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As Elon Musk always says, “it’s all about getting back to first principles.” Sure, Musk says this in the context of perfecting human space flight to host a civilization on Mars or revolutionizing manufacturing in disrupting the electric car industry. While certainly not nearly as complex, trying to predict UCLA football week-over-week certainly FEELS as intellectually taxing. But the Bruins went back to first principles last Saturday night and left the Huskies feeling clueless, hopeless and sleepless in Seattle. For UCLA, the first principles were bringing the dog back out in their run game, defensive aggression and line of scrimmage physicality.

An all-too-familiar script consisted of Zach Charbonnet rushing for 131 yards on 21 carries. The Bruins are now 5-0 in games when Charbonnet runs for over 100 yards and 0-2 when he fails to crack the century mark. The reliable 2:1 Bruin ratio also made its reappearance after a few weeks off against the Arizona schools. Namely, the Bruins ran for 237 yards while holding Washington to just 83 yards on 2.7 yards per carry. Furthermore, UCLA also ran the ball 60% of the time, a number much closer to 65%-70% in reality, given that nearly 10 of Dorian Thompson-Robinson’s 26 pass attempts were at or near the line of scrimmage, and basically glorified run plays. Chip Kelly expanded upon the success of the short passing from DTR’s lone effective drive against Arizona in the previous game and provided a steady dose early and often against UW.

While first principles ruled among Saturday’s sea of purple, a few noticeable wrinkles emerged that could pay deep dividends into November and foreshadow a possible UCLA Pac-12 South title.

No Kyle, No Problem

The sudden and mysterious absence of leading receiver Kyle Phillips prior to kickoff left many Bruin fans deeply concerned about the prospect of a road win. After all, Phillips only came into the game leading UCLA in receptions (24), yards (369), and touchdowns (6). But this was the first game all season that DTR completed a pass to eight different receivers.

Highlighting the receiver platoon was Chase Cota, who had his best game since LSU. Both of UCLA’s two first half touchdowns were setup by long Cota completions. Cota was sure handed on a 19-yard corner to move the Bruins into Washington territory prior to taking a 7-3 lead at the end of the first quarter. Cota again struck midway through the second quarter as DTR found him on a 27-yard seam route down the left sideline to the Washington 7-yard line before DTR snuck it in from a yard out on 4th & Goal to put the Bruins up 17-3.

Right behind Cota was the play of Kam Brown, whose 17-yard bubble screen touchdown with 31 seconds left in the first quarter displayed the athleticism and maneuverability that had fans salivating after the Fresno State game. Furthermore, Kazmeir Allen continued to provide stability with five big catches all near the line of scrimmage to keep the Bruins on schedule while giving Charbonnet and Brittain Brown vital breathers. Allen’s new nickname should be the “Bruin Army Knife” as he’s done a little of everything this season. He’s the team’s 5th leading rusher, 5th leading receiver and has been huge in the return game. Even Logan Loya got into the act with a beautiful 18-yard reception down the middle of the field in the first quarter, giving Bruin fans a flash of the future, as the heir apparent to the Kyle Phillips role in the offense.

Secondary Second To None

The much maligned, and deservedly so, Bruin secondary showed up with perhaps their best performance of the season since the opener versus Hawaii. Sure, it wasn’t perfect by any stretch. The Bruins had a defensive holding and pass interference to setup Washington’s first and only field goal. Cameron Johnson also got beat on a beautiful 26-yard post corner fade with less than a minute until halftime to slice the Bruin lead to 17-10. Not to mention Quentin Lake also got beat on a 23-yard deep-crossing route on 3rd & 13 to extend the Huskies drive which ultimately led to UW tying the score at 17.

But outside of those four plays, the secondary played on their terms: aggressive, effective, and fearless. Lake had a beautiful interception on the Huskies first drive of the game courtesy of Bruin pressure on Washington QB Dylan Morris, forcing an underthrow. Lake also had a beautiful pass deflection on 3rd & Goal against the bigger Huskies TE, Cade Otton, holding UW to just a field goal on that opening score. But the hero of the game was of course freshman Devin Kirkwood, whose glorious interception off a 45-yard deep-ball was the game’s signature play. Kirkwood looked like a receiver on the play, fighting off Jalen McMillan for the ball, securing possession and having the presence of mind to fall into the endzone for a touchback. This enabled the Bruins to bleed the final four minutes and 51 seconds of the clock with some gutsy running by Charbonnet.

A memorable first career interception for Kirkwood capping off a monumental performance of vindication for the beleaguered Bruin secondary.

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The DTR Chronicles

In the end, we can come up with all the angles, vantages, and perspectives in the world, but this Bruin team will live or die based on DTR’s effectiveness. If the Stanford game was to DTR as “Goodfellas” was to Martin Scorsese, than the UW game was DTR’s “Casino”…thematically similar and yet cinematically so different. The setup was identical: Bruins build a two-touchdown lead on the road with ball-control, precision offense and a few gutsy fourth down calls. The home team comes back to tie the game early in the 4th quarter, seizes the momentum and relies on a raucous crowd to try and rattle DTR. But unlike the one-play 75-yard strike DTR had to Phillips, this masterpiece drive went 13 plays, 90 yards and took nearly six minutes off the clock.

DTR was flawless going 8/8 for 47 yards passing, while adding 10 yards on the ground. The drive almost wasn’t meant to be with Allen fumbling on the first play of the series. But fortunately recovered by the Bruins, the drive ended with back-to-back passes to Greg Dulcich totaling 25 yards and the game-winning touchdown pass. The first, a nifty 16-yard shovel pass setup because of respect for DTR’s athleticism, and the latter a beautiful outside 9-yard curl route where Dulcich shielded his defender like an All-NBA forward going up for a rebound.

This is the second game winning 4th quarter drive DTR has orchestrated this year, experiences he can recall in the memory bank for the inevitable pressure moments to face him against Oregon, Utah, and USC. Ironically, Scorsese didn’t win the Academy Award for either Goodfellas or Casino, but they laid the foundation for his epic Oscar victory in directing “The Departed.” For Bruin Nation, let’s hope a similar fate belongs to DTR; his Stanford and UW triumphs paving the way for much greater glory ahead, perhaps even on New Year’s Day in Pasadena.

UCLA Defense Against The Washington Huskies. Photo Credit: Greg Turk | UCLA Athletics

UCLA Defense Against The Washington Huskies. Photo Credit: Greg Turk | UCLA Athletics

Jamal Madni

Author Jamal Madni

Jamal might formally be a tech entrepreneur, software engineer, and professor, but his true self is an eater, breather, and sleeper of all things LA sports. Growing up falling in love with the Lakers after the ‘91 NBA Finals, spending his childhood summers at UCLA basketball and Dodgers baseball camps, to attending USC during the peak Matt Leinart-Reggie Bush years, Jamal’s first love has always been LA sports. Kobe’s place in history, the Pyramid of Success, the Spirit of Troy, and the mystique of Chavez Ravine are always top of mind. When he’s not debating how much rope Chip Kelly has left or why Laker Nation is still lukewarm on LeBron, Jamal loves to travel, teach and spend time with his loved ones. Also, lots of people say they’re big-time LA sports fans, but how many people have a 4-tiered LA Sports wedding cake?

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