Bruins’ struggling running game faces a challenge against Temple

By Chris Foster

Los Angeles Times

December 20, 2009

UCLA’s running game has been elusive this season, though that’s not so much a description of its running backs’ shiftiness and effectiveness.

The Bruins have struggled to generate a consistent ground game all season. Their current tailback, Chane Moline, is a plodder. Their fastest tailback, Johnathan Franklin, has had fumble issues. UCLA had fewer than 100 yards rushing as a team in six of 12 games, and lost four of those games.

The Bruins go once more into that breach against Temple in the EagleBank Bowl on Dec. 29. The Owls rank 19th in the nation in rushing defense, giving up 108.8 yards per game, and UCLA ranks 98th in rushing offense, averaging 116.2 yards per game.

Moline is expected to start the game, but Franklin is certain to play.

“Obviously, we have to create a more efficient running game,” Coach Rick Neuheisel said. “We don’t want to have to lean on the passing game too much and lean on our protection too much.”

Moline had a plow-horse-like day against Arizona State, gaining 84 yards. He was less effective against USC, with 15 yards in seven carries.

Franklin leads the team with 597 yards and has shown the breakaway speed to get quick scores. But the fumbles have reduced his playing time. He has only 36 carries in the six games since rushing for 101 yards against California.

“I’m definitely trying to earn some trust back from the coaches,” said Franklin, a redshirt freshman.

“This is the longest season I have ever had, the longest time I have ever been on the football field. I’m getting used to it, slowly but surely, but it’s a long time.”

Running backs coach Wayne Moses has used the week to “get back to the fundamentals and getting it back in perspective to see who needs to work on what.”

Golden opportunity?

Temple, a college football doormat so long “welcome” could have been stenciled on the jerseys, is enjoying one of the finest seasons in the program’s 112-year history. And the capper for the Owls would be a victory over a team from a Bowl Championship Series conference in a bowl game.

“No. 1, any bowl victory is a great bowl victory,” Coach Al Golden said. “But when you play a team with the tradition, notoriety and brand like UCLA, it is sure to add significance in terms of perception and in terms of being accepted nationally.

“Don’t think we don’t understand for a second the magnitude of playing someone like UCLA.”

Temple’s last victory over a team from a BCS conference was a 34-24 victory over Syracuse in a Big East Conference game in 2004. The Owls have lost 15 consecutive games against BCS conference teams since and have a 14-118 record against BCS conference teams since 1991.

Quick hits

Quarterback Kevin Prince (shoulder) continued to take a significant amount of reps. Neuheisel said, “I’m not ready to rule Kevin out.” Asked whether he was closer to ruling Prince in, Neuheisel said, “yeah, closer, but I’ve got to see more.” . . . Running back Christian Ramirez sat out practice Saturday because “he couldn’t find his car keys,” Neuheisel said. . . . Tight end Nate Chandler is unlikely to play in the bowl game after pulling a left quadriceps muscle in the left leg.