One of the biggest surprises of the college football season so far has been the play of UCLA senior running back Johnathan Franklin.
The 5-foot-11, 195-pounder leads the nation in rushing with 431 yards in his first two games. That includes a career-high 217 yards in a 36-30 win over a ranked Nebraska team on Saturday. The speedy Franklin is averaging 10.5 yards per carry and already has busted three runs of 50 yards or more.
For his efforts, he was named our Heisman Player of the Week for Week 2 on Monday.
Franklin has put together a solid career playing for some sub-par UCLA teams. He rushed for 1,127 yards as a sophomore and just missed another 1,000-yard season in 2011. He has 3,100 career yards, 632 yards shy of passing Gaston Green as the school’s all-time rushing leader.
His renaissance coincides with the hiring of Jim Mora, Jr. as UCLA’s new head coach and the installment of Noel Mazzone as offensive coordinator. For the first time in his career, the Bruins are a real threat in the passing game and Franklin has been a big-time beneficiary.
Mora was effusive in his praise of Franklin after practice on Tuesday:
“The team takes the lead from Johnathan,” Mora said. “He’s had two great games. It’s not a one-man show on offfense out there, but he’s doing some special things. We’ve got to make sure he continues to lead the nation in rushing by doing the things we need to do.”
The media caught up with Franklin on Tuesday, too. Read what he had to say after the jump:
What’s your team’s attitude like coming off that big win over Nebraska?
It’s another day to get better, another day at the office. We’ve just got to try to get better. Consistency is one of the hardest things in life. We’ve just got to keep each other accountable and we’ll be all right.
Matt Barkley is getting all the Heisman love across town, but only one guy has won Pac-12 player of the week twice in a row now and that’s you.
It’s definitely a blessing to win that award, but I’m not too focused on that. We’ve got a big game this week with Houstoncoming into town and we’re getting ready for that one.
How have you benefited from the new offense?
It’s great. The line has been doing a great job and the receivers are blocking downfield, helping me to make those yards. But it’s only Week 2. I’ve just got to keep it going and do whatever I can to help my team win.
Are you surprised you have a couple 200-yard games already?
God is good. I’m not surprised at all. With the God I serve, you can do anything.
What’s it feel like to be leading the nation in rushing?
It’s great, it’s a blessing, but we’re 2-0 and that’s way more important. We’ve got to keep it going.
What’s the buzz like on campus now that you guys are off to a good start?
It’s a good feeling, but I remember two years ago Houston was ranked and we were 0-2 and we ended up beating them. We just have to stay humble, not be satisfied and continue to work hard. The attention is good, but as fast as it came, it can go away faster. We can’t buy into the noise. Everybody’s talking and congratulating us, feeding us candy. We just have to stay focused.
What did you do in the offseason to get to this level? Did you do anything different?
We all worked hard and we all pushed each other. There’s no definition for hard work.
What’s the main difference between the offense this year and the one last year?
I just think guys bought into the program. We have a great offensive line. They all have great attitudes. Nobody has egos, nobody is selfish. It’s about the team. Guys are doing a great job blocking and getting better every day.
How has the new scheme changed your role in the offense?
I’m just running the ball. Run, block, catch … it’s no different from how it’s been
You’re on the verge of breaking UCLA’s career rushing record. What does that mean to you?
I’ve heard about it and it’s a blessing. I understand the position I’m in right now but I just have to stay humble and keep working. Winning is way more important than anything I can do as far as records and all the other talk about what is going on. We’ve just got to keep working.
Do you get a little trophy for being player of the week?
Just a pat on the back.
You seem to have answers ready for every subject …
I’ve got to! I’m trying to be mayor one day. You have to know how to talk.