Laiatu Latu helps UCLA defense set tone early against Washington

PASADENA — Laiatu Latu waited a long time to be playing under the bright lights again.

On Friday night at the Rose Bowl, the UCLA linebacker had another breakout moment – in a 40-32 victory over No. 15 Washington, his former team.

Latu recorded the first sack this season against Michael Penix Jr., the Huskies’ standout quarterback who entered the game leading the nation in passing yards. Latu’s 9-yard sack of Penix on a third-and-10 from just outside UCLA’s red zone in the second quarter forced Washington to kick a field goal on the next play.

The redshirt junior spent one season at Washington before injuries forced him to medically retire and miss the past two seasons. Latu has arguably been UCLA’s best defensive player, leading the Pac-12 with five sacks entering the game.

Latu’s sack was just one of several key defensive plays in the first half for the Bruins, who also intercepted Penix twice and benefited from a botched handoff for a safety while building a 26-10 halftime lead. Stephan Blaylock and JonJon Vaughns both recorded interceptions and returned the ball deep into Washington territory.

Bo Calvert added a second sack on Penix in the second half.

Coach Chip Kelly thought the defense’s first-half performance was the key to the win, crediting their energy.

“For us to kind of hold them at bay a little bit, I think was the difference really – how our defense played in the first half,” Kelly said.

The Bruins held Penix to 133 yards on 14-of-25 passing in the first half, before he heated up after halftime. Penix finished 33-of-48 for 345 yards as Washington clawed within a possession with four minutes left before UCLA’s offense ran the clock out in the fourth quarter.

ATTENDANCE WATCH

UCLA made an effort to draw a larger crowd for Friday’s game, which was televised nationally on ESPN, after recording its two smallest crowds in Rose Bowl history through three home games.

The attendance at the Rose Bowl for the first Pac-12 game was an improvement: 41,343.

Kelly credited students being back on campus with the fall quarter under way.

“For the people that came out, especially at 7:30 at night on a Friday night to come and see a team that I think is fun to watch, hopefully we continue to grow on that,” Kelly said. “We’ve got a huge game next week against Utah at home here on Saturday, and hopefully we’ll continue to get more on that.”

The Bruins averaged 30,072 fans through their first three games. The season opener against Bowling Green saw a record-low 27,143, and the Week 3 matchup against South Alabama recorded the second-smallest crowd at 29,344.

UCLA offered discounted tickets to season ticket holders, dropping prices for $55 tickets to $20 and $119 tickets to $40. The school also offered free tickets for K-12 classrooms and youth sports organizations that attended community events in the past.

Several Costco locations sold packages of four sideline seats for $99, and UCLA bought space on 10 digital billboards around Southern California to promote the game.

“It was huge!” Blaylock said. “Shoutout to the fans that came today. They made a huge impact. They were loud and caught them off guard. We got a few penalties off their loudness.”

Athletic Director Martin Jarmond posted a mock “get out of work early” letter to Twitter on Thursday, encouraging fans to arrive early to tailgate.

The game also featured a fireworks show at halftime.

HUMPHREY TAKES OVER AT CORNERBACK

John Humphrey appears to have leapfrogged Azizi Hearn on the depth chart at cornerback, making his second straight start after Hearn had been listed as the starter the first four games.

Humphrey made his first collegiate start last week at Colorado and was officially noted as the starter this week on the two-deep. The junior from Muir High in Pasadena had five tackles last week.

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“John has continued to get better every single year,” Coach Chip Kelly said at practice this week. “He has a tremendous work ethic and you always see him out here on the field working on individual skills.”

DEFENSE BANGED UP

UCLA started Jacob Sykes and Dovid Magna on a defensive line that was down a few players, with Martin Andrus Jr. out for the season, Gary Smith III not dressed and Jay Toia active but nursing an injury.

Linebacker Kain Medrano, who was listed as a starter but has missed the last three games, did not play again on Friday.

Edge rusher Grayson Murphy was also helped off the field in the fourth quarter.

BREAKTHROUGH

UCLA had lost 11 consecutive games against top-15 opponents, including two against Washington, before Friday’s win. The Bruins’ last win was in the Alamo Bowl against No. 11 Kansas State to wrap up the 2014 season. UCLA’s last victory against a top-15 conference opponent was also in 2014 against No. 14 Arizona.