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UCLA's football team can't run, and therefore can't pass

UCLA's football team can't run, and therefore can't pass
UCLA running back Nate Starks (23) looks for some room to run against Arizona State on Saturday night. (Christian Petersen / Getty Images)

There was no pretense about UCLA's running game late Saturday night, no talk about yards left on the field or pledges that things would get better.

The resolve of the previous weeks was replaced by something closer to resignation.

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The realization that the Bruins aren't even mediocre at running the ball was taking hold. What happened during a 23-20 loss to Arizona State at Sun Devil Stadium qualified as a supercharged reverse for a group of tailbacks who already were largely running in place.

UCLA entered the game seeking a 100-yard rusher for the first time this season and left it in search of positive yardage. The Bruins were continually pushed backward against the Sun Devils, being held to minus-one rushing yards.

"We can't run the football at all," UCLA Coach Jim Mora said after the Bruins registered their lowest rushing output since they were held to minus-nine yards against Oregon in September 2000. "When you can't run the football and you have to throw every down, then they can pin their ears back and come after you, which they do. Unfortunately, we couldn't protect tonight either."

Arizona State sacked quarterbacks Josh Rosen and Mike Fafaul a combined five times, knocking Rosen out of the game for a second time with about 3 1/2 minutes left and then bringing down Fafaul twice on UCLA's final drive.

Even disregarding those negative plays, the numbers were hideous for the Bruins. Tailback Soso Jamabo ran for nine yards and averaged three yards per carry. Nate Starks received the bulk of the workload for a second consecutive game and gained 31 yards in 14 carries, an average of 2.2 yards.

UCLA's running game was so bad that the Bruins couldn't reach the end zone after getting a first-and-goal at Arizona State's two-yard line midway through the third quarter. Jamabo was stuffed for no gain on first down, prompting the Bruins to try their luck against the worst pass defense in the nation.

Two Rosen passes then fell incomplete and UCLA was left to kick a field goal. Bruins offensive coordinator Kennedy Polamalu was not made available to reporters after the game to address the continued short-yardage shortcomings.

UCLA's running struggles went far beyond injured right tackle Kolton Miller and absent tailback Bolu Olorunfunmi, the latter's nonattendance at the game the latest in a string of mysterious disciplinary measures involving the running backs going back to the season opener.

"It's on all 11," Mora said, referring to every player on offense. "It's on the quarterback carrying out his fakes and getting the right run read. It's on the offensive line blocking. It's on the backs finding the hole. It's on the receivers blocking. It's on the receivers catching the ball so that we can move the sticks and have more opportunities to run it. It's just everything. It's never one thing. It's all-inclusive."

UCLA's average of 99.2 yards rushing per game ranks last in the Pac-12 Conference and is tied for 123rd out of 128 major college teams.

"We've just been so putrid on offense the last four weeks and unable to run the ball, unable to protect the passer," Mora said. "It's very, very, very, very disappointing, so that's really all I have to say on that."

Actually, Mora wasn't finished.

"It starts with us as coaches," Mora said. "Obviously, we're doing a horrible job, and we have to get it fixed. … Guys got to assume ownership. It's the only way it happens in team sports, is people own it. They own up."

Quick hits

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UCLA receiver and return specialist Ishmael Adams did not play because of a shoulder injury he sustained last week against Arizona. The Bruins' return game struggled, with Adarius Pickett fumbling a punt before falling on the ball and only one kickoff or punt return going for more than nine yards. … Defensive tackle Eli Ankou did not play after warming up with a brace on the elbow that was hyperextended against Stanford on Sept. 24. … Defensive coordinator Tom Bradley said defensive end Takkarist McKinley aggravated an oblique muscle injury and defensive ends Deon Hollins and Keisean Lucier-South "got dinged up a little bit." … Randall Goforth shifted from safety to cornerback to replace Nate Meadors, who did not play against Arizona State. "I think Coach [Mora] thought Randall might be prepared to do a better job today," Bradley said.

Twitter: @latbbolch

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