Utah cornerback Dominique Hatfield knocks away a pass intended for UCLA wide receiver Jordan Lasley in the second quarter on Oct. 22. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
UCLA’s backward march in its running game probably won’t leave any footprints in the school record book.
It may be hard to believe, but the Bruins have been worse at running the ball than they are this season, when their 85.5 yards rushing per game rank last among 128 Football Bowl Subdivision teams.
The 1963 team, featuring sophomore fullback Jim Colletto, chugged its way to 759 rushing yards, the lowest total since at least 1945. The only other time UCLA finished with fewer than 1,000 rushing yards during that span was in 2008, when it totaled 993.
It was probably no coincidence that those were lost seasons, the Bruins going 2-8 in 1963 and 4-8 in 2008.
UCLA (3-5 overall, 1-4 in Pac-12 Conference play) appears headed in that direction again thanks to an inert running game that has gained 684 yards in eight games, putting the Bruins on pace for 1,026 rushing yards.
The Bruins barely even tried to run the ball against Utah on Oct. 22, calling a dollop of 10 runs amid their 87 total plays. Will UCLA unveil an actual running game Thursday evening against No. 21 Colorado (6-2, 4-1) at Folsom Field?
“I really want balance to help our quarterback and that’s what we’re always trying to go for,” Bruins offensive coordinator Kennedy Polamalu said Sunday, “but the bottom line is also to score points and help this team win games.”
In other words, it could depend on the way things develop against the Buffaloes.
UCLA seems bound for a third consecutive game without quarterback Josh Rosen, who did not appear to be at practice Sunday as he continues his recovery from nerve damage in his throwing shoulder.
Part of the Bruins’ move away from their running game against Utah was attributable to the success of their passing game, and part of it was because they quickly fell behind, 14-0, putting them in comeback mode. UCLA ran for minus-two yards on its first two carries and Polamalu noted that he went to the passing game to give his team a chance. The Bruins couldn’t even gain a yard when they tried to run on fourth and one as a confidence-builder.
Bruins tailback Bolu Olorunfunmi, who carried the ball a team-high nine times for 24 yards, said he still felt involved because he was blocking on half of quarterback Mike Fafaul’s passes and going out on routes and trying to catch the ball on the other half.
Olorunfunmi said the team’s trio of tailbacks that also includes Soso Jamabo and Nate Starks had made substantial progress in its recovery from a litany of injuries that had plagued them in recent weeks.
“This game is probably the first game we’re all kind of just 100%, back to ourselves,” Olorunfunmi said.
The theme in practice has been to go for ugly yards, Olorunfunmi said, though the Bruins know they can’t be picky when too many plays have resulted in no gain or a move in the wrong direction.
“If there’s nothing there, if there’s a little crease, hit it, just something,” Olorunfunmi said. “Whatever you can get, just get it.”
UCLA defensive coordinator Tom Bradley said defensive tackle Eddie Vanderdoes suffered an ankle injury after stepping on a teammate’s foot but was expected to be able to play against Colorado. … Cornerback Nate Meadors, who has not played since Oct. 1 against Arizona because of a groin injury, returned to practice and could play against the Utes, Bradley said, “but we’ll be very cautious how much we’re using him.”