PASADENA, Calif.--For three consecutive weeks to start the season, UCLA has been riding it's running game at full speed ahead but that prolific rushing attack had a significant slowdown Saturday during a 27-20 loss to Oregon State.
The Bruins rushed for only 72 yards, well below the 311 they were averaging before the game, and Heisman Trophy hopeful Johnathan Franklin managed only 45 yards after averaging 180 through the first three games.
The Bruins plummeted to 14th in the nation in rushing after the game when they had been fifth before it. Franklin topped the national rushing leaders list before playing Oregon State, but fell to No. 4 after getting bottled up by the Beavers.
The bottom line is that we struggled to move people off the line of scrimmage," coach Jim Mora said. "We just struggled to move people at the point of attack and get some cutoff blocks. It was uncharacteristic of the way we’ve been able to execute in the run game this year."
The Beavers are getting pretty good at derailing Heisman hopes. Two weeks before slowing Franklin, Oregon State held Montee Ball of Wisconsin to 61 yards. That means the Beavers this year have now held strong against last year's national rushing leader and the guy who was leading the nation this year.
"I don’t know what their scheme was, but they did a great job doing it," Franklin said. "They have some great coaches over there. Great linebackers, great d-line, they just played well."
The scheme, Mora said, was "nothing special." A week earlier, Houston tried blitzing the gaps in order to slow the UCLA run game and it worked to an extent, but Oregon State played the Bruins pretty much straight up.
They brought their safeties closer to the line of scrimmage, but that was about it, and Mora said Oregon State simply played a good game.
"We knew going in that this was a very good defensive football team and a very good defensive front and that proved to be true," Mora said.
The inability to run clearly hampered UCLA's ability to move the ball and sustain drives. UCLA got one or zero first downs on eight of its 15 possessions and 11 of its drives were five plays or fewer. The Bruins converted only two of 15 third downs and quarterback Brett Hundley had an inconsistent game.
"When we can’t run the football it puts a lot of pressure on Brett and the receivers," offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone said. "I was surprised that we didn’t run the football a little bit better. We should be able to."
Injuries on the offensive line had something to do with that. Starting right guard Jeff Baca missed the Houston game and did not practice early last week. Greg Capella was slotted to take his place, but suffered a concussion during practice and was ruled out.
Mora expected Baca to get cleared to play in the game, but medical staff determined Baca to be unfit to play so Mora was forced to use Brett Downey and Albert Cid at right guard against Oregon State. Those two got very little practice time before playing in the game.
"It’s unfortunate that they didn’t get the work and they were thrown in there to do it," Mora said. "If this were the NFL, I’d say, 'too bad you’re a pro get out there and do it.' But we’re not dealing with professional athletes here. We were down into an area of our depth chart where guys just don’t get a lot of work."
It's impossible to know how much of a difference more preparation for the offensive line would have made because Oregon State simply dominated up front. UCLA had 28 rushing attempts and 17 of them went for three yards or fewer. Damien Thigpen and Jordon James combined for minus-five yards in six carries and neither player had a carry that gained positive yards.
Of UCLA's 72 yards rushing, 25 came on a broken play in which Hundley scrambled for a big gain and Franklin didn't have a run longer than six yards in the first half.
"I think we saw hints of execution but maybe someone was hesitating or something," UCLA guard Xavier Su'a-Filo said. "They weren’t trying to scheme us, they were just trying to play their game and they prepared well. Hats off to the defensive line for Oregon State. They came hard and played well."