COLLEGE FOOTBALL / DAILY REPORT : UCLA : Volunteers Running Deep at Tailback
How good are Tennessee’s running backs?
“I think they’re better than their offensive line,” UCLA Coach Terry Donahue said Monday.
The Volunteers’ offensive line returns intact from last season and is expected to be their strength when they play the Bruins in the opener Saturday night at the Rose Bowl.
Donahue’s knowledge of the Tennessee backs comes second hand, from Jacob Birney, a former UCLA assistant who became an assistant at Knoxville before moving to the NFL.
“Jacob says that they have four tailbacks who can start for anybody,” Donahue said.
Chief among them is starter James Stewart, a 218-pounder called “Little Man” in Tennessee. He rushed for 939 yards last season. Aaron Hayden, Jay Graham and Mose Phillips are the others on Birney’s highlight list. Phillips plays fullback.
Donahue said the Bruins will probably use five backs, with Sharmon Shah the No. 1 tailback if he can play, Daron Washington No. 1 if Shah can’t. Shah practiced Monday and is being watched closely to see if his ailing right knee has improved. Donahue said that if it isn’t, the alternative is surgery. “It’s that drastic,” he said.
The other backs are James Milliner, the No. 1 fullback who has run some plays at tailback; Shaun Williams, a freshman tailback who has a groin injury, and Greg Ford, a walk-on freshman fullback who has played his way into scholarship status.
More than a name: Primarily because of his stature, 5 feet 10 and 250 pounds, Ford was passed over by recruiters before being invited to walk on at UCLA. Tennessee also has a 5-foot-10, 250-pound fullback--Chester Ford.
Linebacker Jeff Ruckman is not expected to play Saturday night because of a back injury. . . . UCLA’s season-opening depth chart includes Travis Kirschke being moved from No. 2 nose guard to defensive tackle, with freshman Danjuan Magee of Long Beach backing up George Kase at nose guard. . . . It also includes a veteran offense, with juniors or seniors at every starting position if sophomore Shah is unable to start at tailback and senior Washington takes his place. . . . Three sophomores are listed as defensive starters--outside linebacker Phillip Ward and safeties Abdul McCullough and Paul Guidry. . . . McCullough will get double duty, including special teams play. “He was our best special-teams player last season,” Donahue said. “Nobody else was even close.”