“We ride together, we die together, bad boys for life.”
That was the iconic line Will Smith and Martin Lawrence would tell each other during the epic movie series, Bad Boys, symbolizing their relentless devotion and unique bond to one another while miraculously overcoming the most volatile, harrowing, and deathly of scenarios.
What was apparent for UCLA football, after Saturday night’s 48-45 instant classic defeat at the hand of their archrivals across town, was coach and quarterback are Westwood’s “Bruin Boys.” In victory and defeat, Chip Kelly and Dorian Thompson-Robinson are attached body, mind, and spirit – their UCLA stories impossible to narrate without the other being protagonist.
DTR was his reckless, maddening, jaw-dropping, unconventionally brilliant self. The 390 total yards, six total touchdowns, and four turnovers captured each essential dimension of what he has meant to Bruin football over the past half-decade.
His tenacity as being lead blocker on numerous outside zone Zach Charbonnet runs was purely inspiring. The macho willingness to repeatedly finish scrambles by inflicting pain on Trojan defenders was courageously admirable. The dropped snap on third down and two from the USC 10-yard line in the 3rd quarter with the Bruins trailing 34-24, only to be proceeded by a self-recovery and a diving sideline scramble for four yards and a first down was heart-stopping. His presence of mind to reverse direction and duck under two Men of Troy defenders on third and six in the fourth quarter with the Bruins again down 48-38, only to find Jake Bobo for 31 yards down the middle of the field was sheer improvisational genius.
The unrelenting stubbornness to come back in the game after being driven into the ground by the Trojan pass rush in the third quarter, getting jarred high on several rushes, and hammering his thumb was the final evidence that he’s the greatest competitor in the history of Bruin football.
The Defining Moments
Ultimately, the game’s outcome, analysis, and aftermath came down to two plays – the last Bruin offensive play of each half. The former had DTR throwing an interception to USC’s Shane Lee with 14 seconds left in the 2nd quarter and the Bruins leading 21-17. The perplexing part of this moment was Kelly’s willingness to ride with DTR shooting erratic bullets repeatedly.
The drive just before ended with a bad DTR interception and a shocking Trojan missed field goal to keep the Bruins ahead by four. With 25 seconds left in the half, the sense in the stadium was for Kelly to take a knee, reset the emotional state of his quarterback and have him be locked in for the first possession of the second half with the Bruins getting the ball immediately back and a chance to extend to a two-score game. Yet, Kelly threw caution to the wind and even though DTR’s first throw of the drive was nearly intercepted, he kept doubling down like a degenerate Vegas blackjack player and finally lost his shirt. The Bruins went into the locker room up 21-20 but having lost almost all their 11-point lead, precious momentum accrued from the 14-0 start, and confidence from their star quarterback.
The next pivotal play was DTR’s interception to Korey Foreman with 1:26 left in the game to seal the defeat. From midway through the third quarter, after DTR incurred a forced fumble, to 2:21 left in the fourth, the Bruins and Trojans went on a frenetic 21-21 run with touchdowns on six consecutive possessions.
It seemed like nobody would ever get a stop again until Laiatu Latu heroically grabbed Caleb Williams on third down and long to generate a sack and force the Trojans to punt from the Bruins 46 yard-line. The entire stadium, Bruins and Trojans alike, prophetically sensed a Bruin touchdown and legendary Victory Bell moment.
On third and 10 from the Bruins 11-yard line, DTR found Bobo for 27 yards to the Trojan 38 and proceeded to scramble for five yards to the USC 43. At that point, the Bruins had 1:32 on the clock, two timeouts needing only 57 yards to win the game and about 27 to tie it. The run game was very much back on the table.
Yet Kelly once again abandoned any alternatives, most specifically using his most valuable player, Charbonnet, on bruising inside runs to keep the Trojan defense off-balance and UCLA on schedule. DTR had Kam Brown wide open in the left flat but chose to make the read to the opposite side to Kaz Allen, blinded by Foreman dropping back in coverage.
Ballgame. DTR’s chance for a Victory Bell record-breaking seventh touchdown, en route to a possible 52-48 triumph with the game crossing 100 total points for the first time ever, dashed. Kelly’s love for DTR, exhibited by the near minute-long hug between the two upon quarterback running out during senior introductions and the five-year collective journey they embarked on together, got the best of his legendary pragmatism. It was Caleb Williams’ record-breaking 503 total yards that headlined, while DTR was left with only raw tears and solitary reflection to an empty, dark, and quiet Rose Bowl nearly 90 minutes after the clock struck 0:00.
What Happens Now?
Kelly and DTR suit up one final time in the regular season against a 4-7 Cal team, coming off a glorious victory in the 125th Big Game against their nemesis Stanford. With the backdrop of the UC Regents’ meetings and resulting bad blood over the two flagship UC schools stemming from the Bruins’ impending move to the B1G, this is the last time UCLA will play in Berkeley for the foreseeable future. Couple that with this being Cal’s senior day, their de facto bowl game, UCLA still experiencing the emotional freefall of having a Heisman Trophy, Doak Walker Award, PAC-12 title, Rose Bowl berth, and CFP appearance all in the cards just a fortnight ago…and this game becomes quite the perplexing mystery.
Charbonnet shouldn’t play on Friday – his NFL future is too precious and this game too meaningless. Which means DTR and Chip are exclusively intertwined again. The former is the owner of UCLA’s all-time total offense and total touchdown records but is only 474 passing yards away from breaking Cade McNown’s all-time Bruin passing mark. The latter needs this victory and the bowl game to assure UCLA ties the single-season school record for wins in a season, get the Bruins to a Top 25 finish for only the fourth time since 2000, and establishes the requisite culture of resilience, toughness, and accountability in his young players to build for next season.
Win together, lose together, Bruin Boys for life.