PASADENA, Calif. (AP) — Kennedy Polamalu is UCLA’s offensive coordinator, but he still looks and thinks about the game from the vantage point of a fullback.
Polamalu seemed pained when the Bruins attempted 70 passes against Utah and has been frustrated for months by a ground game that ranks among the nation’s worst, so he opened up competition at running back this week and hoped for a response. It wasn’t perfect, but Polamalu got one.
Bolu Olorunfunmi rushed for 65 yards and one touchdown, Jalen Starks ran for two touchdowns, and UCLA used its second-best rushing performance of the season to hold off Oregon State 38-24 on Saturday night.
Randall Goforth returned an interception 40 yards for a touchdown and Mike Fafaul threw for 281 yards and one interception as UCLA (4-6, 2-5 Pac-12) snapped a four-game losing streak.
“It’s good to get a win,” UCLA coach Jim Mora said. “They have been hard to come by this year.”
Artavis Pierce had 73 yards rushing and two touchdowns for Oregon State (2-6, 1-6 Pac 12). The Beavers are 1-15 in conference games under second-year coach Gary Andersen.
UCLA rushed for 163 yards, its best outing since running for 125 yards against Arizona in October. Olorunfunmi, Soso Jamabo, Brandon Stephens and Nate Starks each had 4 yards or more per carry, a major improvement for a group that had been averaging 2.6 yards
The only one who didn’t was Starks, the 255-pound freshman that Polamalu called a “big bull.” Polamalu wouldn’t single out Starks as his favorite and said seeing the bruising back in action “brings a smile to my face.”
“I thought as a group they stayed together,” Polamalu said. “They didn’t complain and were helping each other on the sideline, so I thought that was pretty cool.”
It wasn’t always pretty. Jamabo fumbled on UCLA’s second play from scrimmage, and Pierce scored on a 1-yard touchdown run two plays later to give Oregon State the early 7-0 lead.
Fafaul threw a 48-yard pass to Jordan Lasley that helped set up Olorunfunmi’s TD to make it 7-7. Starks ran for a touchdown and Lasley scored off a blocked punt to give UCLA a 21-7 lead. Pierce scored on another short touchdown run midway through the second quarter to pull Oregon State to 21-14.
Oregon State was opportunistic, keeping the game in doubt until the final two minutes when Goforth picked off Marcus McMaryion and scored. McMaryion was 22 of 33 for 232 yards.
“I just wish he had put the ball away until he got into the end zone,” UCLA defensive coordinator Tom Bradley said. “I’m a fan of that.”
Manase Hungalu recovered two fumbles, including one he returned 40 yards for a touchdown, pulling the Beavers to 24-21 in the third quarter. Hungalu also had an interception, returning it 37 yards out of the end zone to stall a Bruin drive early in the fourth quarter.
“We come out every week and we expect to win, nothing less,” Hungalu said. “I think we just need to realize that it takes every quarter and every single play. We can’t take a play off or take a break on one of the plays.”
UCLA gained 30 yards off penalties on the ensuing possession. Safety Jalen Moore was ejected for targeting and linebacker Kyle Haley grabbed receiver Theo Howard’s face mask, setting up Starks’ second TD run that made it 31-21.
Oregon State: The Beavers are taking steps forward. The defense and special teams were mostly solid, but the offense was sluggish without running back Ryan Nall, who is out with a foot injury. Still, this rebuilding project might be ahead of schedule. Oregon State has played four conference games decided by one score this season.
UCLA: The Bruins have a path to a bowl game, but it’s slim. UCLA must upset a white-hot Southern California team that just shut down Washington in Seattle, and knock off California in Berkeley to get to six wins. If UCLA remains utterly one-dimensional on offense, attempting 48 passes to 29 runs, those hopes will be extinguished next week.
Oregon State hosts Arizona on Saturday.
UCLA hosts crosstown rival USC on Saturday.