The media, including we here at Go Joe Bruin, have talked at length about the impressive season the UCLA Football offense has had so far. QB Josh Rosen has been nothing short of incredible in his return from injury. The offensive line has improved and the receivers, including tight ends, have burst onto the season. But what about the backfield?
I’ll be the first to admit it. Ever since UCLA Football RB Soso Jamabo‘s freshman season I’ve advocated for moving him to WR. I know what he did in high school and how he was a dominant talent in a very talent rich state. His signing for many, including me, was an indicator of an exciting future in the offense moving forward and I was giddy imagining all the ways he would score for the Bruins.
Then came his 2015 freshman season. In a reserve role that year he ran for over 400 yards, scored four times on the ground and averaged over six yards a carry. But I took issue with his upright running style, his tendency to look to bounce runs and at times his toughness. Then I began to look ahead at what the Bruins would lose after that year and with three departures on the offensive line and the loss of top receiving targets I believed that the best use of his talents would be on the outside.
It wasn’t just for the offense’s sake but also Jamabo’s. He’s a taller player, listed at six-foot-three, and is long legged. It is difficult for someone with that build to stop and start in the backfield when the offensive line is unable to drive defenders off the line. With his natural receiving talent, prototypical size and a line that wasn’t going to do him any favors, I was all for the position change.
2016 rolled around and my worst fears were realized. On 82 carries and behind a very poor run-blocking line, Jamabo averaged 3.9 yards per carry for a total of 321 yards. He took a beating taking on tacklers at or behind the line of scrimmage and was often used as a battering ram. It certainly wasn’t what anyone, including Jamabo, thought would happen during his time as a Bruin. One silver lining in that season was the major jump in his targets and production as a receiver.
With what happened in 2016 I continued to call for the UCLA Football program to try him as a receiver especially given the propensity for drops by the wideouts.
Bolu Olorunfunmi won the running back job out of camp and it seemed as though Jamabo might go down as one of the best athletes to ever have to come to UCLA and not pan out. That’s not something anyone wishes on a player and but it is a reality in the game of college football. Then came the A&M game, specifically the later portions of the game.
When Jamabo got in, and it took awhile, he demonstrated a very improved pass protection game and was running with more authority including a score that really helped ignite a comeback. After he scored Jamabo handed the ball right back to the official and jogged off the field. The maturity was on full display. However Jamabo missed the next two games with injury and the Bruins went 1-1 in those contests.
Against Stanford no one was expecting the UCLA Football offense to run the ball with much success. After missing two games with a shoulder injury and facing a tough defense, no one would have blamed Jamabo if he didn’t blow the doors off. While he didn’t have a night like Cardinal RB Bryce Love, he did give the Bruins their first 100 yard rusher in a game in what feels like years. He found small creases, showed burst and with the bum shoulder, was physical when he needed to be.
Despite missing two games this season Jamabo is the leading rusher for the Bruins on the season and is averaging 73 yards a game with a chance to really improve those totals against a Colorado team that surrendered 202 yards to Washington RB Myles Gaskin.
If this UCLA Football team is going to win games this season they need all the explosion they can get from their offense while the defense continues to make much needed adjustments. Part of helping your defense is scoring points while dominating time of possession. There’s nothing like a strong running game to keep your defense off the field and something tells me Jamabo is just getting started.