Maybe there is something to this “flying by the seat of your pants” system for UCLA. The Bruins were scheduled to play Utah Friday night. That got moved to Saturday. Then by Friday afternoon, the entire game plan had been scrapped because of Utah’s COVID numbers. Instead, a game against Cal was thrown together for Sunday morning at an empty Rose Bowl. Cal had dropped their game against Arizona State when the Sun Devils had a COVID outbreak this week. With little game prep against Cal, the Bruins offense was more free flowing. It worked. They got a 34-10 win out of it.
UCLA Blows Past Cal With Ease
It was far from perfect, but in the world of 2020 sports, what isn’t? Quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson can still be a bit of a high wire act at times. He still made his early mistakes, including an early interception, and his propensity to run backwards to avoid sacks is still an issue. But there was a simplistic speed and efficiency to the offense. It seemed to feel more natural for the junior quarterback.
To be totally forthright, it is hard to tell how much prep time Cal got in for this game as well. After finding out about the new game, the Bears got into town at about 2:15 on Saturday afternoon. They did whatever game prep they could squeeze in, had COVID testing around 6pm, team meetings, and dinner and a 9:30pm curfew. They were at the stadium around 7am Sunday.
Early And Slow Start
Again, it was not pretty at first. After each team had two series, the offenses had combined for about 10 yards.
UCLA went three and out on its first drive of the game. Then Luke Akers had his punt blocked by Cal’s Cameron Goode. The Bears recovered at the UCLA 17, and for a time it was probably good that no fans were allowed in to watch the game. But the Bruins defense hunkered down and gave up only three net yards. Dario Longhetto kicked the 31-yard field goal for the Bears 3-0 lead. It was also the last time they would lead.
Later in the quarter, the Bruins got a drive that included 26 yards of rushing from Demetic Felton, a sweep pass to Kazmeir Allen for 27 yards and a fourth and two run for two yards and a touchdown by Thompson-Robinson. With the Bruins up 7-3, the offense was showing a quick step to it that was not there last week against Colorado.
The defense, which got crushed for more than 500 yards last week, gave up a total of only 13 yards in the first quarter, while the offense got a healthy 115.
The Nimble DTR
Thompson-Robinson, for his part, was often quicker with his decision making as well. He ran the ball more freely in the first half, whether by design or necessity. On UCLA’s first drive of the second quarter, he eluded two tacklers in the backfield and took off up the right side for 17 yards. It was a sign of the Thompson-Robinson who is quick to react, instead of the one who tries too hard to keep options open that often are not there. That same series, he found tight end Greg Dulcich wide open over the middle of the field for an 18-yard completion. A few plays later it was Thompson-Robinson to Charles Njoku for a 27-yard touchdown pass and a 14-3 lead.
After being dominated by the UCLA defense for the first quarter-and-a-half, Cal finally got some offense untracked. Quarterback Chase Garbers went six of nine on a drive that covered 75 yards in 12 plays. Garbers took it the last eight yards on his own for the touchdown to cut the UCLA lead to 14-10.
The Bruins answered on their next drive. Thompson-Robinson connected with Dulcich over the middle of the field for 44 yards to the Cal six-yard line. On the next play, Thompson-Robinson rolled to his left and found Chase Cota all alone in the middle of the end zone for the touchdown and the 20-10 lead, (Nicholas Barr-Mira missed the PAT). The drive took only five plays, but effectively put the game out of reach the way the UCLA defense taking care of Cals offense.
Towards the end of the half, Garbers was intercepted by UCLA’s Caleb Johnson at the Cal 26-yard line. Johnson returned it 13 yards to the Bears 13. It took only three plays before Thompson-Robinson connected with Kyle Philips on a five-yard dump-off pass for a touchdown a 27-10 halftime lead.
Both teams settled into offensive ineffectiveness in the third quarter. UCLA managed only 69 yards in the quarter. The only thing that kept the lead safe was that Cal put together only 34 yards of offense.
Cal managed to get to the UCLA 22-yard line early in the fourth quarter. But down by 17, coach Justin Wilcox felt compelled to go for it on fourth and three. Garbers’ pass to Makai Polk was incomplete and the Bruins took over.
Putting The Game Away
UCLA ran Felton on six straight plays for 41 yards. That was followed by Brittain Brown taking a hand-off at the 31 yard line. He broke two tackles at the 10 and diving over the goal line for the touchdown. It put UCLA 34-10 with 10 minutes still to play.
The game was not a bromide for what has ailed UCLA football for the last two-plus years. But in a weird week of uncertainty, the Bruins looked as loose and free-wheeling, on both sides of the ball, as they have in a long, long time.
UCLA finished the game with 440 yards of offense and held Cal to 176. Thompson-Robinson finished the game 14 of 26 for 196 yards and three touchdowns, with the one interception. Garbers was held to 18 of 33 for 122 yards, no touchdowns and one interception. The Bruins also picked up 244 yards on the ground with Felton owning 107 of those.
Tweaking The Volume
After the game, UCLA head coach Chip Kelly said the preparation in such a short window was different. With Cal not having played last week, there was no game film on the work of new offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave. So the UCLA staff spent Friday night and Saturday night watching film from Mugrave’s former employer, the Denver Broncos.
As for his offense, Kelly has never been one to admit he simplifies the offense from time to time. But he did say he adjusted, “The volume.” He said, “Everybody has a volume of offense and a volume of defense in their library. And then you pick and choose what you are going to run each week. You are not going to run your entire offense every game.” There were plays designed specifically for Utah that were taken out of the game plan. Since Cal was never on the schedule to begin with, there was no book for this game. Putting together made it more logical to not go too deep into the library.
The Bruins travel to Eugene to play Oregon on Saturday.