Franklin leads UCLA out of low point

As far as low points go, a 35-0 defeat at home is a pretty bad one, particularly when it comes after getting pushed around by a team you'd pushed around the previous season.

UCLA was 0-2 in a bad way four weeks ago after having lost to Kansas State and then being humiliated by Stanford in front of a stunned crowd at the Rose Bowl. The general feeling in the media and among much of the fanbase? The Bruins were doomed. There were a scattering of grumbles about the pace of the development under third-year coach Rick Neuheisel.

Ah, but inside the locker room it appears Neuheisel's oft-cited -- and sometimes mocked -- mantra of "relentless optimism" still echoed.

"Those two losses were a blessing in disguise because they brought us together," UCLA running back Johnathan Franklin said. "Through adversity, you build strength. I told everybody we have to play as a family. We weren't playing together."

At his moment, it seems appropriate to note that Franklin has aspirations to become a motivational speaker.

Here comes an oversimplification: In the first two games, Franklin got the ball 24 times combined. Over the next three games, he got the ball 26, 19 and 30 times. In those games, he rushed for 492 yards and five TDs. And in those games, UCLA went 3-0 -- whipping a pair of ranked teams in the process -- and turned all those Bruins frowns upside down. He now ranks 10th in the nation with 125 yards rushing per game.

Franklin, however, admitted the transformation wasn't all rainbows, roses and red velvet valentines. There was some speaking truth to power. Franklin was careful about providing details, but he did say blue-collar players like center Ryan Taylor and tight end Cory Harkey provided some unflinching assessments to certain teammates (as well as of themselves).

"Sometimes you have to call people out and we did that. As a man, sometimes you have to call somebody out when they make mistakes," Franklin said. "We had people who took responsibility, who had made mistakes, who weren't playing to their potential. We all put our egos to the side."

Franklin and the Bruins figure to face a tough test Saturday at California, a team with plenty of talent that is reeling from consecutive defeats to Nevada and Arizona. UCLA hasn't won in Berkeley since 1998.

Moreover, the Bears have their own bit of adversity that could become a positive this weekend: They got sliced and diced by Nevada's pistol offense, 52-31, therefore they know exactly what not to do against UCLA's version. Further, the Bears faced the Wolf Pack on a short week; it was a Friday night road game. They face the Bruins after a bye.

In other words, Franklin and the Bruins pistol won't provide a shock to the Bears system.

"I think those are huge advantages," Neuheisel said. "Getting ready for a different kind of offense is difficult... It's not the way I would have drawn it up."

Neuheisel said he believes the pistol scheme has helped optimize Franklin's skills. The 5-foot-10, 198-pound redshirt sophomore has great vision and quickness and stresses a defender forced to make a one-on-one, open-field tackle. Further, Franklin's bigger backfield mates, Derrick Coleman and Malcolm Jones, tip the scales at 231 and 223 pounds. They add a power elements that softens things up for Franklin.

The only thing holding Franklin back? Ball security. It was an issue last year, and he's had one fumble in each of the past two games.

Franklin isn't claiming that he or his team has arrived. He noted it's been a long time since UCLA won four in a row (2005). They won three in a row to start the 2009 season and everyone was talking transformation. Then the Bruins opened Pac-10 play with five consecutive defeats.

The Bruins have admirably emerged from a low point. But they haven't climbed very high just yet.

"We won't turn this program around until we have a Pac-10 championship," Franklin said. "Right now, we're just an average team. We're nobodies. We haven't done anything yet."