Perkins has UCLA's ground game moving

LOS ANGELES -- The ascension of UCLA running back Paul Perkins to becoming the Pac-12's leading rusher didn't come from a late surge or a couple of otherworldly, 300-plus-yard rushing games. Much like the way he runs, it's been a solid and consistent effort each week.

"He's not a flashy guy at that position," said UCLA offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone. "He's a grinder. But you look up, and without even noticing, he's got 100 yards rushing and you wonder when that happened."

With one week left to play, Perkins leads the Pac-12 with 1,265 yards. That's good for 14th nationally. But hot on his trail are Utah running back Devontae Booker (1,255) and USC's Buck Allen (1,244).

It was Allen, actually, who led the league in rushing heading into last week's SoCal showdown between the Bruins and Trojans. But Perkins surpassed him with 24 carries for 93 yards, compared to Allen's 14 carries for 60 yards.

Who takes home the honors as the league's regular-season rushing leader is still very much up for grabs. With just 21 yards separating the trio, there is plenty of room to debate how things might play out over the final weekend.

Conventional wisdom says Booker might have the best chance, since he faces Colorado this week and the Buffs allow a league-worst 211.7 rushing yards per game. Colorado is the only team in the conference allowing more than 200 yards on the ground each week. Allen will see a Notre Dame rush defense that ranks 55th nationally, allowing 157.7 yards per game. Perkins might have the toughest trek of the trio. He faces a Stanford squad that leads the conference and is 14th nationally at 112.8 yards per game.

Perkins has only four 100-yard rushing games to his credit -- including a season-high 190-yard effort in a loss to Oregon. However, he's rushed for at least 80 yards in all but one game this season. His 2014 low is a 78-yard performance in a 17-7 win against Arizona.

"Ballin' man, he's ballin'," said quarterback Brett Hundley. "It's great to see someone I grew up with and played with have so much success. He's done a great job for us."

Hundley and Perkins ran track together as kids growing up in Arizona -- though Perkins would rather not line up side by side and race his quarterback these days.

"I don't like running against slow people," Perkins playfully jabbed. "He's a great athlete. But he's definitely not faster."

All joking aside, Perkins wasn't particularly up for talking about himself. Rather, as any good running back does, he praised the offensive line -- a unit that has taken substantial heat during the course of the season.

"Every week, he comes to play," said UCLA coach Jim Mora. "I think he'd be the first to credit his offensive line and his receivers downfield. But he's the one running the ball, and he's doing a nice job of it."

Stanford coach David Shaw also praised UCLA's line play -- as well as its rushing attack as a whole.

"I think it's the dedication to the running game and how physical they are up front," Shaw said. "You have to account for the quarterback as a runner also. As soon as you don't account for the quarterback, he takes off and he rips off a 25-yarder also. The way their run game is put together, the way that they block up front, how physical they are, it makes the entire group tough to stop. And the runner himself, he breaks tackles."

The implications of Friday's season finale are significant. If the Bruins win, they'll lock up the South Division and earn another shot at the Ducks in the Pac-12 title game. If they lose, the winner of the Territorial Cup between Arizona and Arizona State (being played simultaneously, thank you picture-in-picture) will clinch the South.

And chances are if the Bruins can beat Stanford for the first time in the Jim Mora era, it's going to take another steady and consistent performance from Perkins.

"He's amazing, it's ridiculous how good he is," said wide receiver Devin Lucien. "He can slow down defenses and make moves in small spaces like I've never seen before. It's something special. He's going to be a great running back. He already is. He's got a solid future."