Johnathan Franklin (Dorsey High School) has a firm lock on the top running back spot at UCLA, and he has his sights set on great accomplishments, such as the Heisman Trophy. Photo by Jason Lewis
Last season Derrick Coleman split time with Franklin at running back. The pair helped UCLA drastically improve their running game. Photo by Jason Lewis
By Jason Lewis
Sentinel Sports Editor
Two seasons ago UCLA was dreadful running the football, finishing among the nations worse teams, which led head coach Rick Neuheisel to switch to the pistol offense, which was popularized by the University of Nevada.
The pistol formation solved UCLA’s rushing wows, as Dorsey high school graduate Johnathan Franklin had a breakout season as a sophomore, running for 1,127 yards and eight touchdowns.
UCLA’s rushing offense, which only gained 1,490 yards in 2009, for an average of 114 yards per game, greatly improved last season, when they ran for 2,107, an average of 175 yards per game.
UCLA looks to improve on those rushing numbers this year, and Franklin looks to make the jump to stardom, as he has mentioned that one of his goals is to win the Heisman Trophy.
“I’m just putting it into God’s hands,” Franklin said. “I defiantly want to win it, but you know, things happen some times. I’m just going to work to win it. But all I’m thinking about right now is that PAC 12 championship.”
Franklin’s 2010 season has caught the eye of many college football critiques. He is on the Doak Walker Award watch list, which is awarded to the nations top running back, and the Maxwell Award watch list, which is awarded to the nations best players.
Players who win those awards are in the running for the Heisman Trophy.
Franklin feels that the improvements that he has made over the offseason can help him achieve his goals, and turn around a program that only won four games last season.
“I feel that I understand the game of football more, and defenses more,” Franklin said. “That’s defiantly going to open up the holes, open up the way that I run the ball, and just being a leader, which helps me work harder in practice and develop a better mentality for the game.”
Franklin is UCLA’s top running back, but he will not carry the load by himself.
“We have four running backs, and all of them are going to be a part of the field,” Neuheisel said.
Senior Derrick Coleman and sophomore Malcolm Jones, from Oaks Christian High School, are returning to give UCLA a powerful running attack.
The pistol offense fixed UCLA’s rushing woes, but it did nothing for UCLA’s passing offense, which ranked 116th out of 120 schools last season.
The pistol puts an emphasis on the ground attack, as evident in 2009 when Nevada led the nation in rushing, but finished 105th passing the ball. But last year Nevada proved that they could pass the ball with the pistol offense, as they finished 2nd in the nation running the ball and improved to 37th passing it.
Neuheisel knows that UCLA is not going to win much with a one-dimensional offense. During fall camp UCLA’s passing offense has looked more explosive at times, and when Neuheisel was asked if he felt that the offense was, his answer showed how important a good passing game is.
“God I hope,” Neuheisel said. “We know we need to be. We can’t just live on 12 and 13 play drives. We have to have some plays down the field and we’re working on getting that accomplished.”
For a third consecutive season juniors Kevin Prince and Richard Brehaut are battling for the starting quarterback job.
Neither player has been impressive the past two seasons, and neither player is standing out as the guy heading into this season. There was hope that incoming freshman Brett Hundley, who was the centerpiece of UCLA’s 2011 recruiting class, would win the job and save the passing offense, but an offseason knee injury has kept him out of camp for the most part. So it will be either Prince or Brehaut again this season.
UCLA’s wide receivers have not lit the field on fire either, but redshirt sophomore Shaquelle Evans, who attended Inglewood High School, has looked good in camp and could help out this offense a lot.
Evans was the top wide receiver in the West as a senior at Inglewood in 2009, and after verbally committing to USC he chose to go to Notre Dame. After one season there he decided to leave Notre Dame and enrolled into UCLA last fall. After sitting out a season because of transfer rules, Evans is looking to become the big time receiver that many thought that he would be coming out of high school.
If UCLA’s passing game can make great improvements, which at this point may be wishful thinking, than this team can make a run in the PAC 12.
Check out the Sentinel Sports Section on Facebook and Twitter.
Sentinel Sports Section Facebook page:
Sentinel Sports Twitter page: