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Running Concerns

Before putting the labor day weekend and the season opener behind us, I think it is important to note that not everything was perfect this past Saturday. Southpaw Jesus was superb in his debut, but his freakish performance somewhat covered up a horrific effort in our running game. And that running game is the focus in today's papers.

Lonnie White on the meager effort of UCLA running game:

Against the Utes, UCLA averaged 2.6 yards a carry, led by Kahlil Bell with a team-high 34 yards in 14 carries and Chris Markey with 32 yards in nine carries.

"It certainly wasn't where we wanted it to be," said Markey, whose longest gain was eight yards. "[Utah] had a game plan that did really well against us. They crossed up their alignment and messed up our reads. But we know that we need work. We'll watch some film and get things together."

After averaging 160.7 yards rushing last season with Maurice Drew as the No. 1 back, the Bruins did not expect a drop off with Markey and Bell sharing carries. But Utah was able to stuff the line of scrimmage whenever the Bruins ran the ball, limiting them to 107 yards on the ground. [...]

The Bruins' offensive line struggled to open holes on running plays, but it did a masterful job of protecting quarterback Ben Olson, who made his first college start. Olson was not sacked and rarely was pressured. Whenever Utah did get to him, Olson got rid of the ball like a crafty veteran.

"We were really prepared for them when it came to their pass rush," redshirt freshman tackle Aleksey Lanis said of the Utes' blitzing defense.
No doubt Utah based its defensive strategy around keying around the UCLA running game. They sure weren't expecting Olson's flawless debut and accordingly game planned around stopping around the UCLA running game.

Brian Dohn on how Utah DL's twisting and stunting confused the Bruin offensive frontline:
The Bruins rushed 41 times for 107 yards and several players admitted to being confused by Utah's twisting, stunting defensive front.

"We didn't think they would do as much as they did," UCLA center Robert Chai said. "They were doing a lot of twisting, a lot of stunts, which affects the run game. It's still not an excuse for us. We still need to have a better run game. We need to pay more attention to detail."

The Bruins had difficulty running the ball in their onefull-blown scrimmage in training camp, but players and coaches quickly wrote that off, saying the defense was too in tune with the offense. Such was not the case with Utah.

Other than receiver Brandon Breazell's 12-yard reverse, UCLA did not have a run in double-digit yardage. Of the Bruins' 26 first downs, only three came via the run. Twenty came from the passing game.

"The twists messed up the running back reads," Bruins fullback Michael Pitre said. "If they can make the running back hesitate that much, it's only going to be a 1- or 2-yard gain."

Pitre said Utah's decision to stunt so often and bring its safeties near the line of scrimmage opened up the passing game, and was a big reason quarterback Ben Olson was 25of 33 passing for 318 yards and three touchdowns in his first career start.
OC Register's Robert Kuwada has more on Utah's defensive line strategy:
The Utes' movement along their defensive front made it difficult for the UCLA linemen in terms of targeting defenders and for the running backs to get clean reads.

"It was kind if difficult for us, getting into the run, with what they were doing with their defensive line," offensive coordinator Jim Svoboda said. "But they gave up something, too, with the passing game. So you do what you have to do to move the ball.
While running game is a key concern right now, I don't believe it is time to hit the panic button after the first game of the season. As mentioned above Utah's defensive line twisting and stunting strategy was based on stopping the Bruin running game. They didn't have much respect for Ben Olson's ability as a passer. I guess they weren't expecting a first year QB to come out and look like a Heisman contender, throwing bullets, hitting receivers in strides, showing the soft touch in laying the ball right in between numbers, and making veteran decisions (except for one screwup when BO tried to draw DL offside on 3rd down instead of running the play) like a senior QB.

I think as the season progresses, the opposing Ds will eventually have to stop stacking the box, and pull back their safeties. That should open up the running game. I also think it is important for Markey and Bell (especially Bell) make some better decisions in terms of hitting the hole. Can't keep up slamming straight up for measly 1 - 2 yard gainers. Coaches may have to call some run plays outsides like sweeps to get Markey and Bell in open spaces.

Rice could be the perfect the solution to get our running game going. I am sure Rice coaches will be looking at the Olson tapes and will have to think twice about stacking the box to stop the running game. That should open up our running game. Then the adjustment will have to come from No. 7 who will have to recognize that he no longer will have 1 on 1s to tear apart the opposing secondary like he did on Saturday.

I have no doubt that Southpaw Jesus will be able to make that adjustment.

It's too early (and we have been so burned so many times before). But this could turn out to be the most fun season since we had under Cade in 1997-98. We saw a Bruin football team come into its own putting together a 10 win streak setting up for the NC run in 1998-99.  Of course it is way too early. But Saturday left no doubt in mind that this team is capable of winning 8 more games and beating SC.