Did anyone see this coming? This past weekend, UCLA opened up the 2021 college football season with a massive 44-10 victory against Hawaii at the Rose Bowl. If you’re a Bruins fan, this may feel like unusual territory for you. That’s right everybody: UCLA is now 1-0. And there’s no better feeling in football than being 1-0. This is especially the case with UCLA considering that they started their last three seasons 0-5, 0-3, and 0-1.
Even crazier is the fact that until last Saturday, Chip Kelly was winless against out of conference competition with an 0-8 record. And most of those losses were pretty bad too. But not anymore. UCLA absolutely crushed this Hawaii team in dominant fashion.It certainly felt like this game was over before it started. On Hawaii’s first possession of the game, they went three and out. Punting deep in their own territory, the Hawaii punter had to reach down to field a low snap. In doing so, he accidentally went down on his knee, and in college football, when your knee is down, so are you. That immediately gave the Bruins great field position. The next few possessions were more of the same, and before you knew it, UCLA was up big and the game felt fully in their control.
Now, with dominant wins like these against lesser competition, it can be tough to parse how much of the win was one team playing well versus the other team just playing poorly. I suspect that in this case, it was a mixture of both, as I highly doubt this Hawaii team is going to end up being very good.
Having said that, this win feels significant. It’s not just that the Bruins won, but how they did it. UCLA was dominant from start to end. They played a complete sixty minutes, something they have struggled to do in the past. They also seemed entirely in control of the game, not a feeling you usually get watching recent UCLA football. And the team all-around played well.
Their defense was aggressively coming after the Hawaii offense and seemed to get instant pressure in the backfield on just about every play. The offensive line looked amazing, getting run blocks deep into the second and third levels of the defense almost immediately. And the backs were phenomenal as well.
Brittain Brown had 13 carries for 78 yards and a touchdown, while Michigan transfer Zach Charbonnet had 106 yards and three touchdowns on just six carries. That adds up to an insane 17.7 yards per carry. Those are video game numbers. But Charbonnet on this day simply could not be tackled. If he plays like this all season, defenses better watch out.
And that’s another thing that stood out in this game: UCLA looked like the far superior athletes on the field. That is also something we haven’t seen with them in recent years. At the end of the day, this is by far Chip Kelly’s most talented Bruins team, and you could see it on the field. They just looked different.Now, there are two areas of concern for me coming out of this game. One: Where on earth is this crowd? Despite finally allowing fans in the stands, the attendance woes for Kelly’s Bruins continue right where they left off in 2019. However, the only way to fix that is winning, and if this Bruins team keeps playing the way they did last weekend, this problem should ultimately correct itself. I would just hope we see a bigger crowd next week because you know LSU fans are going to travel.
Second, and far more concerning, is the quarterback play. Dorian Thompson-Robinson came off his best season last year, but what we saw from him this time was similar to what we’ve seen from him in previous season openers. On the first play after Hawaii’s failed punt turnover, DTR had a wide-open receiver in the endzone and he missed him pretty badly. That continued throughout the rest of the day. DTR was clearly nervous and having jitters. This is not new for him. He starts playing too fast, his feet get too busy, and he makes wildly inaccurate throws to wide-open guys.
DTR finished the day 10/20 for 130 yards and one touchdown, but he started the game 0/4, and at one point was 4/12. Luckily, the team played well enough to mask the quarterback’s deficiencies. But UCLA doesn’t have five weeks to wait for the quarterback to become comfortable this year. The team is too good. DTR is a senior, and there’s no excuse for these kinds of nerves and misses. Not to mention, the QB room is packed. If DTR doesn’t turn things around quickly and he isn’t benched, it could be Kelly’s strange attachment to the former high school wide receiver that ends up being Kelly’s downfall.
Now, next week is a much harder test. LSU comes to play, and they’re just a little bit of a better team than Hawaii. UCLA will have to be prepared and not let the emotional high of this week’s victory get to their head.
Having said all that, if last week’s win is any indication, we could be looking at very good things ahead for the 2021 UCLA Bruins.
Photo Credit: Ted Eytan | Creative Commons License