With UCLA’s season teetering on the edge of oblivion, they put on one of the best quarters they have had all season. The end result was a 44-20 win at home over Colorado. With the win, the Bruins are bowl eligible for the first time in the Chip Kelly era.
A Poor Start
UCLA was down 20-10 at halftime. But the Bruins put on a 20-0 third quarter behind 219 yards of offense in the period. UCLA moves to 6-4 on the season. They are assured of being eligible for at least a low tier bowl game like the Jimmy Kimmel Bowl.
It was not easy nor was it always pretty. Sounds like most of the UCLA season.
The Bruins were down early. They looked inexplicably flat on both sides of the ball. For a team that was coming off a bye with plenty of time to fix issues, they killed themselves with seven penalties in the first half. Two of them negated a total of 90 yards of offensive plays. The undisciplined execution put them in a hole early and throughout the first half.
Colorado went up 7-0 in the first quarter. The Buffaloes drove 70 yards on a dozen plays. Running back Alex Fontenot burst up the middle from one yard out. Jarek Broussard had done most of the work on the drive, picking up 30 yards on the ground. He would be a problem for the UCLA defense throughout the half. Colorado had only scored 20 points in the first quarters throughout the entire season. Now they had a quick seven on UCLA. The Bruins conversely had only 3 yards of total offense for the quarter.
Colorado added a field goal halfway through the second quarter to go up 10-0. Coupled with no visible sense of urgency from UCLA, the Bruins season was flickering.
Thompson-Robinson Takes Over
Quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson stepped up at that point to begin what would be the game of his season. He short-armed a pass over the middle to Kyle Philips for 15 yards, and then Philips added another 32 yards after the catch to the Colorado 17-yard line. Brittain Brown took the next two carries, including a one-yard touchdown run up the middle to get the Bruins on the board at 10-7.
Colorado responded with another touchdown that featured 62 yards on the ground by Broussard. He finished the half with 102 yards. Fontenot finished this specific drive with a touchdown run from two yards out, and Colorado was up 17-7.
Thompson-Robinson put together another decent drive. But it died when Nicholas Barr-Mira missed a field goal for the fourth game in a row, this one from 47 yards out.
Both teams got in more field goal in the half to give Colorado the 20-10 lead at the break.
UCLA was flat, mistake-riddled, and unable to stop Colorado’s offense, which ranked 128th in the country going into the game.
Halftime Attitude Check
The Bruins used only 12 minutes of the 20-minute halftime allocation before returning to the field. UCLA head coach Chip Kelly dismissed it as routine. But having checked with UCLA media, there was confirmation that they came back at least three minutes earlier than usual. So what was the locker room like at halftime in the midst of the malaise? Thompson-Robinson said, “From my perspective, I was pretty pissed. You know, very frustrated obviously. We had some penalties and stuff like that…I obviously wasn’t playing the best, so you know just overall frustrated.”
Defensive back Quentin Lake said his words to his teammates at half time were, “Do your job.” He added, “It’s real simple. When the game gets a little hectic you kind of want to make a play.” He said players were not staying focused on their assignments in the first half.
That all changed on both sides of the ball in the second half. UCLA started putting points on the scoreboard on its first drive of the half. Thompson-Robinson had two completions for 36 yards 11 yards rushing. Zach Charbonnet added another 26 on the ground including a two-yard touchdown run. The kicking woes with Barr-Mira continued as the PAT hit the left upright. But the gap was closed to 20-16.
Bruins Pull Away
On the first drive of the half, it was plenty of Brown, with 37 yards rushing. That put Thompson-Robinson in position to bootleg it to the left and run it in from 23 yards out. UCLA had its first lead at 23-20. The Bruins did lose Brown for the rest of the game, however. Initial reports were that he hurt his hand But he also had a noticeable limp as he left the field just prior to the end of the game. His status will be “available” or “not available” in Kelly vernacular next week.
UCLA extended the lead to 30-20 at the end of the third quarter when Charbonnet ran up the middle from three yards out. UCLA had only 69 rushing in the entire first half. They added 149 in the third quarter alone.
Charbonnet added another two-yard touchdown run in the 4th quarter to put UCLA up 37-20. He finished with 67 yards and three touchdowns on 17 carries. Thompson-Robinson was the team’s leading rusher with 99 yards and a touchdown on nine carries. He was 18 of 27 passing for 257 yards, no touchdowns and one interception. He went into the game second lowest in the nation in QBR rating for passes over 20 yards over the last two months. The passing game Saturday night was full of 15-20 yard passes that picked up big yards after the catch.
Getting Bowl Eligible
Philips had eight of those receptions for 99 yards to move into seventh all-time on the UCLA receptions list. But his highlight of the night was the final nail in Colorado’s coffin; an 82-yard punt return that gave UCLA it’s final 44-20 margin. The Bruins had scored 37 unanswered points and turned what was a sluggish early effort into one of the better second half performances in recent memory. Not many saw it, as the announced attendance for the game was 36,573, the second lowest of the season.
Where the Bruins go from here remains to be seen in the final two games of the season. Right now, the 6 wins is the bare minimum to get into a bowl game. They need wins over USC and Cal in the final two games to get into a decent second tier bowl game.