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By Bill Seals
Sports Reporter 

UCLA cruises past Alabama State, faces South Alabama Saturday


September 15, 2022

Jevone Moore

UCLA true freshman running back, T.J. Harden is a former Inglewood high school standout. Here he carries the ball against Alabama State last Saturday at the Rose Bowl.

For the first time in UCLA Bruins football history, the Bruins played an FCS school on Saturday, defeating the Alabama State Hornets 45-7 at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. It was also their first game ever in football against an HBCU school (Historically Black Colleges and Universities). UCLA plays football at the FBS level, the highest level of college football. The FCS is the second highest level of collegiate football.

With the victory, the Bruins went to 2-0 for the season. The Hornets fell to 2-1 for the season. Before the season started, the Bruins were one of three FBS schools that had never played an FCS school, the other two being Notre Dame and USC. Notre Dame will take on Tennessee State University next season in South Bend, Indiana, their first game ever against an FCS school and a HBCU school. USC will be left alone on that list after the 2023 season, a point of pride for the Trojans.

Alabama State received a payout of $590,000 to play at UCLA, and the announced crowd of 33,727 got an opportunity to see a lot of the UCLA backups in action, as UCLA Head Coach Chip Kelly chose to sit many of his starters in the matchup with the Hornets. Star running back Zach Charbonnet, wide receiver Kam Brown and tight end Michael Ezeike were among the starters that sat out.

Kelly allowed starting quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson to play the first quarter before sitting him early in the second quarter. Backup quarterback Ethan Garbers came in after the Hornets had cut the lead to 14-7, with Hornets quarterback Myles Crawley throwing a 21-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Jeremiah Hixon.

Garbers led the Bruins on five scoring drives which accounted for 31 unanswered points, with the defense shutting down the Hornets for the rest of the game. Garbers completed 14 of 18 passes for 164 yards and he rushed for two touchdowns. He played well, except for a red zone drive that ended with a bad decision on a throw that was intercepted by Hornet cornerback Adrian Maddox in the end zone. Overall, Kelly was pleased with Garbers performance.

"I thought that Garbers did a nice job," Kelly said. "He's got to want that one back down in the red zone, you know, go through a logical progression in terms of where we are. He knew the answer coming off the field. But again, he's a kid that's taking advantage of the reps and the opportunity that he gets. I thought he was really accurate with his ball today, did a nice job of placing the ball in certain places. If you ask him, I think that he'd want that one throw back."

With Charbonnet taking the day off, the Bruins were able to get at least six carries each for a group of five running backs, led by backup Keegan Jones, who had 10 carries for 33 yards and a touchdown. T.J. Harden rushed for a game high 56 yards on 7 carries with a rushing touchdown. Christian Grubb, California Southern Section sprint champ a few years ago in the 100 and 200 meters, rushed for 55 yards on six carries, while also scoring a touchdown. Colson Yankoff had six carries for 35 yards and Deshun Murrell had six carries for 34 yards.

"It was good for T.J. [Harden] to kind of get his first extensive playing time as a true freshman," Kelly said. "He was an early enrollee for us and did a really nice job in spring ball. And the fact that we could get him on the field today, he scored a touchdown, he did a nice job. Christian Grubb, coming off of missing an entire year, he's another comeback kid that did a great job from a rehab standpoint. He has worked really hard. It was good to see Grubber get out there and do some things. To get some depth behind Zach has been important for us."

The defense has played well in the first two games and looks much improved compared to recent seasons. The defense has allowed just 14 points in two games. Ten points were allowed by the special teams in the opener against Bowling Green. The Bruins are tied for 13th in the nation with Michigan in total defense allowed through the first two games, allowing just 236 yards per game.

UCLA is also currently ranked 9th in the nation in defensive rushing yards allowed per game at 62 yards per game. The defense under new defensive coordinator Bill McGovern has been very good and more disciplined than in the past through the first two games.

The Bruins will be back home at the Rose Bowl to take on the South Alabama Jaguars of the Sun Belt Conference. Game time in Pasadena is 11:00 AM, this Saturday September 17th and the game will be televised nationally on the Pac-12 Network. The Sun Belt Conference has proven to be a very tough conference in the first two weeks of nonconference play in college football. In Week 2 action this past weekend, Georgia Southern upset Nebraska, Appalachian State shocked Texas A&M and Marshall surprised Notre Dame in South Bend.

In week 1, Old Dominion upset Virginia Tech. The Jaguars are 2-0 and averaging 43 points per game through the first two games. The Jaguars are led by quarterback Carter Bradley, the 20th ranked passer in the nation with 614 passing yards, six touchdowns and just one interception. He is completing 67% of his passes. This game should be a very good test for the Bruins before heading into conference play.


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