UCLA’s ground game seeks a breakthrough against Stanford
LOS ANGELES (AP) UCLA has struggled to run the ball and stop Stanford’s rushing attack during its nine-game losing streak against the Cardinal.
The Bruins are hoping to reverse both trends on Saturday and get coach Jim Mora his first win in the rivalry.
”The coaches are saying that we need to basically leave it all on the field,” right guard Michael Alves said. ”I mean, of course that’s the expectation for every game, but they said this is the specific game that we really need to really put forth all our effort.”
Mora is 0-6 against Stanford. Since he took over, the Bruins have averaged 31.3 carries for 131.5 yards rushing per game against the Cardinal. But that total is buoyed by UCLA’s 284 yards in the 2012 Pac-12 championship game.
Looking at just the regular season, UCLA is averaging 3.36 yards per attempt and totaling 101 yards per game. That includes a meager 77 yards on 33 carries last season, when Stanford scored two touchdowns in the final 24 seconds for a 22-13 comeback win.
”This is only my second year,” Alves said. ”I’m not too familiar with all of it, but I remember last year was a close game. I thought we were going to win.”
Stanford has struggled to defend the run this season. It allowed 307 yards rushing in a 42-24 loss to Southern California in the conference opener, and No. 22 San Diego State ran for 171 yards in a 20-17 win last week.
Alves said those totals reflect what the Trojans and Aztecs did right, not what Stanford did wrong.
”It’s just the offenses are executing well,” Alves said. ”Every block they are making perfectly, so all we have to do is make our blocks and there should be holes there.”
UCLA’s new offense under first-year coordinator Jedd Fisch has come close to achieving similar success, but still has work to do. After abandoning the run to stage an unlikely 45-44 rally against Texas A&M, UCLA rushed for 132 yards against Hawaii and 170 yards in last week’s loss at Memphis.
Fisch chooses not to evaluate his run game by the final yardage total. Instead, he wants UCLA to average at least 4.5 yards per carry. By that measure, the last two outings were successful, including a season-best 5.1 yards per attempt against the Tigers.
Still, there were too many breakdowns for new offensive line coach Hank Fraley’s liking.
”I think that every time we run the ball we miss it by that much,” Alves said. ”When we have a negative play, we have a gain for less than 4 yards, I think we miss it by maybe one block, maybe half a block, so coach Fraley has been stressing that we need to finish our blocks. We need to make sure we’re doing everything he is teaching us. Then we won’t have those little mistakes and we’ll be able to open big holes.”
Getting the run game in gear would also help UCLA avoid the massive time of possession disparity Stanford usually has been able to build, averaging 45.3 carries for 217 yards against Mora’s defenses.
If UCLA’s offense can turn the tables with the run, it would be a welcome change for the Bruins. But Fisch won’t go with the run simply for the sake of being stubborn.
”I think the run game has progressed each week. I don’t really look at it in terms of what we have to do, run or pass. I just look at it we have to move the football,” Fisch said. ”We have a good quarterback, so it’s OK to pass it.”