Next week, Damien Thigpen will take his first game snaps since tearing his ACL last November.
The senior shed his no-contact red jersey early this month, and had long pegged the Oct. 3 game as a potential comeback date. Last year, the speedy running back finished third on the team with 849 all-purpose yards despite sitting out the final three games of the season.
His return crowds a backfield that has performed surprisingly well so far this season, but he could also be used as a slot receiver in certain packages.
“It would be great to get him a few carries,” head coach Jim Mora said. “It’s not that you want to get your running backs hit, but when you’re coming off an injury like that, it’s important that you take some shots. You build confidence when you do. We’re going to give him a couple of carries at least.”
Mora added that Thigpen isn’t ready to work as a kick returner yet — he took back 14 for 376 yards in 2012 — but could see special team snaps in another role. The coach has also seen enough that he no longer cringes when the senior takes a hit.
“I was three weeks ago. Now I’m not,” Mora said. “I’m not just because of his body language. He’s very confident and he looks like he’s going full-speed through his cuts. He’s not tiptoeing through the holes. He’s hitting it.”
— UCLA has what Mora said amounts to 2.5 bye weeks this year: the one that prefaced the Nebraska game, this week, and the extra days following next Thursday’s game. If he only had one, however, he choose it use it now to help his players adjust to the first day of classes.
“There’s so much going on,” Mora said. “There’s so much transition. They’re moving into different dorms. They’re trying to find their classrooms. They’re getting used to the new schedule. I think this is the perfect week to have the bye.”
— Being on an academic quarter system also gives the Bruins an edge. UCLA doesn’t start classes until this Thursday, whereas schools on a semester system began in late August. The Bruins’ first three opponents — Nevada, Nevada and New Mexico State — were all on a semester schedule.
“It gives us an opportunity to focus on football only,” Mora said. “I think it’s a tremendous advantage. But we still have to make this adjustment now going forward. We have to be able balance athletics, academics, and the social part. The social part changes as well. We add about 25,000 students to this campus.”