Oct 17, 2019; Stanford, CA, USA; UCLA Bruins quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson (1) and wide receiver Kyle Philips (2) celebrate after a touchdown in the first half against the Stanford Cardinal at Stanford Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

UCLA, NC State take revivals into Holiday Bowl clash

North Carolina State has come a long way the past couple of seasons, and now the program is on the verge of just its second season with a double-digit win total.

So traveling across the country to face UCLA in the Holiday Bowl on Dec. 28 at San Diego seems like another challenge worth accepting.

“We want to make history, leave a legacy,” NC State linebacker Drake Thomas said. “This team is special and it would be a special way to end the season.”

NC State (9-3) won its last two regular-season games, including a remarkable comeback in the final two minutes to knock off rival North Carolina on Nov. 26. Most of the Wolfpack’s key players have announced that they’ll be on board next season, already boosting expectations for 2022.

“I think it says a lot,” NC State quarterback Devin Leary said. “It goes to prove that guys on this team aren’t satisfied with what we’ve accomplished this year. Guys want to come back and prove how much better we can be.”

UCLA (8-4) has been on an upward trend as well, and the bus ride down California’s Interstate 5 is another chance for the Bruins to show what their program is headed in the right direction.

Bruins coach Chip Kelly said the regular season was good enough “to get us in this situation to get to play football in December.” The winning record came after five consecutive losing seasons, the last three under Kelly.

Kelly has been on the sideline for the Holiday Bowl in the past as an assistant coach at Oregon. He’s hoping for a home-field type of atmosphere for the Bruins.

“We’re excited that a lot of our fans can get there,” Kelly said of the game, which will be played in San Diego’s Petco Park, a baseball stadium.

UCLA has many San Diego-area players, including leader receiver Kyle Phillips. He caught 10 touchdown passes this season and had 739 yards on 59 catches.

“He has given us everything,” Kelly said. “He is a really tough matchup and he comes up big in big games.”

UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson has thrown for 21 touchdowns with six interceptions. Although he is eligible to return next season, rumors have swirled that it could be Thompson-Robinson’s last game in a Bruins uniform after four seasons, with transfer QB Dillon Gabriel of UCF waiting in the wings.

“He’s one of the toughest guys I’ve been around,” Kelly said of Thompson-Robinson. “I think he has played his best football in the last three games. We hope he can continue to grow in this last one.”

NC State’s defense is ready for the challenge from a dual-threat quarterback.

“Defensively, we’ll be healthier than we were in the last game,” coach Dave Doeren said. “(Safety) Devan Boykin is back with us now. We hoped that we would have him.”

Leary threw for 3,433 yards with 35 touchdowns and five interceptions for the Wolfpack during the regular season. Emeka Emezie has been his top target, making 60 catches for 802 yards and six touchdowns.

NC State’s only season with double-digit victories came in 2002, going 11-3 behind QB Philip Rivers. In a San Diego connection, Rivers went out to a stellar career with the Chargers and was with the team when it moved to Los Angeles in 2017.

“We want to go win,” Wolfpack center Grant Gibson said. “We’re not taking this game lightly.”

Highly-regarded UCLA defensive lineman Otito Ogbonnia is skipping the game in advance of the NFL Draft.

The only previous NC State-UCLA football meetings came with UCLA winning home games in 1959 and 1960.

–Field Level Media

Nov 26, 2021; Orlando, Florida, USA; UCF Knights quarterback Dillon Gabriel (11) throws before the game against the South Florida Bulls at Bounce House. Mandatory Credit: Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports

UCF QB Dillon Gabriel transferring to UCLA

UCF junior quarterback Dillon Gabriel announced Thursday he is transferring to UCLA.

He tweeted two images of himself wearing a Bruins uniform with the all-caps captions “Committed” and “Westwood! Lets Ride!”

Gabriel announced he was entering the transfer portal on Nov. 27. He has not played since breaking his collarbone against Louisville on Sept. 17.

He passed for 8,037 yards, 70 touchdowns and 14 interceptions in three seasons with the Knights. The left-hander passed for 814 yards with nine touchdowns and three interceptions this season prior to the injury.

Gabriel threw for 3,653 yards and 29 TDs in 2019, and 3,570 yards and 32 scores in 2020. The Hawaii native was intercepted seven times in 2019 and threw just four picks in 413 attempts the following season.

–Field Level Media

Dec 12, 2020; Pasadena, California, USA; General view of the line of scrimmage as Southern California Trojans offensive lineman Damon Johnson (59) snaps the ball against the UCLA Bruins  at Rose Bowl. USC defeated UCLA 43-38.  Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

UCLA looks to put ‘final dagger’ into rival USC

Crosstown Los Angeles rivals UCLA and Southern California meet Saturday at USC in the 91st installment of their history-rich series.

The visiting Bruins (6-4, 4-3 Pac-12 Conference) were officially eliminated from the Pac-12 South divisional race with Arizona State and Utah both winning last week, but their 44-20 win over Colorado made the program bowl eligible for the first time in four years.

UCLA can reach another milestone in head coach Chip Kelly’s four-season tenure with a win Saturday. Beating USC would guarantee the Bruins their first winning record since they were 8-5 in 2015.

UCLA comes in looking to end a two-game losing streak to the Trojans, while seeking its first win at USC since 2013.

Trojans quarterback Kedon Slovis threw a game-winning touchdown with 16 seconds left in last year’s 43-38 USC win. In the Bruins’ last visit to USC in 2019, Slovis passed for a program record 515 yards in a 52-35 Trojans romp.

USC (4-5, 3-4) experimented with a two-quarterback rotation of Slovis and Jaxson Dart its last two games. Despite an impromptu bye week, the result of COVID-19 tests postponing USC’s trip to Cal scheduled for Nov. 13, Slovis will not be able to return from a lower leg injury.

That leaves Dart to man the position exclusively on Saturday.

“Jaxson is going to be our starter and he’ll have to continue to fight for that until Kedon is back and fully into that competition,” interim head coach Donte Williams said. “We’ll move forward now with Miller (Moss) backing him up.”

Dart debuted passing for 391 yards and four touchdowns Sept. 18 at Washington State, but missed more than a month due to a meniscus tear.

He went 12 of 18 with two touchdowns in his return Oct. 30 vs. Arizona, but was just 8 of 17 for 89 yards with an interception Nov. 6 at Arizona State. That was USC’s first full game without standout wide receiver Drake London, who caught two touchdowns against UCLA last season.

“The offense doesn’t change,” Kelly said of preparing for USC with Dart. “The offense is still run by (coordinator) Graham Harrell. It’s still the USC offense. Both Slovis and Dart are talented kids. … We recruited Jaxson. We know what type of player he is.”

Including the quarterback situation, 2021 has been a tumultuous season for USC. Head coach Clay Helton was fired after a Week 2 loss to Stanford.

The Trojans are 3-4 under Williams and at risk of finishing below .500 for the second time in four years. Prior to 2018, USC had not had a losing campaign since 2000.

“They’re up and down throughout this season,” UCLA linebacker and former USC recruiting commit Bo Calvert said. “We’re looking to kind of put the final dagger in them this week.”

UCLA will aim to do so on offense establishing its multifaceted rushing attack. Against Colorado, the Bruins got 99 yards from quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson and three touchdowns from running back Zach Charbonnet. Running back Brittain Brown had a touchdown to cap a 9.7-yard per carry effort, but has been limited at practice this week.

USC allowed 282 rushing yards at a 6.7-yard per carry average its last time out at Arizona State.

–Field Level Media

Oct 30, 2021; Salt Lake City, Utah, USA;  UCLA Bruins wide receiver Kyle Philips (2) is tackled by Utah Utes safety Brandon McKinney (28) during the first quarter at Rice-Eccles Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports

Tavion Thomas (4 TDs), Utah run roughshod over UCLA

Tavion Thomas rushed for 160 yards and scored four touchdowns to lead Utah past UCLA 44-24 on Saturday in Salt Lake City.

On a night that Utah retired the No. 22 in honor of Ty Jordan and Aaron Lowe, Thomas became the first Ute to rush for at least three touchdowns in one game since Jordan in his final game last December.

Jordan was killed in an accidental shooting one week later, and Lowe — who adopted the No. 22 in Jordan’s honor — died in a shooting on Sept. 26.

Utah (5-3, 4-1 Pac-12) started the emotional night with a nine-play, 75-yard drive capped on Thomas’ first score, a 10-yard run. The Utes led for the remainder after that opening possession, and Thomas’ touchdowns of eight and 10 yards in the second quarter pushed the lead to 28-10.

Quarterback Cam Rising went 17-of-27 passing for 179 yards and found tight end Dalton Kincaid for an eight-yard touchdown late in the first half.

After UCLA trimmed the deficit to 12 points on an Ethan Garbers pass to tight end Michael Ezeike, Rising capped an 11-play drive with a 12-yard touchdown run to push the lead back to three possessions.

The Bruins (5-4, 3-3) threatened again in the fourth quarter when Garbers threw a nine-yard touchdown to Greg Dulcich but could never cut the deficit to single digits. Utah capitalized on a Rising quick-kick of 43 yards that pinned UCLA at its own six-yard line.

Defensive tackle Hauati Pututau got to Garbers for a sack and safety. On the Utes’ ensuing possession after the free kick, Thomas went 24 yards for his final touchdown and an exclamation point on the win.

Rising and running back T.J. Pledger added 63 and 61 yards rushing. Utah finished with 290 rushing yards as a team.

Running back Zach Charbonnet led UCLA with 65 yards, 30 of which came on a touchdown run in the first half. Backfield mate Brittain Brown rushed for 45 yards on 10 carries and caught six passes for 53 yards.

Garbers went 27-of-44 passing for 265 yards and was picked off by linebacker Nephi Sewell.

Saturday’s win gives Utah breathing room heading into the final month of the Pac-12 South divisional race. Arizona State’s loss earlier in the day to Washington State leaves Utah atop the division in the loss column, and the Utes now boast head-to-head wins over nearest competitors Arizona State, USC and UCLA.

–Field Level Media

Oct 23, 2021; Pasadena, California, USA; UCLA Bruins quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson (1) throws the ball against the Oregon Ducks  in the first half at Rose Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

UCLA, Utah battle for positioning in Pac-12 South

The Pac-12 South race has taken multiple turns in just a few weeks, and Saturday’s contest between UCLA and Utah in Salt Lake City could present another.

Utah (4-3, 3-1 Pac-12) gained the inside track with three straight wins to open league play, including double-digit routs of divisional opponents Southern California and Arizona State on Oct. 9 and Oct. 16, respectively.

However, the Utes sustained their first conference loss last week at Oregon State, 42-34, giving up a season-high point total. The result left Utah tied with Arizona State (5-2, 3-1) for the division lead.

Utah’s typically stout run defense allowed 6.3 yards per carry and 260 yards in total at Corvallis.

“We’re just not quite where we need to be up front yet,” Utes coach Kyle Whittingham said of the defensive line in his Monday press conference. “We’ve had flashes during the course of the year, but not quite enough consistency.”

The loss of linebacker Devin Lloyd to a targeting penalty in the second half was “obviously a blow,” Whittingham said, but not “key to the whole thing.”

Still, Oregon State scored two touchdowns after Lloyd’s ejection to take then extend the lead. Lloyd, who ranks second in the nation with 13 tackles for loss, will miss the first half of Saturday’s matchup with UCLA.

The Bruins (5-3, 3-2) come into Utah needing a win to keep their hopes of reaching the Pac-12 championship game realistically alive. UCLA trails both Utah and Arizona State by a game in the loss column but took a head-to-head loss to the Sun Devils on Oct. 2.

UCLA took its second Pac-12 loss of the season last week when a furious rally against Oregon fell short in a 34-31 defeat.

The Bruins trailed by 17 points early in the fourth quarter, but a Jordan Genmark Heath interception set up one touchdown drive just four minutes after another.

Jay Shaw picked off an Oregon pass to give UCLA possession with a chance to win or tie, but quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson sustained a shoulder injury on the next drive, an ailment that could sideline him Saturday.

Thompson-Robinson was dressed but did not throw in practice on Monday. That leaves Ethan Garbers as UCLA’s likely starter.

Garbers, a Washington transfer, went 2-of-5 for 22 yards and was intercepted on the Bruins’ final possession.

UCLA’s run game has been outstanding in wins, going for at least 204 yards in those five games. In the three losses, the Bruins have averaged 141.7 rushing yards per game, including the 110 they gained against Oregon.

Thompson-Robinson’s mobility has been an important weapon along with running backs Brittain Brown and Zach Charbonnet. The quarterback has six rushing touchdowns and is averaging almost 46 rushing yards per game.

The UCLA defense has been solid against the run, but Oregon was the second opponent to clear 5 yards per carry against the Bruins. The other was Arizona State.

Utah comes in averaging 5.3 yards per carry behind a primary three-man attack of running backs Tavion Thomas and Micah Bernard as well as quarterback Cameron Rising.

Loading up to focus on the run will not be an option, however, as Rising has dramatically improved Utah’s passing offense since taking over as the starting quarterback. He has thrown for at least 247 yards in each of the past three games.

“You can’t defend totally one thing, then not take advantage of another thing,” UCLA coach Chip Kelly said at his Monday media availability. “(Oregon quarterback) Anthony Brown, we gave him too many shots and too many easy completions, and we’ve got to be able to do both (defend the run and the pass).”

–Field Level Media

Oct 16, 2021; Seattle, Washington, USA; UCLA Bruins head coach Chip Kelly reacts following a touchdown against the Washington Huskies during the second quarter at Alaska Airlines Field at Husky Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

UCLA questions call on missed FG after 34-31 loss

Two days after UCLA lost by three points to Oregon, Bruins head coach Chip Kelly said video replays appear to show the three points his team was looking for.

Kelly contended at practice Monday that a second-quarter field-goal attempt by kicker Nicholas Barr-Mira appeared to be within the uprights, an opinion at odds with what officials ruled at the time.

A made field goal on Barr-Mira’s 35-yard attempt in the second quarter would have given UCLA a 17-7 lead. Instead, the Ducks finished off a 34-31 comeback victory after initially trailing by 14 points.

“Nick still thinks it was good, but it was ruled differently,” Kelly said Monday, according to the Los Angeles Times.

And what does Kelly think?

“I agree with Nick,” Kelly said.

The Bruins will not appeal the loss or ask for an apology from the Pac-12 Conference, Kelly said. They did not request a replay at the time the kick was ruled wide left because coaches in the booth did not see one before Oregon ran the next play.

UCLA fell to 5-3 overall and 3-2 in the Pac-12 South, behind both Utah and Arizona State, who are both 3-1. Arizona State defeated UCLA 42-23 on Oct. 2, and the Bruins play at Utah on Saturday.

–Field Level Media

Oct 16, 2021; Seattle, Washington, USA; UCLA Bruins head coach Chip Kelly reacts following a touchdown against the Washington Huskies during the second quarter at Alaska Airlines Field at Husky Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

No. 10 Oregon sticks with QB Anthony Brown for game at UCLA

The Oregon Ducks look to stay in the top 10 when they travel to Pasadena, Calif., to oppose UCLA on Saturday afternoon at the Rose Bowl.

The 10th-ranked Ducks (5-1, 2-1 Pac-12) have played back-to-back tight games, a 31-24 overtime loss to Stanford on Oct. 2 and a 24-17 win over California on Oct. 15 that came down to a fourth-and-goal defensive stand. Oregon is the only team in the conference with one overall loss.

Offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead is back to calling plays after needing surgery while the Ducks played at Stanford three weeks ago, and he is cleared to travel with the team to Pasadena.

Moorhead expressed support for starting quarterback Anthony Brown, who heard the boos and chants for backup Ty Thompson as the Ducks struggled on offense for a good portion of last week’s game.

“I think ‘AB’ is doing a solid job in his role,” Moorhead told Ducks Digest. “He’s not Marcus Mariota, he’s not Dennis Dixon (former Oregon quarterbacks who made the NFL), he’s not any of those guys, but he’s got to understand who he is and what he does well and how it’s going to contribute to our offensive and team success.

“You can nitpick and talk about stats and completion percentage and all that stuff, but I’ll go into a game with AB as my quarterback and believe in his abilities and what he’s going to do.”

Oregon is one of just two teams in the nation, along with Coastal Carolina, to rush for at least 180 yards in every game this season. The Ducks have been strong in the fourth quarter of games, outscoring opponents 72-31. They have scored points on 10 of 16 fourth-quarter drives and forced five turnovers in the fourth quarter to go with three turnovers on downs.

UCLA (5-2, 3-1 Pac-12) looks for another win against a North Division opponent after defeating Washington 24-17 in Seattle last week. The Bruins, led by former Oregon head coach Chip Kelly, racked up 420 yards of total offense to 267 for the Huskies.

Quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson had a hand in three touchdowns, throwing for two and running for one while totaling 270 scrimmage yards.

Running back Zach Charbonnet, a transfer from Michigan, ran for a season-high 131 yards and has been a force for the Bruins this season. He has five 100-yard games and averages better than 6 yards per carry.

Oregon has won seven of the past eight meetings but hasn’t beaten the Bruins in Pasadena since 2014.

Kelly hasn’t had many signature victories in Westwood, but a win over the program he led into national prominence 12 years ago would be one. He downplayed it this week.

“It’ll be like another game,” Kelly said. “It’s not my former team, I was there a long time ago, so I don’t know any of those coaches, I don’t know any of those players. So it’s not like I’m going back to coach against a bunch of guys that I coached.”

Both of UCLA’s losses have come at home, to Fresno State and Arizona State.

–Field Level Media

Oct 16, 2021; Seattle, Washington, USA; Washington Huskies quarterback Dylan Morris (9) passes against the UCLA Bruins during the first quarter at Alaska Airlines Field at Husky Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Dorian Thompson-Robinson tosses 2 TDs as UCLA edges Washington

Dorian Thompson-Robinson threw for two touchdowns and rushed for another as UCLA defeated Washington 24-17 Saturday night in a Pacific-12 Conference game in Seattle.

It was the second consecutive victory for the Bruins (5-2, 3-1 Pac-12) and the second straight defeat for the Huskies (2-4, 1-2).

Thompson-Robinson hit tight end Greg Dulcich over the middle on a 9-yard touchdown pass with 8:19 remaining to break a 17-all tie.

The Huskies reached midfield on their next possession, but Dylan Morris’ deep ball for Rome Odunze was intercepted by UCLA’s Devin Kirkwood at the 4-yard line with 4:50 remaining.

The Bruins then ran out the clock.

Thompson-Robinson, a senior, completed 21 of 26 passes for 183 yards and a 165.3 rating. He also gained 87 yards on 12 carries.

Zach Charbonnet rushed 21 times for 131 yards for the Bruins, who improved to 3-0 on the road.

Morris completed 20 of 30 passes for 184 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. Teammate Kamari Pleasant rushed nine times for 80 yards.

Thompson-Robinson guided the Bruins to a 17-3 lead.

He threw a 17-yard scoring strike to Kam Brown with 29 seconds left in the first quarter to give UCLA a 7-3 lead.

After a 39-yard field goal by Nicholas Barr-Mira made it 10-3 with 7:04 left in the half, Thompson-Robinson scored on a 1-yard sneak on a fourth-and-goal play with 3:33 remaining to extend the lead to 17-3.

The Huskies responded with an eight-play, 69-yard drive, with Morris hitting Odunze in the back left corner of the end zone to make it 17-10 with 52 seconds left in the half.

The Huskies tied the score at 17-all on their first drive of the third quarter, with Morris sneaking in from a yard out on fourth-and-goal.

Washington’s Peyton Henry opened the scoring with a 25-yard field goal with 3:23 remaining in the first quarter.

The Huskies honored their 1991 national championship team with throwback uniforms.

–Field Level Media

Sep 18, 2021; Pasadena, California, USA; UCLA Bruins quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson (1) looks to pass against Fresno State Bulldogs defensive back Justin Houston (13) in the second quarter at Rose Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

Arizona State, No. 20 UCLA face mirror images at QB

Arizona State faces No. 20 UCLA in a matchup Saturday of Pac-12 teams looking to get the upper hand in the conference’s Southern Division.

The Sun Devils (3-1, 1-0 Pac-12) will enter the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., after winning their first Pac-12 opener since Herm Edwards became head coach in 2018.

The 35-13 win over Colorado at home last week was highlighted by Jayden Daniels throwing for 236 yards and rushing for 75 yards and two touchdowns.

UCLA’s Dorian Thompson-Robinson is a similar dual threat quarterback coming off 251 yards passing and 30 yards rushing with two touchdowns in the Bruins’ 35-24 win at Stanford last week.

Chip Kelly and Edwards were each hired in 2018 and Kelly has a 2-1 edge over Edwards heading into Saturday’s game.

Thompson-Robinson is 2-0 in his career against Arizona State. In those two victories, he is 34 of 47 (72.3 percent) for 368 yards and three touchdowns while rushing 23 times for 64 yards and one score.

“I don’t know if you stop him. I think you try to contain him,” Edwards said of Thompson-Robinson. “No one is going to stop him. Great athlete — you’re not going to stop him. You can try to contain him and hold him to a minimum. You have to understand your rush lanes.”

Practicing against Daniels during the week helped the Sun Devils prepare for Thompson-Robinson because of their similar styles.

“Our quarterback does the same thing. You run past him upfield and you open windows for the guy to escape,” Edwards said.

UCLA (3-1, 1-0) is hoping Thompson-Robinson will be healthy Saturday. He was in obvious pain clutching his right arm late in the win over Stanford.

“The one thing I don’t think gets mentioned enough with Dorian is how tough he is. He’s been tough from the get-go,” Kelly said. “It’s an underrated quality for a quarterback to be a tough guy. It’s something that we’ve known for four years now.”

Saturday’s game will feature two potent rushing offenses that are fueled by their running quarterbacks.

UCLA has produced 200 or more rushing yards in seven of its last 10 games and has held the advantage in the run game in 10 consecutive games.

Arizona State is at 211.5 rushing yards per game this season, second best in the conference, while averaging 3.8 rushing touchdowns in each contest.

Conversely, the rushing defenses of both teams are similarly strong.

UCLA is allowing only 2.4 yards per carry and 64.0 rushing yards per game, fifth-fewest in the country, while Arizona State’s defense is giving up 3.5 yards per carry and 123.3 yards per game on the ground.

A matter of concern is UCLA’s secondary, which has allowed 330.3 passing yards per game, ranking fifth-most in the nation — especially with Daniels as Saturday’s opponent. He is completing nearly 73 percent of his passes (69 of 95) while passing for 808 yards.

“I’m confident our coaching staff will put a pretty good plan together in how to defend him, but that’s obviously the key — Jayden is the key to that offense and we need to contain him because he’s explosive in the run game,” Kelly said.

–Field Level Media