Perkins’ ‘hot’ for UCLA run game

The running game.

It hasn’t been dismal, yet it hasn’t been a strength. Myles Jack is great, but he’s a phenomenal linebacker. Brett Hundley is fast and smart, but he’s the quarterback.

Two years ago, Hundley and Johnathan Franklin were a formidable combination together. But last year, it was all on the legs of Hundley, with Jack then playing a supporting role later in the season. And Jack, despite his love of running the ball, is too good at linebacker to be a permanent solution on offense. 

However, Paul Perkins might be the solution.

The redshirt sophomore running back has led UCLA in rushing yards through the first two games of the season after Hundley led nearly every game last year. He runs fast and hard; he follows his blockers and leaps his defenders. Perkins netted 98 yards and scored two touchdowns in Saturday’s win over Memphis. 

Right now, Perkins is the hot hand and the Bruins are going to capitalize until he cools off. 

"It’s funny, my dad asked me before the game who was starting at running back and I said, ‘I don’t know,’" head coach Jim Mora said. "It really doesn’t matter to us, it’s who’s hot, that’s who is going to get the ball. Paul, now for two weeks in a row, has run the ball well, so we’re going to feed it to him."

There’s a comfort level between Perkins and Hundley, one that comes from years of friendship and years of teaming up in the backfield. But with Steven Manfro out for the season with a torn ACL and Jordon James struggling to establish himself as the backfield threat he was a year ago, the job might be Perkins’ to lose.

"I love him in the backfield, it goes back to high school days," Hundley said. "It just feels like normal."

But still, the Bruins rushed for only 144 yards. Mora felt like there were more opportunities where he could have used Jack in the jumbo package but, with the defense so taxed against Memphis’ misdirection offense, it was a tough call.

"You can’t take away from what he does best and make him average at two things," he said Sunday. "It’s a delicate dance because he’s such a great linebacker."

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Everyone is in agreement: UCLA can hold nothing back right now. The ground game needs to be established and that means Perkins, Jack, Hundley and James. 

"It helps the passing game," Hundley said. "We were able to wrack up about 400 passing today but to be able to have that running game always helps. With Paul back there with Jordon James, they did a great job for us with running pass protection but we would like to establish it a little more."

"I liked (Perkins), but I’d still like to get a little more production out of our run game," offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone said. "Being able to run the football, that’s an area that we kind of need to see progress right now at that spot. I was happy, I saw Starks in there a couple times and think he did a couple nice things. But I think we’ve just got to get better in that area."