LOS ANGELES (AP) Familiarity is leading to success for UCLA’s offensive line.
The same five players up front have started every game this season, and their development helped the Bruins rush for a season-high 192 yards without allowing a sack in last Saturday’s 44-37 win over Arizona State.
”I thought they had their best game,” offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch said Tuesday. ”And we need to play even better this Saturday.”
The play of the offensive line will almost certainly determine whether UCLA can upset No. 12 Southern California with the Victory Bell at stake.
The Trojans lead the Pac-12 in sacks with 36, which ranks second nationally among FBS teams. Plus, a UCLA defense allowing 38.6 points and 302.3 yards rushing per game might not provide much resistance against quarterback Sam Darnold, running back Ronald Jones II and a USC offense that has found its stride.
Instead, UCLA will likely need to run the ball well enough to limit USC’s possessions and keep a clean pocket for quarterback Josh Rosen to score plenty of points. UCLA is allowing 49 points per game on the road and has allowed at least 44 points in each of its five games away from the Rose Bowl.
The line’s solid play hasn’t escaped coach Jim Mora. He saluted their performance against the Sun Devils with the team’s weekly Force 5 award, named after Hall of Fame safety Kenny Easley. It honors the player – or in this case players – who had the biggest impact on the game.
”It’s nice once in a while to get recognition,” right guard Michael Alves said.
Alves, a redshirt freshman from San Diego, and his fellow linemen delivered against an aggressive and complex Arizona State defense. UCLA had just three runs that lost yardage, not counting three kneel-downs at the end of the game, while not yielding a sack for the first time in 11 games dating back to last season.
Fisch believes the group has been able to refine its chemistry and communication because of continuity. Instead of having to adjust to players shuffling in and out of the lineup, the same five can focus on relaying the information necessary to play fast and reducing mental errors.
”It’s good because we don’t have to worry about other people getting in the mix,” Alves said. ”Our twos are always ready, but our ones are pretty solid.”
Their improvement is leading to a more stable and consistent running game.
”It’s always the O-line,” running backs coach DeShaun Foster said. ”Can’t have a good back unless you have a good O-line.”
As a star running back for UCLA from 1998-2001, Foster understands the emotions every player is feeling this week. Foster wants to treat every week the same, but he admitted there’s something special about the USC rivalry.
”Oh, it was tough,” Foster said. ”It’s easy now knowing that I’m just going to be coaching, but back then just anytime you’re playing against your friends, guys you played Pop Warner against, went to high school with, it’s always exciting. I know guys are going to be turned up and ready to go.”
For UCLA to have a chance, it will need the offensive line to build off its best game.
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