UCLA aims for improved rushing
Recognizing the running game as a liability, the Bruins have installed a new offense
Jonathan Franklin led UCLA in rushing last season, but he's not particularly proud of that accomplishment.
In fact, it's difficult to find anyone around the Bruins football team who takes much pride in the team's rushing attack over the past couple of years.
Last season, the Bruins ranked No. 97 out of 120 Division I schools in rushing. The season before, they ranked No. 116.
So when UCLA began practice Monday, Franklin wanted to make it known that he and the rest of the running back corps have made it a priority to re-establish a Bruins running attack that gained only 1,490 yards in 2009.
"We need to change things around here," said Franklin, who rushed for 566 yards a season ago. "I mean, you go out into Westwood and nobody even knows who the running back on this team is. Nobody took the team on his back, and our running game has been kind of embarrassing because of that. All of us are highly motivated to change that."
To increase the chances of an improved running attack, Bruins coach Rick Neuheisel and offensive coordinator Norm Chow have implemented a new offense called The Pistol, which puts an emphasis on the running game. In it, the quarterback lines up in a shotgun with the running back directly behind.
It's what Neuheisel described as "a veer from the gun," and a necessary change for an offense that has sputtered in Neuheisel's two seasons.
"What we were doing wasn't working," Neuheisel said. "We had to face the facts that we needed to change who we were as a running football team and figure out another way to do it."
Much of the focus in The Pistol will fall on quarterback Kevin Prince, who must decide whether to keep the ball or pitch it. But the running backs must hit their holes and run with a power style instead of trying to shake and bake their way for extra yards.
"That's the biggest thing for us in this offense," said Derrick Coleman, the team's second leading rusher last season. "It's all downhill running."
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And, Coleman said, it should produce results.
"The last couple of years have been a struggle, but we've come a long way," he said. "This year, at least two of us should get 1,000 yards with this offense. That's my expectation and I'm not settling for anything less."
Chow's goal is a little less subdued. He'd like to have the running attack average four yards a carry.
"We haven't had one thousand yard rusher, much less two," Chow said. "But we want to run the ball. I can't tell you if we're going to do it better, but we're going to die trying."
The running back corps is getting a boost this year with the addition of highly touted freshmen Malcolm Jones and Jordon James in the mix for carries. Both of them were "impressive" on the first day of camp, Neuheisel said, and the starting spot is wide open.
"It's one spot where we're awfully competitive," Chow said. "We have four guys and we'll let them rip for the next three weeks and figure out who our running back is."
Smith to miss more time
Wide receiver Josh Smith left opening-day practice early after injuring his groin during a workout.
Smith, a transfer from Colorado, sat out last season because of NCAA transfer rules. He missed most of spring camp because of a knee injury, but Monday's injury was unrelated, Neuheisel said.
"This was more of a groin-glute thing," Neuheisel said. "He tweaked a muscle on the first day, so you hate to see that. Hopefully he won't be down long."
Smith is a big-play threat who averaged 13.3 yards per catch at Colorado in 2008. He also averaged more than 25 yards on kickoff returns.
Peter Yoon is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles.