- Peter Yoon, ESPNLosAngeles.com
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Derrick Coleman patiently waited on the sidelines in the first half of Saturday's game against San Jose State as his running back mate Johnathan Franklin struggled to get yards against a Spartans defense committed to stopping the run.
Coleman wanted a shot at that defense, but he watched without complaint as UCLA churned out only 51 yards rushing in the first half against a Spartans defense that is marginal at best.
And then at halftime came word from the coaching staff that brought a smile to Coleman's face: It's time to unleash the thunder.
Coleman, a 240-pound bruising senior, proceeded to lower his shoulders and plow through defenders en route to a 135-yard second half that basically carried the Bruins to a 27-17 victory. He used his straight-ahead, physical style to wear down the Spartans, who seemed all too willing to avoid contact with the rock-solid runner.
"We came in at halftime and said we need to stop playing around with them," Coleman said. "We’ve got to hit them in the mouth. They hit us in the mouth. They stopped our running game and forced us to pass and we said we’re not going to let them stop us off the line."
Coleman became the perfect weapon of choice for that strategy. Franklin is unquestionably the team's lead runner, his 1,127 yards rushing last season and 128 in Week 1 this season are plenty of evidence of that, but Coleman's power game proved a valuable counterpart to Franklin's speed and elusiveness.
"It’s nice to have in your back pocket when you have a guy you call your thumper," offensive coordinator Mike Johnson said. "A guy who can go in there and close out games and execute run plays in the fourth quarter when you need them. I like both our backs. They both have a certain style and a role and at the end of games when you have to go pound somebody, I think Derrick Coleman fits that role."
It's a role that could come in handy again this week when UCLA plays Texas. The Longhorns always play hard-nosed defense and this year is no exception as they have held opponents to 86.5 yards rushing and 12.5 points a game. Last year, however, Coleman had a breakout performance against Texas when he rushed for 94 yards in 16 carries during a 34-12 UCLA victory.
And UCLA is quite willing to take on that nasty-boy personality when Coleman comes in the game. His play inspired the offensive line, which began to use its size and strength to wear down the smaller Spartans.
"Sometimes you just have to get your hard hats on and go smack some people," offensive lineman Sean Sheller said. "That's what we did when Derrick was in there. "We just came out with that mentality that we’re going to smack them in the face no matter how many guys show up, we’re going to keep blocking them. You see him running like that and it kind of brings that out in everybody."
He's not the flashy, speedy, elusive back that will break off 80-yard touchdown runs, but Coleman is certainly effective in certain situations. Third and short, for instance, and when you want to run one into the end zone from the one-yard line, Coleman is a pretty tough load to stop.
"Everybody has one running back, but if you have two, it’s much more effective," Coleman said. "I’m trying to go in there and pound it and get as many yards as I can possibly get and pound it real hard. When it comes to that forth and one, I want to be the guy they call on. I want to get the hard, tough yards and I’m going to keep pounding, pounding until they let me go."