I don’t know about you guys, but I’m still in a bit of shock.
I’m also starting to get excited.
Coming off a dominant 38-27 defeat of LSU, UCLA is now 2-0. They are also ranked 16th in the country, and looking as dangerous as they have looked in a long time. It’s clear at this point that the Bruins team we are seeing this year is simply a different team than we’ve seen from Chip Kelly in the past.
Last Saturday, UCLA welcomed LSU to the Rose Bowl for a marquee week 1 out of conference matchup. In primetime, and in front of a national audience, this was a real test for UCLA, as is the case anytime an SEC powerhouse matches up with a team out of conference. This would show us if the Bruins were for real. Quite frankly, I didn’t expect them to win. But I did think this would be a good test for UCLA to see if they could hang with the big boys.
Well, not only did UCLA win, they absolutely dominated. LSU scored the first points but relinquished that very quickly and never led again. UCLA was the better team from the start to the end. They led by multiple scores throughout the game, and finished with a 38-27 victory that never even felt that close. They rolled on both offense and defense. They made fewer mistakes than LSU. And they, once again, dominated the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball.
The formula was similar to what we saw from The Bruins in week 0: Run it down your throat, take shots off play action, utilize tempo to keep the defense off guard, and send pressure on defense to create turnovers and force the opposing offense to play from behind. And it worked to perfection.
What really stood out was how easy UCLA made it all look. They were, quite frankly, doing whatever they wanted out there. They were faster, more athletic, and better schemed than LSU. Again, it’s hard to put into words how different this looks from what we saw from Chip Kelly’s Bruins over his first three seasons.
I expected Zach Charbonnet to be a big time contributor this year coming from Michigan, but I never expected him to be quite this good. The dude is putting up video game numbers out there. Against LSU, he ran for 117 yards on just 11 carries. That’s 10.6 yards per carry. He’s busting open a big play pretty much every time he touches the ball.
Greg Dulcich picked up this game where he did last year. He’s an absolute beast out there. My colleague, Will Decker, host of The Bruin Bible Podcast, has compared Dulcich to George Kittle, and to be honest I really don’t think it’s that far off. Dulcich has the size of a tight end, and the run after catch ability and downfield athleticism of a WR. I would expect him to get more involved in the game plan as the season moves on.
I’m still a bit worried about Dorian Thompson-Robinson. He had another bad interception this week, and he again wasn’t asked to do to much. But at least this time he rebounded nicely. And even long-forgotten Bruins like Chase Cota and Kazmeir Allen are getting involved in the passing game. And quite frankly, if UCLA keeps running the ball this well, they’re simply not going to have to throw it that much to win.
Now of course, it is still early in the season, and it’s always hard to gauge how impressive victories are when you simply don’t know how good the teams you’re playing really are. That certainly is the case for LSU. As happy as we are about this victory, that’s how alarmed LSU fans are currently. If it wasn’t already, Ed Orgeron’s job is definitely on the hot seat. LSU was pretty bad last year, especially on defense, and it was easy to write it off as a one-off due to all the attrition from their championship season. Now, it seems less likely that is the case. So yes, it’s quite possible that LSU is not the team they used to be when it comes to playing good defense and winning the line of scrimmage. In fact, it’s pretty clear that they’re not.
So while that might cast doubt on how impressive this victory will end up being, I can’t let it discount the win entirely. It’s still LSU, and I can tell you with absolute certainty that this is not a game the Bruins would have won in past years. Not to mention, this is an LSU team and quarterback that pretty much knocked Florida, one of the best teams in the country, out of playoff contention last year. Yes, Kyle Pitts wasn’t playing, but even so. It’s not like LSU is bereft of talent. And when you face off against a top SEC program, it’s going to be a tough out no matter what. Maybe this was a wake up call for LSU, but it was just as much a statement game for UCLA.
And people are starting to notice. Kirk Herbstreit was high on UCLA before the season started, and he has continued to praise Chip Kelly and the Bruins on ESPN podcasts, on air, and elsewhere. Joel Klatt recently opined that UCLA will be one of the best teams in the Pac-12, and that Zach Charbonnet is an emerging Heisman contender. Brett Kollmann, who runs a football film room analysis series on youtube, tweeted that, “Half the teams in the [College Football AP Poll] top 15 would probably get ground into a fine paste by UCLA’s run game”, and more recently that, “My favorite storyline of the college football season so far is that UCLA absolutely bullies people now, both on offense and defense. Extremely physical, well-coached team.” Not to mention, they are currently ranked 16th in the AP Poll, and over the past three years of covering this team, I cannot remember them being ranked, let alone being ranked this high.
Welcome to the national spotlight, Bruins. It’s a far cry from me searching for highlights of Bruins games and being unable to find them because the games were only shown on Pac-12 Networks, as was the case the first year I started covering Chip Kelly. Those in the media praising the Bruins today probably weren’t following the team too closely those first three years of Kelly’s tenure, but us Bruins fans and beat writers were, and we know how different this is from what they’ve been. I guess sometimes, patience really is a virtue.
At this point, the question is how far the Bruins can go. Can they truly be a Pac-12 contender? Things certainly can change quickly, but after two weeks, I really see no reason why they wouldn’t be, especially given the current state of the rest of the Pac-12.
The best teams in the Pac-12, until something changes, are Oregon, Washington, Utah, and USC. Washington just lost 13-7 at home to Montana in what was quite possibly one of the worst losses in program history. Next Saturday, they head to The Big House in Primetime, which is likely another loss.
Oregon just barely squeezed out a close one at home against Fresno State. In their next game, they head to the horseshoe, where Ohio State is favored by two touchdowns.
USC looked pretty much like they did last year. Their offense struggled to score and most of the game was close until they finally pulled away at the end against an inferior opponent.
So out of all those teams, Utah is really the only one that had a good Week 1 performance and that has the fewest question marks. So we’ll see what happens, but as of now, there’s really no reason that going to the Pac-12 Championship game shouldn’t be a feasible goal for UCLA.
Now UCLA will get some rest. In virtue of playing Hawaii in Week 0, they have two bye weeks this year, and this is their first. They’ll come back on the 18th to host an upstart Fresno State team, a game they’ll have to be careful not to overlook.
When all is said and done you can’t help but be impressed by how UCLA has looked through two weeks, and you can’t help but be excited for the future.
Better buckle up, Bruins fans. This could be a special year.