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The Spread Offense Can't Fix UCLA's Absent Running Game

And, if the team isn’t going to run the ball, why have a “run game coordinator”?

NCAA Football: Utah at UCLA
UCLA running backs only ran the ball 10 times for 23 yards as the Bruins lost to Utah 52-45.
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

In the movie Back To The Future Part II, there’s a scene where Old Biff plays the end of UCLA’s November 12, 1955 football against the Washington Huskies which UCLA won 19-17 on a Jim Decker field goal in order to show Young Biff how the Grays Sports Almanac can make him a fortune. While the broadcast in the film was not genuine, the result was.

Yesterday, the UCLA football team channelled their inner Marty McFly yesterday against Utah as the team went back to the future in more ways than one. Most obvious was the return of the up-tempo Spread offense which UCLA ran during the first four seasons of the Mora era when Noel Mazzone was the Bruins’ offensive coordinator.

But that wasn’t the only way the Bruins went back to the future yesterday.

Yesterday’s game also saw the return of the terrible rushing defense which was a problem all of last season as UCLA gave up 332 yards rushing to Joe Williams who ran the ball 29 times. That’s 11.4 yards per carry.

How much of a correlation is there between the return of the Spread to the return of the awful run defense? I don’t know.

But what I do know is that all the talk from the coaches during the week last week about "simplifying the offense" turned out to mean that the team was moving back to the Spread.

After the game, Offensive Coordinator Kennedy Polamalu said, "You have to figure out what your young men can do simplify it and execute it." Later in his interview, it got a little weird. Polamalu was asked about his commitment to the run and he re-confirmed his commitment to balance, while also saying that he was going to figure out the best way to win. He followed that by saying the best way for UCLA was to throw.

Here’s Coach Polamalu’s postgame interview in full, courtesy of Thuc Nhi Nguyen of the Daily News and Inside SoCal.

At the same time, he denied that UCLA’s plan was to throw 70 times in the game.

Overall, the exchange between Polamalu and Thuc Nhi Nguyen seemed a little...bizarre.

But, whether that was the game plan or not, it doesn’t change the fact that UCLA running backs only ran for 23 yards. Sure, Mike Fafaul added 23 more to give the Bruins a total of 46 yards rushing.

In other words, rushing accounted for 9% of UCLA’s offense yesterday. That’s just ridiculuos. If UCLA is going to abandon the run entirely like that, why does the team need a "run game coordinator"?

Even more importantly, why has Jim Mora allowed his team to find itself in a situation where the rushing game is so bad that the offensive coordinator decided to abandon it entirely?

It has now gotten so bad that, rather than firing Adrian Klemm, UCLA has decided a one-dimensional offense is a better option.

The one-dimensional "pass only" offense probably cost the team this game by putting the defense on the field for almost two-thirds of the game since Utah had the ball for almost two-thirds of the game.

You just can’t expect the defense to be on the field that much and not surrender a bunch of points.

Meanwhile, when Jim Mora met with the media, he compared the fact that the team gave up 364 yards rushing while only gaining 46 as one of the problems.

Yet, Klemm is still employed and is still the "running game coordinator," even though, there is no running game to coordinate.

The most interesting part of Mora’s interview came at the end when a reporter asked him if he feared there was a possibility to lose the locker room.

The question clearly irritated Mora.

After first answering with a simple "No.", another reporter started asking a question and Mora was so irritated by the question about losing the locker room that he cut the second reporter off mid-question to expand on his previous answer. Mora re-engaged the previous reporter and tried to discredit the question:

I don’t even know what "lose the locker"...Explain to me what "lose the locker room" means, because I’ve been many locker rooms have you been in?

The reporter indicated that he’s coached high school football in the past. At which, the expression on Mora’s face and tone got dismissive.

High school football, ok. I’ve coached 35 years. I’ve never seen a coach "lose a locker room". That’s a fantasy myth. That’s like Donald Trump doing one of those.

At which, Mora gestured like Trump and he continued:

Ok? You’re not going to lose this locker room. So, the answer is an unequivocal "No!"

As Mora moved back to the next question, he was still so annoyed by the locker room question that he gestured like Trump again.

Ironically, when he said "So, the answer is an unequivocal ‘No!’", Mora kind of sounded like Trump in the middle of one of his bloated statements that many find hard to believe.

Despite that, I don’t disagree with Mora on this. Why? That has to do with how Mora treats the players on the team. The players love him. I don’t think Mora is in danger of "losing the locker room" at all.

Here’s the full Mora interview, again courtesy of Thuc Nhi Nguyen of the LA Daily News. The "locker room" exchange starts at the 8:38 mark.

But, despite all this locker room talk, I do think that Mora knows that his future at UCLA needs to be questioned and that got him extremely defensive during the exchange.

Mora has now gone 2-8 over the past 10 games against Power Five opponents dating back to November of last year and 4-8 overall in the same time frame. That’s awful.

After losing to Nebraska in last season’s Foster Farms Bowl, Mora acknowledged that the offensive line got pushed around and suggested at the time that they needed to "get bigger".

Getting bigger hasn’t solved the problems on the offensive line.

And, Mora seems unwilling to fire Adrian Klemm. Maybe it’s because Mora has a tendency to be stubborn. Maybe it’s out of loyalty. Maybe it’s something else.

But, at this point, it’s clear that, no matter how much fight this team has in it, it’s not very likely that the team will be able to win three of its last four games in order to become bowl eligible.

This is from a team who has recruited so well that its blue-chip ratio should have made it a contender for the national title.

That indicates that something somewhere is seriously broken in the UCLA Football program.

And, rather than replace the team’s running game coordinator, Mora’s solution is simply to give up trying to run the ball.

Mora gets credit for going back to the Spread to try to solve the team’s offensive problems, but abandoning the running game is not the solution to stop losing games.

Because the team lost another winnable game and his "solution" wasn’t one means that the Jim Mora Hot Seat Meter needs to rise, but I’m going to give him some credit for trying to solve the team’s offensive woes by going back to the Spread. As a result, the Jim Mora Hot Seat Meter moves from a 8 to a 8.5.

Go Bruins.