Tuesday, November 8, 2011
Bruins are hoping for the 200-yard dash
By Peter Yoon
UCLA's magic number to clinch a berth in the Pac-12 title game currently stands at three.
And the magic number that will get them there is 200.
Ever since the Bruins switch to the Pistol-based offense before last season, running for 200 yards or more has pretty much dictated whether or not UCLA wins or loses. They are 8-1 when they rush for 200 yards or more over the last two seasons, losing only this year's opener at Houston.
They are 1-11 in games in which they haven't reached 200 yards rushing, with the only victory coming this year when they had 170 yards rushing against Washington State.
So if UCLA is to run the table on the season, it will need running backs Johnathan Franklin and Derrick Coleman and quarterback Kevin Prince to continue on the pace that has piled up 514 yards rushing over the last two games.
"The run game is what makes this offense go," offensive coordinator Mike Johnson said. "The last two weeks it's been going and going well, clicking in all phases at certain points. And that allows use to use run action and add other things to our offense to make us more effective."
The two-pronged running back attack of Franklin and Coleman has been a constant in most of those games, but another common denominator has been Prince's ability to run. Over the last two seasons, Prince has started in four of UCLA's nine victories and he has rushed for at least 50 yards in each of them.
The past two weeks he's rushed for 163 and 61 yards--a key reason why UCLA has gone for 294 and 220 yards rushing in winning both of those games. When defenses have to account for a quarterback who can gain that kind of yardage, the Pistol-based attack becomes a well-oiled machine.
"That makes the offense complete," coach Rick Neuheisel said.
This year's version, however, has another dimension to it: The downfield pass. Last year, after defensive coordinators got a hold of a few game tapes, they were able to shut down UCLA's offense because the Bruins had no threat in the passing game.
But this year, receiver Nelson Rosario has hauled in several long catches and with weapons such as Josh Smith and Shaquelle Evans blossoming into legitimate threats, defenses no longer can afford to focus on UCLA's run game because the Bruins make them pay if they do.
With 1,766 yards passing this season, the Bruins have already surpassed last year's season total of 1,693. And while the 196.2 per-game average isn't all that great, it's an increase of more than 55 yards per game over last season's 141.1. More importantly, however, UCLA is averaging 8.3 yards per attempt which is tied for No. 19 in the nation.
"Our offense has evolved," Neuheisel said. "The goal coming into this season was to create some balance. To create some ability to get the ball down the field and we don’t necessarily do it a lot. We’ve been averaging somewhere around 20 passes a game with Kevin in there. But if your yards per attempt in that are up to snuff, then you can be effective."
Still it all begins with the run game. The shiftiness of Franklin has produced 606 yards and four touchdowns while the bruising of Coleman has churned out another 542 yards and 11 touchdowns--tied for 13th in the nation.
And now with the sneaky-fast Prince showing he can get the job done and get through a game in which he is taking hits, 200 yards a game on the ground should seem like a walk in the park. And that can only mean good things for the Bruins.
"Those guys play hard and play well and we're going to continue to ride them as long as we can," Neuheisel said.