UCLA Football: RB Jordon James Steps Up to Fill Johnathan Franklin's Void

Kyle KensingContributor ISeptember 2, 2013

UCLA football entered its 2013 fall camp with designs on a running back platoon to compensate the production the Bruins lost from Doak Walker Award-finalist Johnathan Franklin. In Saturday's 58-20 rout of Nevada, Jordon James took initial steps to shoulder the group's workload all by himself. 

Offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone gave the lion's share of opportunities to James, and the redshirt junior took the ball and ran with it—quite literally. James rushed 21 times and produced at a clip on par with Franklin's pace in 2012, going for 155 yards and a touchdown. 

"Well, he is the number one back. He’s our starter right now," head coach Jim Mora said plainly to reporters in Saturday's post-game press conference, per UCLABruins.com.  

The Bruins still have plans to use a multifaceted backfield, Mora added. Perkins and Malcolm Jones each scored rushing touchdowns, and each of the trio of Perkins, Jones and Steven Manfro averaged better than six yards per carry.  

UCLA will indeed have options. However, if James continues to shine in the same fashion when UCLA travels to Nebraska in Week 3, it will force the coaching staff's hand in turning over the run game's keys largely to James.  

Mazzone's offense has had a clear No. 1 running back as one of its cornerstones in his past two seasons as a Pac-12 coordinator. Arizona State's Cameron Marshall scored a program-record 18 rushing touchdowns in 2011. Franklin was among the nation's leading ball-carriers last season with over 1,700 yards. 

Both fed off a standout quarterback, and vice versa. Likewise, on Saturday, James was the perfect complement to quarterback Brett Hundley, whose Heisman candidacy began with a bang. Hundley averaged nine yards per carry on his seven rushes, two of which went for touchdowns. He also spread the ball among 10 different receivers for 274 yards and two scores. 

Evident in the Bruins' 34.4 point-per-game output a season ago, very good things happen when Hundley is operating alongside a potent and consistent ground attack built from a strong feature back.  

James was used as a change-of-pace back behind Franklin last season, but is on course to transition to that featured role. Mora credited James with significant strides in the offseason. 

"He has become a better one cut and downhill runner," Mora said. "In the second level he uses the shake. He has learned how to make a miss down the field instead of just in the backfield.”

Nevada's linebacker corps knows firsthand James' refined ability to evade tackles beyond the backfield.

Such moves are likely to both make James the breakout star of the Bruins running back platoon, and force UCLA's opponents to spend extra hours in the film room.  


Kyle Kensing is the Pac-12 Lead Writer. All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Kyle on Twitter @kensing45.