LOS ANGELES — Weary of unnecessary hits, Jim Mora blows plays dead on first contact in practice. Buried by the sound of the coach’s whistle, the team’s running game remained quiet during training camp, detectable only through post-practice film study.
With the season opener only days away, the Bruins are finally prepared to unleash their revamped running game.
“I’m excited when the whistle is not going to be blown dead on first contact to see how Bolu (Olorunfunmi) and Soso (Jamabo), Nate Starks, Jalen Starks, all of these guys, see how they run after contact,” quarterback Josh Rosen said before Sunday’s game against Texas A&M at the Rose Bowl at 4:30 p.m. “I think that’s what we’re really good at.”
Unsullied by the hardships of a full season yet, UCLA is still demonstrating confidence in the running attack that averaged a torturous 84.2 yards per game last year. But everything looks good in August practices. The only way the Bruins will know for sure if their ground game can carry them into December is for it to look good on game day.
“Until we see it throughout the season, not just in a game but throughout the season, then we’ll really know what type of running team we’re going to be,” offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch said. “But it matters to us, so we better run the ball well.”
The Bruins were the second-worst rushing team in the FBS in 2016, bettering only Texas State of the Sun Belt Conference. Of the 77 individual 100-yard rushing performances from a Pac-12 player last year, none came from a Bruin. Every other team in the conference had at least two 100-yard rushing performances. The closest UCLA got was a 90-yard day from Jamabo against UNLV in the second game of the year.
Olorunfunmi seemed to win the starting job during training camp as many of his counterparts picked up injuries. Jamabo, a one-time five-star prospect who mustered only 321 yards last year, recovered and finished camp strong.
Jamabo said last year’s disappointment motivated him to work harder this offseason.
“Obviously last year didn’t go right,” said the junior from Plano, Texas. “You just have to change a little bit of stuff, keep working, work harder and work smarter.”
The Bruins already suffered a setback in the running game with the season-ending injury to offensive lineman Kenny Lacy last week. UCLA loses an experienced leader and a key piece that bolstered a thin offensive line that’s necessary to get momentum moving on the…