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UCLA football: Damien Thigpen return may be key to Bruins' run game

July 30, 2013|By Chris Foster

Identifying UCLA's greatest loss last season is a no-brainer.

It wasn’t a game, it was a player.

Running back Damien Thigpen suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee during the 38-28 victory over USC, robbing the Bruins of a big-play producer. How soon Thigpen returns this season could be a key question.

Johnathan Franklin, UCLA’s all-time leading rusher, is now with the Green Bay Packers, leaving the Bruins with a gaping hole behind quarterback Brett Hundley. No one emerged as a replacement during spring practice, which Thigpen missed.

Thigpen was the team’s third leading rusher, behind Franklin and Hundley, with 262 yards. He also had 18 receptions for 211 yards and averaged 26.9 yards on kickoff returns. He seemed the heir apparent to Franklin, who set a school record with 1,734 yards rushing.

He will likely be out until at least October, after having a second surgery to break up scar tissue.

“He’s been running and moving, but I don’t think he has done much cutting,” Coach Jim Mora said. “I don’t want to put a time limit on him. We have to be realistic in what we ask him to do in the first three games. He has to have confidence in his ability to cut."

Thigpen’s lightning strikes were pick-me-ups for the offense. He had 17 runs or pass receptions that covered 20 or more yards last season. That included touchdown receptions of 65 and 20 yards in a 45-43 come-from-behind victory over Arizona State.

The Bruins will not try to replaced Franklin with one player, but will try a tag-team approach with Jordon James, Paul Perkins and Craig Lee, with some help from Steven Manfro.

Mora cites the NFL method.

“Unless you’re Minnesota, with Adrian Peterson, teams do it by committee,” Mora said.


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