The UCLA Bruins got back on track this past weekend with an impressive 35-24 win over Stanford. Despite a setback the week before vs Fresno State, UCLA is now 3-1 on the season and once again has a wide-open Pac-12 title berth ahead of them, should they rise to the occasion. Let’s take a look at the winners and losers from this game.
The oft-maligned senior QB had one of his best games as a Bruin. He went 18/29 for 251 yards, 2 passing touchdowns, 2 rushing touchdowns, and no turnovers. But his play was even more impressive than the numbers. He made good decisions under pressure. He was aggressive and accurate. He made a phenomenal TD throw deep down the seam to Kyle Philips, while injured. And after briefly exiting due to injury, he came back late to lead a TD drive that put the game away, converting multiple third downs in the process.
DTR has had a lot of critics over the years–including myself–and his play is often a rollercoaster. But when he’s on, his upside is pretty high and wins like this show you why Kelly has been so willing to stick with him.
The MVP of the 2021 Bruins continues to show why he was such an excellent offseason acquisition. After the Bruins struggled to run the ball vs Fresno, Charbonnet came back with a vengeance. UCLA also made sure to give him his touches, as he had 23 carries–a season-high–to go along with 5 receptions.
After a breakout 2019 season, Philips had been quieter than expected. That is, until this week. Philips kicked things off early with a nice punt return that almost went to the house. He hauled in two TDs from DTR, one a long throw down the seam, and another the dagger late in the red zone. It was good to see these two get their connection back, and Philips made a real difference in this one.
The leader of this defense continues to have an excellent season. He was the leading tackler in this one with seven total tackles and half a sack.
If the Bruins had started off conference play with a loss in this game and dropped to 2-2 and losing two straight, the attitude in Westwood would not have been pretty. Chip Kelly’s hot seat talk would have returned, as would have talk’s of the “same old Bruins” with worries that the hot start was a mirage. Instead, the Bruins started off conference play with a win, played solid, clutch, generally mistake-free football, and are in a good position in the Pac-12.
UCLA got off to a hot start in this game racking up a 21-7 lead. The defense allowed Stanford to quickly erase that deficit with two long pass plays on seemingly busted coverages. The Bruin corners gave up some outside one on one battles, and the secondary at times looked lost over the middle. Stanford QB Tanner Mckee had a great day, and this game was closer than the score indicated. A late Bruins TD drive and a few Stanford missed field goals helped stretch the scoring differential. But even so, UCLA really should not have let Stanford back in the game.
You could argue some of this is due to facing a really good QB and the fact that Stanford played from behind and had no run game. Both are valid points. But even so, this UCLA defense still seems to struggle with giving up chunk plays, something that has plagued defensive coordinator Jerry Azzinaro’s tenure in Westwood.
In the past, this is probably a game that UCLA would have lost. But this Bruins team seems different. They aren’t turning the ball over on offense, they’re not making mistakes, and they’re clutch. But had those things not been the case, UCLA probably loses this game.
When UCLA plays according to script–running the ball, pass game in rhythm, and getting out in front–they can pretty much play with anybody. But not all games are going to play out like that. Ultimately, I’m worried that if UCLA plays a game where the offense struggles early and they get behind, the defense may not be able to give the team enough leeway to win.
That’s our kicker, for those of you who didn’t know. He missed his only field goal attempt vs Stanford, his first miss of the season. Not a big deal in the span of things.Next up, UCLA heads back to the Rose Bowl to face Arizona State, also 3-1, a team I predicted to win the Pac-12 South in my preseason predictions. A tough but winnable game for UCLA, this should be a good one. Gotta keep stacking up those wins!
Until next week, Go Bruins!