This post was updated Sept. 6 at 8:45 p.m.
UCLA football (2-0) picked up arguably its most significant victory in the Chip Kelly era Saturday night, winning 38-27 at home against No. 16 LSU (0-1). The Bruins faced an early 7-0 deficit but were able to storm back and take a lead in the second quarter – one they would never relinquish. Here are the five main takeaways from UCLA’s first win over a team ranked in the top 16 of the AP poll in nearly six years.
The better team won
The headlines everywhere for this game share the term “upset victory” – but this wasn’t an upset.
UCLA was the flat-out better team Saturday evening.
Sure, the Tigers were ranked in the AP poll while the Bruins were not. And Vegas pegged LSU as the favorite heading into the contest. But if you watched the game, you know all of that went out the window when the ball was kicked off.
The Bruins controlled the line of scrimmage throughout the game, with their offensive line giving their playmakers ample room to dissect the Tiger defense. While a few of the individual touchdowns were flukey in nature – looking at you Greg Dulcich’s 75-yard, multiple broken tackle sprint – the process was sound.
From a defensive standpoint, multiple Bruins talked about their plan to send pressure at LSU quarterback Max Johnson in the week leading up to the game. UCLA executed that game plan to a tee, flustering the young signal-caller and disrupting the Tigers’ offensive rhythm.
Nothing about this was an anomaly. The Bruins were faster, more physical and better coached Saturday.
“Sissy blue shirt”
LSU coach Ed Orgeron was seen responding to a heckling UCLA fan before the game, telling them, among other things, that they were wearing a “sissy blue shirt.”
In an ironic twist, the coach wearing the “sissy blue” got the better of Orgeron on Saturday.
Orgeron’s team time and again had no answer to its opponent, giving up chunk play after chunk play defensively following a solid first quarter. On the other side of the ball, the offense often looked frazzled, and the 46 pass attempts for a quarterback making just his third career start were the sign of panic from the coaching staff.
The former USC interim coach was severely outcoached by coach Chip Kelly, who delivered a master class in play-calling Saturday. Kelly’s Bruins only threw 16 pass attempts over the course of the game, even after a rough first quarter that featured zero points and 15 rushing yards for the home team.
Some coaches – like Orgeron – could have panicked and abandoned the rushing game after such a quarter, but Kelly deserves credit for staying patient and sticking to the ground, a decision that paid huge dividends the rest of the contest. UCLA would finish with nearly double the rushing attempts and more than four times the amount of rushing yards compared to its opponent.
Perhaps Coach O should have been a bit more worried about his game plan instead of insulting the attire of his opponents.
Quentin Lake, MVP
Lake led the team in tackles with seven in the victory, punctuating an other-worldly tackling performance from the Bruins, who routinely wrapped up the Tigers before they could extend the play after contact. The only significant yardage after a reception for the Tigers was the result of a great blindside block by the referee.
Six of Lake’s tackles were solo efforts, and from his safety position, he was the last line of defense on many of these plays. If Lake had missed one or two of these tackles, we could be talking about a whole different ball game.
Facing off against a quarterback who threw the ball 46 times, Lake also prevented a number of big passing plays from even happening in the first place, culminating in two pass breakups on the stat sheet.
The fifth-year player was even active in the other team’s backfield, as he had his number called by defensive coordinator Jerry Azzinaro on several blitzes.
Lake was everywhere the Bruins needed him to be and more. While his performance probably went under the radar for many fans, it should be commended.
Rushing offense/defense: legit
After the Bruins gave up only 26 rushing yards while registering 244 yards on the ground in week zero, many people pinned the feat on the quality of opponent.
“It was just Hawai’i,” they said.
With all due respect to the Rainbow Warriors, SEC powerhouse and 2019 national champion LSU is not “just Hawai’i,” and UCLA’s ground game on both sides of the ball was arguably even better than its season-opening performance.
The Bruins ran for 215 yards against the Tigers, their sixth game with more than 200 yards on the ground in their last nine contests dating back to 2020. This came against a stout SEC defense that features experience across the defensive line and linebacking corps.
Junior running back Zach Charbonnet followed up a dominant week zero performance with 117 yards and one touchdown on 11 carries. The game puts Charbonnet’s yards per attempt at 13.1, which would place him at second in the nation for a running back. Redshirt senior running back Brittain Brown also contributed for the second straight week, rushing for 96 yards and a touchdown.
Defensively, the Bruins were able to hold their opponent to under two yards per carry, and the 49 rushing yards allowed were the least given up by a UCLA defense against a Power Five opponent since 2015.
The 4-2-5 defense that assistant head coach, passing game coordinator and defensive backs coach Brian Norwood brought in a year ago is already getting results in terms of rushing defense, and Kelly finally has the personnel to achieve his ideal run-first offense.
DTR bounces back
I wrote last week in this column that I didn’t think senior quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson had this type of game in him, so it’s only right that I return the favor this time around.
After an uninspired 130-yard performance against Hawai’i, Thompson-Robinson had a much better showing against LSU, giving the Bruins exactly what they needed.
The term “game manager” doesn’t do him justice, as the threat of a big play is present each time he has the ball, but Thompson-Robinson managed Saturday’s game to near perfection.
Thompson-Robinson finished the game with only 16 pass attempts, but he completed nine of them for 260 yards and three touchdowns. The 242.1 passer rating in the contest was the highest of Thompson-Robinson’s career as he displayed a level of decision-making and accuracy that he has often lacked in the past.
While all three of his touchdowns featured a chunk of yards after the catch, the fourth-year quarterback placed the ball right on the money each time, hitting his receiver in stride and allowing them to make the play with their feet.
Most importantly, Thompson-Robinson was again able to take care of the ball, throwing just one interception against an LSU secondary that features a pair of All-American, ball-hawking cornerbacks.
It wasn’t a perfect night for the signal-caller, but Thompson-Robinson put the Bruins in prime position to win, something he hasn’t done too often in his time in Westwood.