This UCLA team might be for real.
Through three years of the Chip Kelly era in Westwood, it was fair to wonder whether this rebuilding project was going to come to fruition. In Kelly’s first two years, UCLA had a combined 7-17 record. But the Bruins started to show some real flashes in 2020, leading many to believe that 2021 would be the year they would turn the corner.
If Saturday night’s 38-27 win over No. 16 LSU was any indication, UCLA has zoomed past that corner and could be a legitimate contender in the Pac-12 South.
UCLA impressed in a Week 1 win over Hawaii, but that was Hawaii. This was LSU from the big, bad SEC. On this night in the Rose Bowl, though, UCLA looked every bit as big and every bit as bad as the mighty Tigers, who are just two seasons removed from a national championship.
The biggest question entering this game was whether or not the Bruins would hold up in the trenches. Not only did they hold up, they completely controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball.
While the Bruins’ offense gashed LSU for more than 200 yards rushing, the defense had constant pressure in the face of LSU quarterback Max Johnson. Johnson made a few plays, mainly via his connection with Kayshon Boutte. But UCLA completely eliminated LSU’s rushing attack and were able to rush the passer at will, hitting Johnson over and over again.
UCLA’s offense was just as impressive. The running back duo of Zach Charbonnet and Brittain Brown proved formidable, opening up opportunities for quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson in the passing game. Most of those opportunities came off of play-action, and big-time tight end Greg Dulcich made his presence felt early on.
LSU opened the scoring at 7-0 early in the second quarter, but UCLA responded just a play later when Thompson-Robinson hit Dulcich in stride for a highlight reel 75-yard score.
From there, it was off to the races for the UCLA offense. The Bruins took a 14-10 lead into halftime and were up 24-20 going into the fourth. That’s when the Bruins put the pedal to the metal.
They would tack on touchdowns on their first two fourth-quarter possessions, marching 73 yards on eight plays and then another 81 yards on a subsequent eight-play drive. A Brown touchdown made it 31-20, and then Thompson-Robinson hit Kyle Philips for a 45-yard score to deliver a crushing blow to the Tigers.
When the dust settled, the Bruins amassed 476 total yards. Thompson-Robinson wasn’t the most efficient, but he hit several big plays and finished with 260 passing yards and three touchdowns on just 9-of-16 throwing.
Charbonnet and Brown, meanwhile, finished with 117 and 92 rushing yards apiece. Charbonnet, the Michigan transfer, was especially impressive. When he wasn’t zooming past LSU defenders, he was breaking through arm tackles and accelerating into the second level.