12 angry men lead to one angry UCLA football coach

UCLA inadvertently created its own version of a classic last Saturday night at the Rose Bowl: Twelve angry men.

The Bruins were furious after they accidentally sent 12 players onto the field shortly before halftime of their 27-23 victory over Colorado. Making the penalty all the more upsetting, it came after consecutive timeouts.

“I’ve never had that happen to me in my career, and it was my fault and it was shameful,” UCLA coach Jim Mora said this week. “It should have never happened, and it will never happen again.”

While the circumstances of that infraction may have been unique, penalties have become a nagging constant for the Bruins in recent years.

UCLA’s 59.6 yards of penalties per game last season ranked No. 91 in the nation among major college football teams — and was an improvement over previous years. The Bruins ranked No. 117 in penalty yardage in 2015 (70.5 yards per game), No. 117 in 2014 (75.3 yards per game) and No. 120 in 2013 (73.8 yards per game). The NCAA does not include penalty rankings on its website for 2012, Mora’s first season with the Bruins.

UCLA has regressed in the penalty department this season. It has averaged 9.8 penalties and 91 yards per game, both figures ranking No. 124 nationally.

Mora identified a few bothersome themes — the Bruins were called for three defensive holding penalties against Colorado and have been penalized for targeting in four consecutive games.

The holding penalties resulted from defensive backs struggling to stay with receivers after the Buffaloes’ original play call broke down. Bruins defenders grabbed Colorado receivers trying not to get beat as the quarterback scrambled. UCLA spent a portion of its practice Tuesday working on those types of situations.

Mora has disputed two of the four targeting penalties called against his team this season but acknowledged the need for players to avoid putting themselves in positions where they could be called for the infraction.

“We have to understand that that’s how they’re going to judge it,” Mora said, “so we have to change the way we tackle.”

Having one man too many on the field might have been a simple misunderstanding. UCLA defensive coordinator Tom Bradley said the team uses a “big corner group” and a “big nickel group,” leading to possible confusion among players.

“In hundreds and hundreds of games, it’s never happened and it can’t happen,” Mora said of the penalty. “So I take that very personally.”

Ramble on

Soso Jamabo ran seven yards for a critical first down on UCLA’s final drive against Colorado, leaving the Buffaloes with only 26 seconds left to attempt a miracle rally that fell short.

Otherwise, the Bruins’ running game took a step backward. UCLA averaged 2.7 yards per carry during the game, its worst average since it generated 2.5 yards in its season opener against Texas A&M. The Bruins rank No. 107 nationally with 115 yards rushing per game.

Part of the issue against Colorado might have been a leg injury sustained by left guard Najee Toran in the third quarter, forcing the Bruins to shuffle two spots on their offensive line when they moved right tackle Andre James over to take Toran’s spot and brought Poasi Moala off the bench to play right tackle.

Jamabo finished the game with 70 yards and a touchdown in 21 carries, averaging 3.3 yards per carry. He appears to have become the No. 1 tailback after taking 33 of the team’s 41 carries that involved running backs over the last two games. The Bruins have used the sturdy Jalen Starks as a short-yardage specialist while occasionally mixing in Bolu Olorunfunmi and Brandon Stephens.

Mora said Jamabo’s heavy workload was largely a function of his having fully recovered from the back issues that slowed him in training camp and early in the season.

“He’s just been healthy. His back’s better,” Mora said. “He’s running with confidence, he’s got long speed and we’ll continue to use him. We’ll continue to use Bolu; we’ll continue to use Jalen. We saw Brandon Stephens get in there and get some carries. I don’t think you can just play with one back — it’s really hard — so being able to play with two or three or sometimes even four is a real bonus for us.”


Follow Ben Bolch on Twitter @latbbolch

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