Only nine freshman linemen started for Pac-12 Conference football teams last week. UCLA had three of them — center Jake Brendel and tackles Torian White and Simon Goines.
That statistic as much as any underscores the challenge UCLA coaches face each game.
“That’s a delicate balancing, giving them confidence and holding them accountable,” Coach Jim Mora said. “The trap is to think, ‘Oh they’re young.’
“That’s an out. It’s a reason, but it can’t be an excuse.”
The Bruins didn’t need a reason or an excuse through the first three weeks. The offense ranked third in the nation in yards. But then Oregon State held UCLA to 72 yards rushing Saturday.
It was a reminder that three-fifths of the offensive line has a combined 12 college games on their resume.
The Bruins still rank 14th nationally in rushing offense, averaging 251.5 yards per game. But a youth movement comes with growing pains.
Brendel and White are redshirt freshmen; Goines was playing for Keller (Texas) Central High at this time last season.
“Simon is doing a great job. You can’t ask him to do much more,” Brendel said. “If I was thrown in there last year it would have been crazy.
“It’s different for Torian and I. We had that extra year. Practice might not be game speed, but it’s pretty close.”
The only other first-year freshman lineman to start for a Pac-12 team last week was Oregon State center Isaac Seumalo.
“It’s the same game as high school, it’s just faster, has a lot more force,” Brendel said. “The speed of the game is key. You don’t have a lot of time to make adjustments.”
Brendel was ticketed to start this season — “I had no choice but to adapt and learn,” he said — but White and Goines developed into the best options.
Wade Yandall, who was competing for a starting guard spot, retired because of multiple concussions. That prompted Xavier Su’a-Filo to move from tackle to guard and opened one tackle spot.
Said Mora: “How much do you push and prod them? You have to keep their confidence up but they have to learn. You don’t want to brow-beat them, but you have to coach them. It’s a great challenge. Simon just turned 18. He’s still developing his personality, much less his football ability.”
The Bruins’ offensive line may get a boost this week. Guard Jeff Baca could practice as soon as Tuesday and be ready for Saturday’s game at Colorado.
Baca missed the last two games after experiencing headaches, which led to concerns about blood vessels in his head.
Images were taken by a small camera that was inserted into a blood vessel in Baca’s leg. Doctors cleared him Sunday night and he can practice as soon as he recovers from the medical procedure.
Mora said guard Greg Capella, Baca’s backup, has a concussion. He missed the Oregon State game.
Rocky Mountain high
Colorado is coming off a 35-34 victory over Washington State. It was the Buffaloes’ first victory, and followed back-to-back, embarrassing losses to Fresno State (69-14) and Sacramento State (30-28).
“We try to stay away from looking at a team’s record,” Mora said. “That takes the focus off what we need to do.”
UCLA’s last visit to Boulder ended with a 16-14 loss in 2003.