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UCLA football: Defense to face best running back in Jahvid Best

October 13, 2009 | 12:35 pm
Cal Toby Gerhart, Stanford’s brutish tailback, gained 134 yards rushing against UCLA in a 26-14 victory.

LaMichael James, Oregon’s spinning-top-like tailback, went for 152 yards against the Bruins in a 24-10 victory.

Is a pattern is forming? The Bruins can only hope that’s not the case. On Saturday, UCLA will face California running back Jahvid Best, considered a Heisman Trophy frontrunner before the Bears were thumped in back-to-loses to Oregon and USC.

“If you don’t get your arms around him, he is going to make you pay and pay dearly,” UCLA Coach Rick Neuheisel said. “We got to wrap up and squeeze this week.”

The Bruins had few worries against the run before facing Stanford. They went into that game ranked ninth nationally against the run. The Cardinal gained 174 yards rushing.

Oregon expanded on that with 221 yards rushing. Neuheisel framed that as occasional slip-ups, saying, “Defensively, we played terrifically 90% of time. There were seven plays cost us 170 yards of offense, and most of the time that was because we didn’t tackle and wrap up.”

But while James did have a 49-yard run, he also averaged 5.4 yards per carry on his other 19 runs, using a pivot move, where he spun around, on a number of plays. The poor tackling, Neuheisel said, is “a huge lesson for us as we go into this game with [an] explosive player like Best.”

Best has 514 yards rushing and has scored nine touchdowns -- eight on runs -- this season. He was held to 55 yards by Oregon and 47 by USC, though both times the game was so lopsided that the Bears all-but abandoned the run.

The Bears will serve up Best in different looks, including the Wildcat formation, something that California Coach Jeff Tedford said, “Gives you an extra blocker at the point of attack and prevents teams from stacking the box against you. It gives you a hat on hat.”

Basically, he said, it “puts the ball in your best ball carriers hands.”

Of course, that was something Tedford didn’t do himself against Oregon in a 42-3 loss. The Bears recovered a fumble on the opening kickoff, giving them the ball inside the 25-yard line. Tedford shunned Best in favor of three consecutive passes, all incomplete.

Other UCLA notes:

-- Quarterback Kevin Prince, who will make his second start since returning from a broken jaw, said he learned a valuable lesson from the loss to Oregon. Prince said the Bruins were unprepared for the pass defense the Ducks used in the second half, as it was not their standard defense.

“Personally, I have to be able to study the film a little better,” he said. “It wasn’t something that they did on a down-to-down basis. I learned now that I am going [to] have to pay attention to everything that teams do, not the stuff they do 80% of the time.”

-- UCLA, 3-2 overall and 0-2 in Pacific 10 Conference play, lost its first two conference games for only the sixth time since World War II. The last time was in 1999, when the Bruins finished with a 4-7 record. Only once have the Bruins made a bowl game after starting conference play 0-2. The 1995 time won five of its last seven games and received an invitation to the Aloha Bowl, where UCLA was routed by Kansas, 51-30.

 -- Chris Foster

Photo: Jahvid Best. Credit: Jed Jacobsohn / Getty Images