UCLA’s depth was supposed to be its strength.
The Bruins lost Paul Perkins, their leading rusher, and wide receivers Jordan Payton and Thomas Duarte to the NFL, but returned almost everyone else for what was supposed to be a national championship run.
But through four games, having multiple options hasn’t helped the Bruins (2-2, 0-1 Pac-12) knock off top-tier opponents like now-No. 9 Texas A&M and No. 7 Stanford.
[Related: Bruin football beaten 22-13 by Cardinal comeback.]
Twenty-one different players have caught or run the ball so far this season, but none have solidified a role as a go-to option for quarterback Josh Rosen and UCLA’s offense, particularly in crucial scoring situations.
The Bruins had momentum on multiple drives against the Cardinal, but stalled near the goal line, settling for two field goals and punting the ball away to keep Stanford in the game.
Coach Jim Mora lamented the missed opportunities saying the “running game probably left 100 yards on the field after not hitting holes that were there” and that the group needed to improve immediately if they wanted to compete in the Pac-12 South.
Four running backs and four receivers have double digit carries and receptions respectively, led by Soso Jamabo and Darren Andrews.
But the inconsistent performances by both position groups have forced Mora to narrow down the rotations in an attempt to increase productivity.
“We’re going to start dialing it back on how many guys we play at running back and receiver and get specific guys in there for specific things.” Mora said. “You’ll still see all three, but you’ll see less of two and more of one.”
Redshirt senior wide receiver Kenny Walker, who has 11 receptions in four starts this season, said although he was disappointed with the outcome from the Stanford game, he disagreed with Mora. Having multiple receivers in rotation, he said, hasn’t stopped him from impacting the game.
“To me, I have trust in all my receivers.” Walker said. “When I have my opportunities, I have to make the best of it and then encourage other players who go in to do the same. It’s just about staying in the moment.”
In this moment, it’s about finding the players who can boost the offense. The Bruins are 25th nationally in passing yards, but 114th in rushing yards. With their first Pac-12 South opponent coming up next week, Mora said he expects this week’s practices to focus on finding the primary receiver and rusher.
“I just want to see us as productive,” Mora said. “The important thing is making sure, in the game, players who are running the routes have gotten the repetitions in practice, so you have to shrink it down a little bit. You can’t give everyone everything, but you have to make sure you’re giving the right guys the right opportunities in practice so they can do well in a game.”