UCLA offensive coordinator Kennedy Polamalu sees what’s not readily apparent when he assesses the team’s running game. So does tailback Soso Jamabo.
The Bruins are easily averaging the fewest yards rushing in the Pac-12 Conference halfway through the regular season, yet there is some belief that they could be on the verge of a breakthrough.
Said Polamalu: “There are some good things when you see it that we’re real close.”
Said Jamabo: “We’re close. It doesn’t look like it to the naked eye, but we’re definitely close to making a lot of plays happen.”
Making even a handful of plays has been a struggle for a team averaging 99.2 yards rushing per game and 2.95 yards per carry, figures that rank among the worst in the nation. None of the tailbacks has rushed for 100 yards in a game.
What would make Polamalu think the Bruins (3-3 overall, 1-2 in Pac-12 play) are close to success heading into a game at Washington State (3-2, 2-0) on Saturday?
“One guy makes a play, one guy might break a tackle,” Polamalu said. “One guy might end up blocking two guys, things like that, one guy misses a tackle, so that’s why I believe it’s close, and the guys are committed to it.”
Jamabo and fellow tailbacks Nate Starks and Bolu Olorunfunmi were all highly rated in high school but haven’t duplicated their success with the Bruins. Jamabo is averaging 39 yards rushing per game and 3.9 yards per carry, followed by Starks (34.8, 3.1) and Olorunfunmi (28.6, 4.0). None rank among the top 29 in the Pac-12 in rushing yards.
“Obviously, we’re talented,” Jamabo said, “we just haven’t tapped into our talent, not even close yet, so that’s something we’ve got to keep working on.”
Continuity could be one issue, because the Bruins have had their full complement of tailbacks only once this season. Each player has sat out at least one game as a result of what is thought to be team-imposed disciplined.
Coach Jim Mora made Starks the featured tailback earlier this month in an effort to spark the running game, only to commence a backward march. Collectively, the Bruins rushed for 125 yards against Arizona and minus-one yard against Arizona State.
The failures could at least partially be a function of the new pro-style offense not fitting the players on the roster, but Polamalu said he believes in the schemes he has helped devise.
“We said this offense was a system of what they did well here in the past and what we believe will carry us through a season, not just for one game or one opponent, and I really believe that,” Polamalu said. “The coaching staff, we’re putting in the situations, we gotta execute and make the plays and we will.”
Polamalu said coaches have tried to simplify concepts in practice and repeat principles to the point of monotony. But the wait for results can’t extend any longer.
“It has to happen now, to be honest,” Jamabo said. “It’s been six games, unfortunately we haven’t gotten it done.”
Josh Rosen update
Quarterback Josh Rosen walked onto the practice field without a limp or protective gear Tuesday morning before heading toward the area where injured players stretch. The media is not allowed to observe practice and Polamalu would not say whether Rosen participated after suffering injuries to his lower body and the area around his throwing shoulder against Arizona State.
If Rosen was unable to play against Washington State, former walk-on Mike Fafaul would presumably get the start.
“We’ve got to help him around,” Polamalu said when asked about his confidence in Fafaul, “but we’re very confident in Mike getting the job done.”
UCLA’s defense has played significantly better in each of the last four games since defensive coordinator Tom Bradley began working from the press box.
“If it helps,” Bradley quipped, “I’ll go even higher up. I don’t care. I’m OK with that. I just want to win.”
Bradley said the higher vantage point provided a better view and allowed him to communicate more effectively with the rest of the coaching staff. The Bruins’ defense ranks third in the Pac-12 in yards given up (342.5) per game.
Ishmael Adams is back
Receiver Ishmael Adams (shoulder) returned to practice in a red noncontact jersey but appeared to be running without limitations as he caught passes during warmups.