No. 13 UCLA’s offensive line goes from liability to strength
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Although linebacker Myles Jack goes up against the UCLA offensive line every day in practice, he couldn’t really appreciate the strides made by that group until he worked behind them in his moonlighting role as a short-yardage running back.
“It was crazy, actually, because that was the first time I got the ball and really paid attention to what was going on up front,” Jack said. “Those guys up there are working. It’s rated R up there, and those guys are going at it.”
The 13th-ranked Bruins’ offensive line had been in shambles when coach Jim Mora took over the program four seasons ago, but the constant focus on improving up front was rewarded with a strong performance in the season-opening 34-16 win over Virginia last weekend.
UCLA rushed for 152 yards, with Jack scoring on a short touchdown run in the third quarter, and kept freshman quarterback Josh Rosen upright. Although the Cavaliers were originally credited with one sack, Mora said further review of the game tape showed Rosen got back to the line of scrimmage to make it a rushing play for no gain.
Now Mora wants to see the offensive line do it again on the road Saturday night against UNLV.
“I think it just remains to be seen if we can be consistent there,” Mora said. “I feel like we can be. I feel like it’s a solid group, and they have confidence and understand what they are doing, which is really important. They have a guy behind center that understands protections as well.”
Rosen threw for 351 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions in his sensational debut, earning Pac-12 and Walter Camp national offensive player of the week honors. Those awards are gratifying for the entire offensive line, right tackle Caleb Benenoch said.
“As an offensive line, we don’t get a lot of individual accolades, so when we have the leading rusher in the Pac-12 (last season) and we get a true freshman quarterback to break all those records it gives us pride,” Benenoch said.
Still, there is plenty to work on.
Virginia was able to create some pressure up the middle and contain running back Paul Perkins in the first half until Rosen’s passing prowess forced them to back off. And with offensive line coach Adrian Klemm missing the trip to Las Vegas to complete the two-game suspension handed down by UCLA after an investigation into recruiting practices, film study and practice time this week when the offensive line is able to work with Klemm becomes even more important before the road opener.
Jack is able to get away without working behind the offensive line until game day. He didn’t get a carry on offense in spring practice or training camp, not working on that side of the ball until last Thursday’s walkthrough. With the offensive line doing its job, Jack only has to run as hard as he can.
“I’m just doing the easy job and getting touchdowns, so kudos to them for sure,” Jack said.