Thomas Duarte likely to play against Washington

UCLA wide receiver Thomas Duarte makes a catch against Arizona State on Sept. 25.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

UCLA’s offense could get some help this weekend in the form of wide receiver Thomas Duarte.

The sophomore left the game against California with a hamstring injury, and hasn’t played in the Bruins&;#39; last two games. Duarte has also been dealing with a shoulder injury that has plagued him in both spring practice and training camp. Coach Jim Mora said that he could have played against Arizona last week, but Duarte remained on the sideline. This week, against Washington, indications are that he will see the field.

UCLA’s last two opponents, Arizona and Colorado, both dropped eight men in coverage semi-frequently against the Bruins. What that does, in theory, is take away the deep ball.


So having someone like Duarte back, a big, physical receiver that can make plays in the middle of the field, could be crucial for defenses being used to try a similar tactic.

Duarte’s playing time has mostly gone to Mossi Johnson, but the true freshman has looked at times like, well, a true freshman, while Duarte might be UCLA’s best wide receiver not named Jordan Payton.

“He’s a bigger body in there, a guy who can work the middle of the field,” offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone said Wednesday. “A little more experience with Mossi, even though Mossi has done a really good job.”

There are both positives and negatives when opponents play in that softer style. The positives are that it opens the field up for quarterback Brett Hundley. The redshirt junior has combined for 241 yards on the ground in his last two games, making up for the lack of downfield opportunities.

The biggest drawback is that the Bruins can’t inflict any negative plays upon themselves. Opponents, essentially, are waiting for mistakes.

Against Arizona, the Bruins were called for 11 total penalties. UCLA managed to come out with a win, but that won’t work every week against a defense dropping that many defenders.

“The hardest thing, especially in this style of offense, is patience, because we want to go fast and score like right now,” Mazzone said. “And so I thought the guys did a nice job of being patient last week against that style of defense.

“It’s kind of a bend and don’t break style of defense. You have to be an offense that can’t have penalties, you can’t get yourself off schedule, and you’ve got to have patience. You’ve got to be willing to go out there and instead of four-play drives and five-play drives, you have to have eight- or nine-play drives and finish in the red zone. As opposed to a pressure defense, where it’s hit, hit, miss, and famine, famine, feast.”

For more Bruin observations, follow Everett Cook on Twitter @everettcook