LOS ANGELES - There was some disbelief last winter when first-year UCLA Coach Jim Mora installed Angus McClure as defensive line coach.
McClure had spent most of his college career working with offensive linemen and tight ends. He had never coached defensive linemen on that level, and had spent three of his previous five years off the field, serving three years as the on-campus recruiting coordinator.
At first glance, he didn't seem like a logical fit, and one of his first moves didn't do much to change that impression among players. At least initially.
McClure brought in a martial arts expert, Paul McCarthy, to help players with technique last spring.
"We saw the guy and he was like 5 feet 6 and we thought, 'This is not going to work,'" defensive end Datone Jones said.
McCarthy started talking in a voice more suited to Westminster Abbey than Westwood.
"We heard that English accent and we thought, 'This is really not going to work,'" Jones said.
McCarthy sought a volunteer. Jones, who has dabbled in boxing, stepped up.
"I threw a punch at him and he grabbed my hand, flipped me to the ground and acted like he punched me in the throat," Jones said. "I was like, 'Ah, man, this works. I'm a believer.'"
The Bruins' defensive linemen had been powder blue pylons at times in 2011; they finished 96th nationally against the run and 112th in sacks.
Under McClure, and with McCarthy's help, things have changed in 2012.
The Bruins are seventh nationally in sacks, 15th in tackles for a loss and 54th against the run, important statistics as they face Baylor's No. 1-ranked offense in the Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl on Thursday.
"I wanted to incorporate martial arts as much as I could," McClure said. "When you pass-rush, the combinations you use with your hands really come into play."
McClure had not coached defensive linemen since a three-year stint at Sacramento McClatchy High that ended in 1994. He has been on UCLA's staff since 2007 and coached tight ends last season.
His background as an offensive line coach provided defensive linemen with a unique perspective.
Said defensive end Owamagbe Odighizuwa: "He taught us how to read them and how to combat them."
"This guy (McCarthy) is serious," Jones said. "He's the British ninja. He moves so fast, he's like a fly. It's like watching a Jackie Chan movie."
Said McClure; "Playing defensive line, it's like hand-to-hand combat every play."
• Three Red Raiders won't be playing against Minnesota in Friday's Meineke Car Care Bowl because they violated undisclosed team rules. Football program spokesman Blayne Beal says Texas Tech starting defensive back Cornelius Douglas, Chris Payne, a linebacker, and backup defensive tackle Leon Mackey won't play in the bowl game.
The Hawaii Bowl ended after Monday's press time. A story will appear in Wednesday's Star.