UCLA backup tailback and kick returner Damien Thigpen tore his ACL against USC, robbing the Bruins of the fastest player of their roster. Thigpen led the team with 17 plays of over 20 yards, and was used all over the field.
The junior had sat out UCLA’s win over Washington State with a sprained knee, but was thought to be fully healthy heading into the game against USC.
“We’ve got to move on,” said head coach Jim Mora. “Someone or a combination of people have to step in.”
The biggest hole he leaves is on special teams. Thigpen took 14 of UCLA’s 30 kick returns this year, amassing 376 yards with a long of 55. Devin Fuller returned four kickoffs for 56 yards on Saturday, while Roosevelt Davis returned one for 21 yards. Competition is still open moving forward, but no one on the roster has Thigpen’s gamebreaker potential.
His absence also opens up backfield touches behind tailback Johnathan Franklin, most of which will likely be absorbed by Jordon James. Thigpen had 50 carries to James’ 52 this year, but was averaging 5.2 yards per carry to James’ 3.8.
Mora has made a point of keeping Franklin fresh for the fourth quarter all season, but UCLA now has only two tailbacks with more than 16 carries on the season.