel Tucker. In addition, the Big Ten has suspended him for eight games in 2023.

“I had difficulties trying to stomach my actions … on that fateful day, but it happened. I can’t take it back,” Crump told MLive.com after the court hearing. “Honestly, I’m just looking forward to wuppin’ some maize and blue in the future — on the football field, of course.”

At least four other players charged with misdemeanors Will Likely have their cases dismissed in exchange for community service and other conditions. The cases against two others are pending.