This coming Friday, the 18th-ranked UCLA Bruins will play their final game of the season. They’ll go up against Pat Narduzzi’s Pittsburgh Panthers in the unfortunately named Tony The Tiger Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas. It’s a significant opportunity for the UCLA program, and there’s a lot at stake.
A UCLA Victory Could Make This Season Historic
This is a good matchup between two teams that don’t see each other very often. The last time they played was in 1972, and there are only 14 games in the series overall. For the Bruins, this is their first bowl game since 2017. A win would give them their first bowl win since 2013, and most importantly, would tie a program high for most wins ever with 10.
That’s a big deal in and of itself, but is especially significant when you consider where this program was for the first few years of Chip Kelly’s tenure. UCLA hasn’t quite yet been able to reach its goals in the Pac-12, but the turnaround for this program has been spectacular nonetheless.
The Bruins finished the regular season 9-3, but they only won one of their last three games. Pitt on the other hand finished the season 8-4, but they’re currently riding a 4-game winning streak and hope to make it 5. Pitt can be a tough out. Pat Narduzzi is an old-school coach who likes to rely on running the football and playing defense, and his teams typically ‘come to play.’
Unfortunately for Pitt, UCLA has done a much better job than they have at keeping their team together for this bowl. Of Pitt’s many opt-outs, the most significant are quarterback Kedon Slovis, who entered the transfer portal, and running back Israel Abanikanda, who is focusing on NFL draft prep.
On the other side, starting quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson is expected to play for the Bruins, as are most of their starters. UCLA will be without swiss army knife Kazmeir Allen, who is getting ready for the NFL draft, and considering his absence late in the season, that could potentially hurt them.
But even so, this team has largely stayed intact for the bowl game, which will be a massive advantage over the Panthers. Even if running back Zach Charbonnet doesn’t end up playing, UCLA still has proven that they are able to run the football with their backups.
Pitt this season has been known for their run defense, something that could give the Bruins trouble, as running the football is their M.O. Having said that, not only is this, not the same defense because of opt-outs, but Pitt really has yet to play an offense this explosive. The Bruins are close to the top of the chart in the country when it comes to pretty much any offensive metric, both passing and running the football.
The one thing Narduzzi is known for is an aggressive blitz-heavy defense, so DTR will have to be smart with the football in this one. Early turnovers could spell trouble for the Bruins.
But at the end of the day, there’s little reason to believe that this talented UCLA team won’t be able to handle a depleted Pitt team. It won’t be a walk in the park, but the Bruins have too much talent to not be able to come out on top.
If they are able to do so, it will be a massive win for this program to top off an ever-ascending team under Chip Kelly. Now all they have to do is make it happen.