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Sunday, September 25, 2011
Run game carries on without Franklin

By Peter Yoon

CORVALLIS, Ore. -- If UCLA's running game is the engine that drives its offense, then Johnathan Franklin is the spark plug that gets it started.

He's the team's MVP from last year after a 1,127-yard rushing season and was the leading rusher in every game last year.

So when Franklin went out because of a hip contusion Saturday at Oregon State, there was some reason for concern that the UCLA rushing attack might run out of gas.

The concern was for naught.

Derrick Coleman, whose role has been the pounding, short-yardage back, showed he could carry the load of a lead back when he rushed for 100 yards in 20 carries after Franklin left the game early in the second quarter. And Malcolm Jones, who had only one carry this season coming in to the game, proved a worthy backup to Coleman with 38 yards in nine carries.

Add in the production from F-back Jordon James, who carried for 25 yards on consecutive sweeps during a fourth-quarter scoring drive, and it all added up to a running attack that showed it could survive without its leader. UCLA ran for 211 yards, the third time in four games the Bruins have gone over 200 yards on the ground, and defeated the Beavers, 27-19.

"I don’t worry about who is back there running," offensive coordinator Mike Johnson said. "You just call the runs and let those guys go. We’ve got a couple big backs and a couple of scat backs. We’ve got guys who can go in there and handle the load. If Johnathan is out, you definitely miss him, but I think the other guys are capable."

Franklin who had a team-best 267 yards through the first three games and had 36 yards in six carries at the time of his injury Saturday, is, without a doubt, the lead back in UCLA's offense. His rushing total last season was the 10th highest in UCLA history and was the first Bruin since Maurice Jones-Drew with three consecutive 100-yard games.

But Saturday, the Bruins were forced to try and grind it out without their leader and did just that. Their rushing total was right in line with their season average of 214. They controlled the pace of the game and kept the ball out of Oregon State's hands for large chunks. Other teams may have taken to the air without their leading rusher, but UCLA stayed grounded and it worked.

"Our game plan every week is going to be to pound it," coach Rick Neuheisel said. "That’s the identity we’ve chosen by going to this brand of offense."

Franklin called the experience of sitting out "humbling." He also said he probably could have played through it, but resting was the more prudent thing to do when you have such a strong stable of backups to pick up the slack.

"I was happy and excited to see Malcolm run the ball and Jordon being able to run the ball and Derrick showing what he can do," Franklin said. "We knew the run game wouldn't suffer just because one of us got hurt. The whole team has confidence is all of us. If it’s me, if it’s Derrick, if it’s Jordon James or Malcolm, we all believe in all of us."

Coleman said his mindset stayed the same even though his role changed from bruiser to lead back. He wasn't trying to match the production of Franklin, who is known more for speed and shiftiness and does his best work by finding daylight. Coleman, a solid 240-pound rock, runs through defenders, not around them, even if he's getting the ball a career-high 20 times.

"My mindset is the same whenever I go in," he said. "I just have to go in there and do my job no matter what. I’m not going to let anything else influence me. I’m just trying to get four or five yards a carry. I’m not worrying about anything else. That’s my job. I’m trying to pound it. That’s my role on the team. That’s what my team expects me to do."

And that role has been quite effective. Coleman now has two 100-yard games this season and has led the team in rushing in both of those games. Those also happen to be the two games UCLA has won, doing so mainly handing the ball to Coleman and letting him grind out yards and control the clock.

"Derrick Coleman has been as valuable a player as we have on this team through four games," Neuheisel said. "As he keeps pounding away, it takes a toll on the defense because they have to tackle that guy."

Still, Franklin was missed, Coleman said.

"If he was in there, we would have run for 400 yards," Coleman said. "It was a setback, it was a big loss, but he’s going to heal and he’s going to be fine."

Franklin said he planned to return Saturday when UCLA plays at Stanford, and if he does, he'll resume his role as lead back. If not, the Bruins know their run game is in good hands.