UCLA wide receiver Devin Fuller sprints to the end zone for a touchdown against… (Stephen Dunn / Getty Images )
UCLA offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone has been the focal point of fan frustration the last two weeks, as the Bruins seem to have misplaced their big-play ability.
"I have two friends right now, my mom and my dog," Mazzone said. "And my mom is 50-50."
The Bruins averaged 45 points the first five games but turtled up in losses to Stanford, 24-10, and Oregon, 42-14. The fact that the Ducks are ranked second nationally and the Cardinal sixth certainly was a contributing factor. But the lack of swagger on offense was apparent.
Quarterback Brett Hundley did not complete a pass longer than 11 yards against Oregon and had only one longer than 16 yards against Stanford, to Devin Lucien for 26 yards.
Mazzone acknowledged the problem.
"For this type of offense to work, you have to stretch the defense sideline to sideline, but also goal line to goal line," Mazzone said.
The Bruins repeatedly tried the sideline-to-sideline stretching, tossing swing passes to running backs and quick screens to receivers. The downfield stretching has been absent.
Without a downfield threat, UCLA's short passing game was smothered against Oregon. Hundley had only 64 yards passing.
"We have not done a good job, I have not done a good job, of stretching defenses goal line to goal line," Mazzone said. "So everybody has been playing down on us."
The emphasis will shift this week against Colorado, Mazzone said.
"Last week, we were more conscious of running the ball and getting the ball out quick," Mazzone said. "I think now, Brett is conscious that we also have to attack the defense vertically. There may be a few more things in the game plan this week that will allow him to do that."
It will also require protection "because you hold on to the ball longer," Mazzone said.
UCLA's young offensive line provided time except on a few occasions against Oregon.
Said Lucien: "It takes the offensive line making good blocks. It takes the running backs picking up blitzing linebackers. It takes the quarterback making a great throw. It's us receivers catching the ball. We have to do all of those things to execute downfield."
Damien Thigpen is ready
Running back Damien Thigpen, who was held out of the Oregon game because of a tight hamstring, says he'll be available against Colorado.
"I feel like I am capable of playing at my highest level," Thigpen said.
Last week, he said, "if I had run at full speed, I would have likely pulled something."
Thigpen has had hamstring issues in the past. He was UCLA's third-leading rusher last season with 262 yards and caught 18 passes for 211 yards before suffering a knee injury against USC in November. Thigpen has played in three games this season and has 16 yards in five carries.
The Bruins' running game may also get a boost from Jordon James, who stayed for the full practice Wednesday for the first time since suffering an ankle injury against Utah on Oct. 3. James is still UCLA's leading rusher with 463 yards despite sitting out 21/2 games.
UCLA was a 23-point underdog against Oregon last week. The Bruins opened as a 24-point favorite against Colorado. Some sports books now have them at 28 points.