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Injuries Threaten UCLA’s Turning Point

Photo Credit: John Hefti/Icon Sportswire

LOS ANGELES, Calif. – UCLA’s thoroughly dominant win over No. 20 Cal Thursday night in the Rose Bowl is the kind of performance that could turn the Bruins season.

Freshman quarterback Josh Rosen set a program record with 34 completions for 399 yards with three touchdowns and avoided throwing interceptions against the nation’s No. 1 turnover-generating defense.

The Bruin defense overwhelmed Cal’s offensive line and rendered the Golden Bears’ run game ineffective. In turn, star quarterback Jared Goff was left on an island much of the night.

There’s plenty to make Bruins faithful smile immediately when looking back on UCLA’s showing in its 40-24 win. But looking forward might prompt more grimaces.

A win that could propel UCLA back into contention for the Pac-12 Championship Game may have, instead, come with a price tag too hefty for the Bruins to cash in for Levi’s Stadium.

Already missing cornerback Fabian Moreau, defensive end Eddie Vanderdoes and linebacker Myles Jack for the season, UCLA lost leading tackler Isaako Savaiinaea.

Not content to see the Bruins defense sustain all the injury misfortune, the Football Gods claimed UCLA star running back Paul Perkins as well.

In a season that’s been punctuated with one high-profile injury after another, no single team has been more snake-bit than Jim Mora’s UCLA Bruins.

And according to the head coach, the outlook for the season’s back-half just got worse.

Held together with duct tape, the Bruins are further depleted ahead of a crucial, albeit manageable final month.

In fairness, there is more than duct tape keeping UCLA together. Young back-ups will play increasingly prominent roles to compensate.

To wit, freshman offensive lineman Kolton Miller stepped into the front five Thursday to fill in for Conor McDermott. Sophomore Matt Dickerson has also taken on more responsibility since the loss of Vanderdoes, recording four tackles against Cal.

With Perkins sidelined, highly-touted freshman power-back Soso Jamabo saw the heftiest workload of his burgeoning college career, carrying 18 times for 79 yards and a touchdown Thursday. More experienced reserves are also called upon to take up the slack of injured starters. With leading pass-rusher Deon Hollins out Thursday, redshirt senior linebacker Aaron Wallace delivered 2.5 sacks on Cal’s Goff.

October 22 2015: UCLA Bruins linebacker Aaron Wallace (51) ) gets a sack on California Golden Bears quarterback Jared Goff (16) during the game between Cal and UCLA at Rose Bowl in Pasadena, CA. (Photo by David Dennis/Icon Sportswire)

October 22 2015: UCLA Bruins linebacker Aaron Wallace (51) ) gets a sack on California Golden Bears quarterback Jared Goff (16) during the game between Cal and UCLA at Rose Bowl in Pasadena, CA. (Photo by David Dennis/Icon Sportswire)

Last but not least, redshirt sophomore John Johnson, himself a victim of injuries for much of his UCLA career, played well in the secondary against a deep Cal wide receiving corps.

“He was a highly-acclaimed recruit and, just because of injuries, it has not happened for him,” Mora said in his postgame press conference, via UCLABruins.com. “Cal has great receivers. Those guys are ballers. And Johnny did a nice job. He stayed on top of them. He found the ball and played well.”

The concept of “next man up” coaches and players so often discuss when injuries inevitably occur is unfolding for UCLA.It may not be a sustainable for the Bruins to reach the Pac-12 Championship Game, though.

Jack’s versatility at linebacker is a centerpiece of the UCLA defense, and none of UCLA’s remaining running backs have proven to be as reliable in the passing game as Perkins.

Still, with a critical conference win to its credit, UCLA is at least in position to finish its regular season on the right track.

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