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UCLA FYI

Bruins' running game missing in action

After a respectable start, UCLA ranks No. 102 out of 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in rushing. Falling behind on the scoreboard and a steady diet of third-and-long don't help.

October 31, 2009|Chris Foster

UCLA's football team has topped 100 yards rushing only once in the last four games, getting 137 against California on the strength of starting tailback Johnathan Franklin.

The Bruins, who were averaging a respectable 134 yards after three games, now rank No. 102 out of 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in rushing yardage.

"I don't know that we've lost our way, sometimes down and distance has dictated it," Coach Rick Neuheisel said, adding, "There is no question that we need to be an effective running team."

The need is paramount heading into today's game at Oregon State.

Being able to run effectively "takes a lot of pressure off our young quarterbacks," Neuheisel said. "It takes a lot of pressure off play calling."

The offensive line, which has improved since last season, still has growing to do -- especially after losing guard Eddie Williams, who suffered a fractured ankle. Nick Ekbatani struggled in Williams' spot last week so Ryan Taylor will get the start against Oregon State.

Falling behind in the score each week has also hurt the running game.

"That puts you in throwing situations," offensive line coach Bob Palcic said. "Then we get in third-and-10, third-and-20 situations, and you sure can't run the ball then."

Said Neuheisel: "We haven't even hit the third and threes, third and fours."

Neuheisel is pleased with the improvement from last season. "You look at the yards per carry and it isn't bad," he said.

Still, while UCLA tailbacks are averaging 4.7 yards a carry, the bulk of the work has been done by Franklin, who has gained 469 yards.

They're looking out for No. 2

Finding a second back to support Franklin has been a chore. "We're happy with our starter, but he can't carry the whole load," running backs coach Wayne Moses said. "So we need to see more guys come in and . . . perform."

Derrick Coleman was the No. 2 back, but he has only four carries in the last four games. Milton Knox has had two carries in four games since returning from a one-game suspension. Christian Ramirez got a look against Arizona but had a fumble that killed a drive. Damien Thigpen has shown flashes but as a freshman he may not be physically ready for a greater load.

"We're just trying to find that right mix and give everybody some opportunities," Moses said. " . . . We're looking for a spark, someone to get hot and give us a little extra juice."

Quick hits

Oregon State has a 14-3 record in games played on or after Halloween the last three seasons. . . . UCLA has won only five of its last 23 games away from the Rose Bowl. . . . UCLA receiver Taylor Embree, who suffered a concussion against Arizona last week, on Friday was cleared to play against Oregon State. --

chris.foster@latimes.com

twitter.com/cfosterlatimes

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