UCLA defeats Boise State and wins the LA Bowl
December 21, 2023
The roller coaster ride that has been the 2023 season for the UCLA Bruins football team ended on a high note last Saturday as the Bruins defeated the Boise State Broncos in the LA Bowl, 35-22. The game was played at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood before a crowd of 32,780 fans and was televised nationally on ABC.
The victory gave the Bruins a final record for the season of 8-5. The Broncos, champions of the Mountain West Conference, finished the season with an 8-6 record. The Broncos came into the LA Bowl game with a four-game winning streak. Unfortunately for them, they lost starting quarterback Taylen Green to the transfer portal. Green decided to transfer to Arkansas before the Bowl game.
The Broncos started a true freshman at quarterback in CJ Tiller, who played his high school football at Rancho Cucamonga high school. Tiller struggled, but Boise State was leading at halftime, 16-7, behind a strong running attack.
The Bruins have looked good in wins at USC, Stanford, and San Diego State. The defense has been among the best in the nation and was the best in the Pac-12 conference this season. The offense has been inconsistent, partially due to injuries and inconsistent quarterback play. That showed in losses at Utah, Arizona, and Oregon State.
After the opening game victory over Coastal Carolina, UCLA head coach Chip Kelly decided to go with true freshman five-star recruit Dante Moore at quarterback. After playing well initially, Moore struggled, throwing pick-six interceptions in three consecutive games. Kelly then went back to quarterback Ethan Garbers, who took the job and kept it, although he did miss two games with injuries.
Garbers led the Bruins to victories over USC, Colorado, Stanford, and Saturday evening's victory over the Broncos. Garbers did not start against the Broncos because he was nursing an injury. The Bruins decided to go with backup Collin Schlee, who rushed for 127 yards and threw a touchdown pass before getting knocked out of the game with an injury early in the third quarter.
Garbers was forced to come in with the Bruins trailing 16-7 and everything suddenly changed for the UCLA. Garbers led the Bruins to four 2nd half touchdowns, throwing for 152 yards and two touchdowns as the Bruins scored 28 unanswered points to take a 35-16 lead with just six minutes remaining in the game. Garbers added 38 yards rushing to his totals. The defense held the Broncos to six 2nd half points.
The 2023 season has been tough for the UCLA Bruins and has not always gone the way they had hoped. A couple of shockingly bad home losses to the Arizona State Sun Devils and the California Golden Bears cost the team a shot at ten wins this season. Garbers missed both games with an injury. The team is better offensively with Garbers at quarterback and the defense plays with more energy as well.
Kelly said after the game about Garbers. "He knows he is the starting quarterback here." Garbers was asked if he plans on returning for his senior year. "I will be coming back next year for one more year and excited to see where we can take this thing," Garbers said. "Go Bruins!" Very good news for Bruin fans.
Moore decided to enter the transfer portal and made a decision to transfer to Oregon to play for the Ducks. Moore will return to the Rose Bowl on September 28th of next season when the Ducks play the Bruins. Moore was not going to start at UCLA, and he will likely not start at Oregon. The Ducks added Oklahoma quarterback Dillon Gabriel to their 2024 roster recently through the transfer portal. Moore is a very talented quarterback, but he needs time to develop.
In the game against Boise State, running back TJ Hardin rushed for 105 yards and two touchdowns. He will be back next season. Wide receiver J. Michael Sturdivant caught four passes for 142 yards, including a 40-yard touchdown pass from Garbers. Sturdivant could return or he could enter the 2024 NFL draft. Between the transfer portal and the NFL draft, coaching in college football can be very challenging.
Kelly was asked about the outside pressures he has endured this season, with some media outlets suggesting that he should be fired. "I've got a job to do, and my job is to prepare these guys and create an environment where they have an opportunity to be successful and then get out of their way and let them do it," Kelly said. "We have had challenges with adversity, and we have had challenges with injuries, but we don't make excuses and nor do we don't let other people make excuses for us."
Kelly added, "I am really proud of how this group responds. A competitor responds, and a non-competitor reacts. I think as a football coach you have to teach life lessons, and sometimes life lessons are hard, and you have to go through them together as a group and we did. This group won 8+ games three years in a row and that is the second time that has happened at UCLA since 1988. That is what I am really proud of."
The challenges will continue for the Bruins this offseason. The Bruins lost two players in the secondary to the transfer portal, with the biggest loss being starting safety Kamari Ramsey. The Bruins did pick up a significant addition in Rico Flores Jr., from Notre Dame. Flores was a four-star signee from powerhouse Folsom high school in Folsom, California. He had 27 receptions for 392 yards this season as a true freshman, including a go-ahead touchdown against Ohio State in the fourth quarter.
The resilient Bruins are headed for new challenges next season in the Big Ten, along with USC, Washington, and Oregon. The roller coaster ride will likely continue in the Big Ten, with some tough games in that conference. But the resiliency of this group of Bruins should be up to the task.