UCLA survives heat and early mistakes to win home opener
September 15, 2022
As the late great former Ohio State head coach Woody Hayes once said, "There can be no great victories in life without great adversity." For the UCLA Bruins football team, that is a quote they should embrace. On an incredibly hot day at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, the UCLA Bruins overcame the heat and their own mistakes to defeat the Bowling Green State University Falcons, 45-17.
The Bruins were 24-point favorites going into the game but trailed the Falcons 17-7 early in the second quarter. A blocked punt for a touchdown and a muffed punt at the Bruins ten-yard line led to ten easy points for the Falcons. The Falcons were up by ten points and the Bruins were reeling. But UCLA responded and scored 38 unanswered points the rest of the way.
Bruin Quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson, a fifth-year senior, threw for 298 yards and two touchdowns, while also rushing for 87 yards on seven carries and two rushing touchdowns. Thompson-Robinson started the scoring in the first quarter with an explosive 68-yard touchdown run. Down by ten points in the second quarter, Thompson-Robinson connected with former California state sprint champ Kazmeir Allen for a 20-yard touchdown pass.
Minutes later, Thompson-Robinson completed a short screen pass to running back Keegan Jones, a former Tennessee sprint champion, who took the pass and sprinted 52 yards for a touchdown. Three big plays for the Bruins in the first half, all a result of the Bruins speed on offense. That speed would prove to be too much for the Falcons in the second half. Bruins head coach Chip Kelly was pleased with the way his players fought back in the game.
“We wanted a W, and we don’t ask for anything and don’t prescribe anything about how the game is going to unfold,” Kelly said. “We just talked to our players about responding. And I thought that they did respond. We dug ourselves a hole. But we did not continue to keep digging. We fought our way out of a hole. We were down 17-7 and we won 45-17, so it’s a credit to those guys. We made some mistakes. We did dig ourselves a little bit of a hole to start, but I was really proud of how our guys responded.”
The Bruins ended up with 626 yards in total offense compared to just 162 yards for the Falcons. The defense had nine tackles for losses, two sacks, and eight pass deflections. Falcons quarterback Matt McDonald was under constant pressure, completing 17 of 34 passes for just 125 yards. McDonald, who played his high school football at Mission Viejo high school, did throw for one touchdown early in the second quarter. McDonald's father, Paul McDonald, was a star quarterback at USC in the 1970’s.
The Bruins led the Pac-12 in scoring last season at 36.7 points per game and were second in the Pac-12 in rushing yardage per game at 215.2 yards per game. The running attack did not lose a beat from last season, putting up 269 rushing yards on the ground. Zach Charbonnet, a second team All-Pac-12 selection in 2021, led the Bruins rushing attack with 111 yards on 21 carries and he had one rushing touchdown.
Kelly was pleased with Charbonnet and Jones, his top two backs. “I’ve been impressed with Keegan. Keegan had a great offseason for us and worked extremely hard. I thought that he did some really good things when he was out there.”
On Charbonnet and his desire to get more carries, Kelly said, “That’s just Zach. He’s just a warrior. You know, a lot of guys carry 21 times, and they’re kind of tired but he will want to know why he couldn’t get more. He’s that type of a kid with a tremendous work ethic. We kind of hang our hat on being able to run the football and it starts with him. We need him and Dorian when we get down a little bit. You can kind of see that those are the guys who we relied on a little bit.”
For Bowling Green, this was a “guarantee game” or “money game”. The Falcons earned $1.15 million from UCLA and got the opportunity to play in the historic Rose Bowl. Unfortunately, the game time temperature was 101 degrees for an 11:30 AM start. It was brutally hot on the field, which affected the Falcons and the fans in the Rose Bowl. More than a dozen Bowling Green players needed treatment for leg cramps.
The official attendance for the game was announced at 27,143, but unofficially it was not close to that number. The 27,143 number is an all-time low for Bruins football at the Rose Bowl.
While some fans and observers will be critical of the Bruins and their struggles early in the game, the Bruins completely dominated the game in the second half in the 28-point victory. As Kelly said after the game, they got the win or “W.” It was better than the alternative. In the 2021 season, Bowling Green was paid $1.45 million to play the Minnesota Gophers on their home field. They upset the Gophers 14-10. Minnesota ended up 9-4 for the season, 6-3 in the Big Ten. But they had that embarrassing loss to Bowling Green.
“You’ll never play a perfect game,” Kelly said. “There are always things that you’ve got to work on after every game you play. Winston Churchill said that the problems in victory are a lot more agreeable than the problems in defeat, but they are no less difficult.” It is a good day for the Bruins when they can get a Winston Churchill reference after a win.
The Bruins return to action next Saturday, September 10th, at the Rose Bowl against the Alabama State Hornets of the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC). The Hornets are 2-0 after wins over Howard University and Miles College. This will be the first time in UCLA football history that they will play a Historically Black College (HBC). The game will start at 2:00 pm and will be televised on the Pac-12 Network.