Long after Saturday’s victory over the Alabama State Hornets, the 33,727 in attendance and countless viewers watching at home won’t remember the score of 45-7, nor the stats of six different UCLA Bruins rushing the ball while nine caught a pass, rather the symbolism. For the first time in UCLA’s illustrious football history and even more decorated pedigree of social justice in sports, the Bruins hosted a Historically Black College & University (HBCU).
Jackie Robinson, Kenny Washington, Arthur Ashe, Kareem Abdul-Jabber, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, and Ann Meyers Drysdale: the seminal UCLA athletes in the social justice movement are unprecedented, incomparable, and undeniable. Saturday represented the next chapter in UCLA’s triumphant quest for equality, inclusion, and access. From honoring the university’s student affairs leaders on the field that were instrumental in fostering a campus culture of social empathy, to the Black Excellence campaign highlighting Bruin student-athletes and their impactful stories at every commercial break, to the Hornet bands’ brilliant artistry and soul from their riveting halftime performance, to Athletic Director Martin Jarmond inspirationally engaging pregame with Bruin alumni of color, this was a day about far more than football.
We Got Game
Yet a game was played. One that saw the Bruins surprisingly struggle early in pass coverage, especially with Hornets QB Myles Crawley’s RPO mesh game. Crawley was repeatedly able to hold the Bruin front seven at bay while hitting pin-point seam routes to tight ends and inside corner routes to wide receivers. In fact, the Hornets outgained the Bruins 112-82 through the first quarter while dominating time of possession, nearly 12 minutes to three.
Once again, the game’s first 16 minutes was less-than-inspiring as a 14-7 UCLA Bruins lead was two plays from dangerously being flipped. If not for a Bruin 4th down-and-short stop on Alabama State’s opening drive after the Hornets marched 53 yards, and a dynamic forced quarterback fumble by Laiatu Latu that setup the Bruins second touchdown, we were once again headed for Bowling Green land.
However, order was restored for the second consecutive week in the final 44 minutes as UCLA convincingly outscored the Hornets 31-0 en route to a 485-310 total yards advantage. Highlighted by three solo tackles, two sacks, and a forced fumble by Latu, along with six tackles, one sack, and relentless pressure from rising star Grayson Murphy.
NWA: Not Without Attention
The game’s most compelling drive was UCLA’s two-minute drill right before halftime to push the lead to 31-7. Ethan Garbers looked exceptionally sharp as his frozen-rope out-routes to Jake Bobo, tight-window dime to Logan Loya and NFL-like Y-Cross laser to Carsen Ryan was the best UCLA’s offense has looked on any drive this season. Even his deep corner overthrow to Titus Mokiao-Atimalala was the farthest a ball has traveled in the air from a UCLA quarterback in two games. That six-play masterpiece was the summit in Garbers’ 14/18 for 164 yards and 1 interception day.
While everything needs to be taken with a pinch of salt against an FCS opponent, Garbers’ precise play (particularly on that end-of-half drive) left more than a few “what if” whispers in the Rose Bowl press box about the Bruins’ future possibilities at QB.
Bruin Stars Matter
Good thing Garbers played so well because Dorian Thompson-Robinson abruptly left the game in the middle of the Bruins third scoring drive after an improvisational shovel pass to Kazmeir Allen. DTR gingerly walked off the field and unofficial indications are that it is ankle related. Furthermore, while it was initially assumed star running back Zach Charbonnet was a healthy scratch given the Bruins’ lopsided advantage, it was later revealed on the UCLA radio broadcast that Charbonnet was limited in Thursday’s practice, one that wasn’t open to the media.
When asked about both DTR and Charbonnet postgame, Chip Kelly curtly said, “they were unavailable.” While having neither in uniform next week versus South Alabama won’t have a material impact on the Bruins ability to begin the 2022 season 3-0, those two must be 100% for the Bruins to have any credible expectations of a PAC-12 title run and 10+ win campaign.
Beyond appreciating deeper bench guys earning priceless game experiences, it’s dangerous and somewhat wasteful to over-analyze player performance in a game where the Bruins were near 50-point favorites. Let’s simply enjoy the game’s significance, cautiously wait for good Monday vibes on the Bruin dynamic duo’s minor injury tweaks, and indulge in a closer reality to a 5-0 Bruins team hosting the defending PAC-12 champions in just three short weeks.