Johnathan Franklin is battered but unbowed
UCLA running back Johnathan Franklin has shown some wear, but no tears, six games into the season.
Franklin was slowed during the second half of a 43-17 loss to California on Saturday because of minor injuries, Coach Jim Mora said. Franklin had a bruised muscle in his calf and a bruised hand but still ran for 103 yards in 15 carries. He ranks seventh in the nation in rushing, averaging 133.33 yards per game.
Franklin had only two carries in the fourth quarter against Cal. Of his 53 yards rushing in the second half, 26 came on one run early in the third quarter.
“We limited his number of plays,” Mora said. “A lot of his second-half production had to do with him being banged up. He was fighting through it, but we had to move him in and out.”
Twice in the fourth quarter, the Bruins started drives with runs by Franklin. He gained two yards on one and three yards on the other. Franklin had a 20-yard pass reception to the eight-yard line with eight minutes left, but it was called back because of a holding penalty.
Franklin made no excuses after the game. “We made a lot of mistakes,” he said. “A lot of penalties, a lot of sacks. . . . You have adversity on the road, you’ve got to learn from it.”
Before the season Mora had said of Franklin, “We’re going ride him to death,” and early on he was up to the task. He opened the season with consecutive 200-yard games.
In a 36-30 victory over Nebraska in the Bruins’ second game, Franklin ran for 217 yards in 26 carries.
But Franklin’s workload has dropped in the three weeks following a 25-carry, 110-yard game against Houston. Before the California game, he had 12 carries for 45 yards against Oregon State and 15 for 111 against Colorado.
“It’s the time of the season where, if you’re a running back, you start to feel the hits,” Mora said.
Franklin has 800 yards rushing this season, and is averaging 7.4 per carry.
Jordon James and Damien Thigpen are Franklin’s backups. James had 14 yards rushing and Thigpen had five against California.
Freshman kicker Ka’imi Fairbairn made a 29-yard field goal against California but also missed from 46 yards. It left him 0 for 3 in attempts of 40 yards or more.
Fairbairn has demonstrated plenty of leg strength, with accuracy, during practice. But the accuracy has not been there in games, at least from long range.
“I’m trying to help this kid develop by putting him in positions where he can succeed and not fail,” Mora said. “I want him to make field goals and I want him to feel confident that he can go out and make a 46-yarder. He hasn’t really showed in competition that he’s ready to do that. He does it in practice all the time.”
Mora said he’s convinced that Fairbairn “is going to be a great kicker. He really is. He has the right mind-set. I’m just trying not to screw him up.”
Mora also said, “I don’t know if we have a better option right now.”
Punter Jeff Locke made field goals from 49 and 51 yards against Texas last season, but so far Mora has resisted using him.
“He just doesn’t seem as comfortable doing that,” Mora said of Locke. “Maybe I’ll talk to him about it, though.”
The Bruins (4-2, 1-2 in the Pac-12) have played teams that have a combined record of 14-18 this season. Their last six games are against teams that are 19-13.
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