On Tuesday, coach Jim Mora said he doesn’t like to divulge a lot of what takes place on the sidelines, but he did make one thing clear: Eric Kendricks did not want to come out of Saturday’s game.
Even while battling a mild shoulder sprain against Oregon, the redshirt junior inside linebacker tried to tough it out, but ultimately couldn’t and was replaced by freshman Isaako Savaiinaea. The switch was necessary for Kendricks’ health, but it was one that left the defensive captain in tears, unable to help his team against a surging Ducks’ offense that scored 21 points in the fourth quarter.
“It hurt him so bad not to be out there with his team. You just love that. You want that passion in all of your players, and when your leader, a guy like Eric, has that, it resonates with everybody else,” Mora said. “He’s going to be hard to keep off the field.”
The previous week against Stanford, Kendricks was pulled after experiencing bruising on the tissue surrounding his kidneys. UCLA was cautious with Kendricks, and decided to test for more serious internal injuries at Stanford Hospital during the game. The results came back negative, but the inside linebacker had to work his way back to strength, and even underwent additional tests upon the team’s return to Los Angeles after the Stanford game.
Playing in the Oregon game left Kendricks battered once again. On Tuesday, Mora said that the redshirt junior, who practiced without pads, is dealing with pain in his shoulder, back and ankle at the moment, giving the team’s training staff a whole range of areas to work with.
“Eric goes in there and he’s like the old board game, Operation,” Mora said. “He lies on the table and they just pick him apart.”
Injuries at offensive line and at running back have likewise been troublesome. Redshirt junior running back Jordon James has been out with an ankle injury since the second half of the Utah game, but was in pads to start the week.
“That’s a good sign,” said Mora of James. “I think sometimes when you have a couple games like we had, guys that are hurt and maybe on the fringe, if they’re the right kind of kid, if they’re the right kind of competitor, they develop the right sense of urgency to come back.”
In James’ absence, the Bruins have employed a more even split of carries out of the backfield, making use of a committee that includes redshirt freshman running back Paul Perkins, redshirt sophomore Steven Manfro and senior Malcolm Jones. While none of the three ball carriers had more than five carries in the Stanford game, an ankle injury to Manfro and a generally more effective run game on Saturday gave Perkins a career-high 22 carries, followed by 12 for Jones, who also reached his career high.
Perkins said he attributed the spike in carries, as well as rushing yards – 93, also a career high – to a heightened sense of awareness given the high-stakes nature of the Oregon game.
“I was just a little more focused. I knew I had to do good because this is our season – it was depending on us,” Perkins said.
Catch it if you can
When asked about the UCLA offense posting just 64 passing yards Saturday, redshirt senior wide receiver Shaquelle Evans said the game was a bit of a wake-up call, that the Bruin offense needs to regain its rhythm for future games, and fast.
“This is probably the worst two-week stretch we’ve had since we’ve been here. I think everybody feels the same way,” Evans said. “(We just have to) go out there and execute.”
Evans, who finished with three receptions for 21 yards, said Oregon junior cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu played little to no part in the UCLA offense’s dismal showing and that at times, the opportunities to gain big chunks of yardage were there.
“(Ekpre-Olomu) guarded me a few times in the slot,” Evans said. “I had a dig route pretty much every time he guarded me and I got open each time. I guess Brett (Hundley) didn’t have the time or didn’t see me, but I don’t think it was anything to do with No. 14.”