The UCLA Bruins surprised many this season under first year head coach Jim Mora when they won the Pac 12 South division and came within a field goal of winning the Pac 12 Championship. Much of their success could be traced to the breakout year of senior running back Johnathan Franklin which jumpstarted the Bruins’ running game. With Franklin moving on to the NFL this spring, how will UCLA replace their star running back’s production?
Whoever steps up to try and fill Franklin’s shoes will have a tall order ahead of them. The Los Angeles native exploded in his senior season and finished the year 282 carries for 1,734 rushing yards. Franklin found the end zone 13 times on the year and was named second team All-Pac 12 and was a finalist for the Doak Walker Award.
The cupboard isn’t exactly bare in Westwood, however. Jordon James was second among running backs in rushing attempts with 61 carries for 215 yards, averaging 3.5 yards per carry and scoring two touchdowns. Senior-to-be Damien Thigpen chipped in as well this season with 50 carries for 262 yards, averaging 5.2 per carry and scoring a pair of touchdowns. James and Thigpen could form a formidable tandem to carry the load and alleviate the loss of Franklin’s monster production.
However, the next star in the Bruins’ backfield could turn out to be an unheralded redshirt freshman Paul Perkins. The 5-foot-11, 192-pound former sprinter from Arizona has been called “the real deal” by people close to the program, though he wasn’t lauded much coming out of high school. When he committed with UCLA, he was graded as just a two-star recruit, but appears to be a part of the Bruins’ offensive plans for the future.
Whoever takes the bulk of the carries will benefit from an improved offensive line. A young group in 2012 that started three freshmen and a sophomore, the Bruins’ offensive line got better as the season wore on and should be among the best in the Pac 12 as they continue to gain experience. Expect them to be a tough, physical group that paves the way for anyone who lines up behind Brett Hundley.
Johnathan Franklin was a unique talent that will not soon be forgotten at UCLA. The next man up will have their hands full trying to replace the elite playmaking of the outgoing senior, but Jim Mora has his share of options to try his best.