UCLA post-spring position outlook: Running backs

Spring football is done, and over three months still stand between us and the start of UCLA’s third season under Jim Mora — one that comes with national title aspirations and accompanying media glare. Over the next week, this blog will cover each of the Bruins’ position groups. Next up …

Running backs

Last season was the first since 2009 that every UCLA running back finished with fewer than 600 yards. That year, the Bruins finished 7-6 overall and eighth in the Pac-10.

The situations aren’t all that similar, of course. Quarterback Brett Hundley and linebacker Myles Jack both helped buoy the running game through the final five games, combining for 584 of the team’s 1,007 yards and 12 of its 16 touchdowns. The Bruins have options on the ground, even disregarding its stable of running backs.

But those backs. Assuming injuries won’t concentrate on this unit as much as it did in 2013, there are enough bodies for at least a three- or four-man rotation through fall. Continue reading

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UCLA running backs all healthy for the first time

At long last, UCLA will have a full stable of backs. Head coach Jim Mora said starter Jordon James, Paul Perkins, Damien Thigpen, Malcolm Jones and Steve Manfro should be 100 percent healthy heading into the Sun Bowl next Tuesday.

“They all looked really sharp out here today,” Mora said. “It’s probably been since training camp that we can say that. … It’s probably the first game that they’ve all been ready to go. So we’ll have to find a way to get them all reps.” Continue reading

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Bruins honored on Pac-12 All-Academic teams

The Pac-12 announced its all-academic teams today, which you can view in full here. The 11 UCLA players mentioned are listed below.

First team
FB Phillip Ruhl, RS Jr., 3.37, Political Science
C Jake Brendel, RS So., 3.49, Economics (two-time mention)
QB Jerry Neuheisel, RS Fr., 3.56, undecided (special teams selection)

Second team
LB Aramide Olaniyan, RS Jr., 3.30, Political Science

Honorable mentions: FB Luke Gane, Rs. Jr.; LB Ryan Hofmeister, Rs. Jr.; LB Eric Kendricks, Rs. Jr.; LB Taylor Lagace, Rs. Fr.; LS Christopher Longo, Rs. So.; RB Steve Manfro, Rs. So.; RB Paul Perkins, Rs. Fr.

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Three redshirt juniors to graduate and leave UCLA


– Three redshirt juniors will be honored with UCLA seniors at halftime against Arizona State this Saturday: fullback Luke Gane, offensive/defensive lineman Brandon Willis and linebacker Aramide Olaniyan. The trio will graduate and leave the team after this season.

“We’ll miss them,” coach Jim Mora said. “They’ve been great contributors and great guys.”

– Mora said safety Tahaan Goodman has improved over the past few weeks. Continue reading

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Injury report: Three running backs battling ankle injuries

Here’s the rundown, per UCLA head coach Jim Mora: starter Jordon James is “fine”; senior Damien Thigpen is a game-time decision; reserve back Steve Manfro is out.

All three are battling ankle injuries, and both James and Thigpen entered Wednesday’s no-pads practice with their right ankles wrapped. The Bruins also have Paul Perkins and Malcolm Jones available, though the latter did not carry the ball against Arizona last Saturday.

Of breakout two-way star Myles Jack, Mora said simply: “He’s a linebacker.”

Backup left tackle Conor McDermott has also undergone shoulder surgery, the Los Angeles Times reported. Continue reading

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Jim Mora not emphasizing ‘payback’ against Stanford


– Many Bruins still have last year’s back-to-back Stanford games fresh in their minds: UCLA’s 35-17 loss at home followed by a 27-24 heartbreaker in the Pac-12 Championship. Head coach Jim Mora is trying to make sure it doesn’t become their primary focus this weekend.

“I hope that — I think somewhere deep down in their psyche is payback, payback, payback,” he said. “But if you make that your main motivation, I think you make a mistake. You have to focus on this game, this year, and what it’s going to take to win this game, this year.”

His role as a coach will be to talk to the team the right way in order to instill calm heading into the weekend.

“You don’t necessarily whip them into a frenzy on a Tuesday,” Mora said. “You let it slowly build so you create the right mindset going into a game.”

– Defensive end Ellis McCarthy is expected to play at Stanford after sitting out last Saturday with a head injury. Continue reading

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UCLA 37, Cal 10: Running back Paul Perkins


After rushing for 92 yards at Utah, redshirt freshman Paul Perkins managed just 36 yards on 14 carries. Cal stacked the box against UCLA, holding the Bruins to 2.3 yards per carry while allowing quarterback Brett Hundley to pass for 410 yards.

“They played it a little differently,” Perkins said. “The “Mike” (line)backer was man on me, so it was hard to shake him off.”

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At a glance: No. 11 UCLA vs. Cal

No. 11 UCLA (4-0, 1-0 Pac-12) vs. Cal (1-4, 0-2)
Location:
Rose Bowl, Oct. 12, 7:30 p.m.
TV: ESPN2 (Mike Patrick, Ed Cunningham, Jeannine Edwards)
Radio: 570 AM (Chris Roberts, Matt Stevens, Wayne Cook)

Last meeting: Cal upset No. 25 UCLA, 43-17, in what was the Bruins’ worst outing of 2012. The Bears picked off Brett Hundley four times and sacked him five times.
2012 records: Bruins (9-5, 6-3); Bears (3-9, 2-7)

Key storylines: UCLA won’t likely peek forward to next weekend’s Stanford trip. No, most of the team is still seething over last year’s 43-17 upset loss to Cal.

“You can tell on all their faces,” said true freshman linebacker Myles Jack. “They have a bitter feeling about that game. Coach Mora, he’s still sour about that game. I’m just feeding off that energy.”

Jack and the rest of the team shouldn’t have much trouble exacting revenge. The Bruins are a better squad than they were last year, and the Bears are significantly worse.

Led by first-year head coach Sonny Dykes, Cal is limping through its rebuilding season. Continue reading

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Jim Mora: DE Ellis McCarthy doubtful for Saturday


– According to UCLA head coach Jim Mora, nothing about Cal quarterback Jared Goff’s film makes him look like a true freshman.

“His poise for his age and his experience (stand out),” Mora said. “His ability to get the ball out of his hand quickly and throw accurately. His decision-making. I think he’s a really good football player.”

– Defensive end Ellis McCarthy returned to practice after suffering a head injury against Utah last Thursday. He did light work on the sideline and is still doubtful to play Saturday. Continue reading

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Notes: Ellis McCarthy injured, Brandon Willis playing OL


– Ellis McCarthy missed both Monday and Tuesday’s practices with a head injury. Mora said the starting left end is improving, but not yet asymptomatic. If he isn’t cleared by Saturday’s game, freshman Kylie Fitts will see increased snaps.

Running back Jordon James (ankle) is still doubtful to play against Cal. Considering how capable Paul Perkins is as well as the depth the Bruins have at tailback, I’d be very surprised if James gets any carries.

– Buried on the depth chart, junior defensive lineman Brandon Willis asked coaches for a chance to play on the other side of the trenches. He started taking some snaps at guard today, and could be used there in late-game situations or in an emergency.

“It was his idea to go over there and give it a shot,” Mora said. “He could be a two-way player for us. … He’s our Ironman.”

“The kid wants to help the team. Because really, who wants to be an offensive lineman?,” Mora joked. Continue reading

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