UCLA took the field Saturday with a steady drizzle falling on the turf and had another up-and-down practice, with the offense looking good at times but struggling to generate a consistent rhythm due to too many procedural penalties and blocking lapses.
Officials were present for the two-hour, full-pads session and there were a fair share of flags, with false start penalties once again plaguing an offensive line unit that has struggled with the new pre-snap cadences.
There were some bright spots, though.
The running game appears to be working well, with all three backs proving their worth in the new formations. Nate Starks had a terrific practice, wiggling his way through holes and beating defenders in open space. He scored a long touchdown early during the live session and was a consistent presence in between the tackles.
Soso Jamabo, too, had some good moments bursting through running lanes before breaking toward the outside and using his length to shed would-be tacklers. Jamabo earned the nod on a 4th-and-goal play from the 1, and slipped past Tahaan Goodman off the right side for a touchdown. Later, he caught a screen to the right and broke left against the grain for a 20-plus yard gain. He’s very shifty and has great vision once he gets to the second level, and should be a nice complement to Starks no matter who gets the starting nod.
Bolu Olorunfunmi also had a strong session, dropping his shoulder on newcomer Leni Toailoa off the edge before scampering in for a score. He stays low to the ground and keeps his legs moving through contact, making it difficult to bring him down even when he’s bottled up. Paul Perkins surely had a good career and will be missed, but there is some really good depth at the position.
Tight end Austin Roberts continued to impress in the flex position, having perhaps the best play of practice when he made Adarius Pickett completely whiff in open space before turning up field for a touchdown. Through the first two weeks, Roberts has shown a good feel for getting open in the flats and picking up tough yardage.
The passing game had its moments, particularly in one-on-one battles where the receivers dominated, but it was lackluster once the pass-rush was integrated in 11-on-11. Josh Rosen again had to get rid of the ball probably quicker than he would like to and often had to go to his first option rather than reading routes. Cristian Garcia got a majority of first-team reps at left guard and had a really difficult time keeping defenders in front of him. And when he tried to anticipate the snap, he was flagged for false start penalties. The pressure was too much inside and Rosen often found himself throwing the ball into tighter windows than he’d like.
Defensively, Jayon Brown was everywhere and bounced back well after being kicked out of Thursday’s practice for his hit on Darren Andrews. When Brown wasn’t in the backfield on blitzes off the edge, he was the first to chase down ball carriers on the perimeter. He showed really good instincts and the quickness to react, especially in run support. Kenny Young earned a bulk of the first-unit reps at middle linebacker and had one of his better practices of the spring, even dropping back into coverage to bat away a pass intended for one of the tight ends.
Matt Dickerson, Takkarist McKinley, Deon Hollins, Keisean Lucier-South and Jacob Tuioti-Mariner all had some good moments rushing the passer. There were no changes to the first-team line of Dickerson, Eli Ankou, Tuioti-Mariner and McKinley, and that has been a good combination this spring. Rosen has seen their numbers plenty.
Cornerback Denzel Fisher hasn’t had the best spring but he did have one of the better plays Saturday when he stayed with Kenny Walker step for step down field, turned around and went up for an interception of Rosen.
Despite the wet conditions, freshman kicker J.J. Molson was a perfect 6-for-6 on field goals to cap practice, hitting from 41, 45 and 50 yards out on his last three attempts.
The Bruins return to the field Monday afternoon but will do so without Mora, who is set to fly out of town Sunday to attend a funeral. He will rejoin the team Tuesday.
NOTES: Mora said Mique Juarez was sent home after suffering a strained neck in practice earlier this week, with the hope that he’ll be able to return to action Tuesday though every precaution is being taken ... Randall Goforth, Nathan Meadors and Cordell Broadus were among the injured group doing work off to the side ... Poasi Moala did not practice ... Mora confirmed that Steven Manfro has retired and is set to graduate in a couple months.null