Jordon James jump-starts UCLA’s running game at Nebraska

UCLA running back Jordon James gets past Nebraska defensive back Nathan Gerry during the Bruins' 41-21 victory on Saturday.
(Eric Francis / Getty Images)

LINCOLN, Neb. — Jordon James, UCLA’s introverted running back, is uncomfortable in the spotlight.

Problem is, he keeps gaining all these yards.

James ground out 105 in a 41-21 victory over Nebraska on Saturday, 38 on a draw play that wasn’t even in the game plan at the start. It was his second 100-yard effort in as many games.

“This was a great team win,” James said, when asked whether this was different than the 155 yards he gained against Nevada in the season opener. He added that “Nebraska is a great defense. We just tried to do the best we could.”


But guard Xavier Su’a-Filo brought the enthusiasm to the moment.

“We get a lot of joy from guys getting 100-yard games,” Su’a-Filo said. “We’re proud of Jordon. We’re glad he has the confidence in the offensive line. He trusts us to open holes and make plays. Running the ball is what offensive linemen want.”

It’s what offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone wants as well. It just took a little time to get his backs going.

“I think all the running backs stopped looking for the big play and started taking the yards they could get,” Mazzone said. “When backs start looking for 50-yard runs, they usually end up with minus-five yards on plays. Jordon started taking three yards when they gave him three yards.”

The Bruins had 27 yards rushing at halftime. The running game shook loose on James’ 38-yard run on Bruins’ first play of the second half.

“It got us going,” Mazzone said. “The great thing was, that wasn’t even in the game plan. Halftime we said, ‘Let’s try something.’”

UCLA finished with 210 yards rushing.

Special moment

Nebraska officials, players and fans joined in celebrating Nick Pasquale’s life. The UCLA receiver died last week when struck by a car.

Nebraska players wore stickers with Pasquale’s No. 36 on their helmets. There was a moment of silence before the game, which was followed by Nebraska students releasing blue and gold balloons — UCLA’s colors.

Following the game, UCLA Coach Jim Mora said, “I want to start by saying a very heartfelt thanks to [Nebraska] Athletic Director Shawn Eichorst, head Coach Bo Pelini, the Husker nation, their fans, their students and their players for the compassion they showed us this week. I thought it was an incredible gesture they made here, and I think it kind of shows the class here at Nebraska.”

Delayed debut

Sean Covington, UCLA’s freshman punter, didn’t get to ply his trade against Nevada in the season opener.

The first punt of his college career came against Nebraska and traveled 29 yards, pinning the Cornhuskers on their nine-yard line. His second punt went 67 yards and put the Cornhuskers on the three.

His third … well, Covington would prefer to forget that. He mishandled the snap and took a 12-yard loss. It set up a Nebraska touchdown.

Ruhl the school

UCLA fullback Phillip Ruhl, a walk-on, caught a 12-yard touchdown pass Saturday. It was his second touchdown of the season. He returned a blocked punt four yards for a touchdown against Nevada.

Taylor made

Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez threw for 203 yards and three touchdowns. But he was held in check as a runner, finishing with a minus-13 yards on 10 carries.

A year ago, Martinez had 112 yards rushing against UCLA.

“Taylor really hurt us last year,” Mora said. “We felt like we needed to make him throw, not to take anything away from his ability as a passer. We just felt he is most dangerous when he is creating things out there. We wanted to stop their running, but we wanted to stop Martinez running.”

Nebraska finished with 128 yards rushing.

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