UCLA Bruins Flip the Switch, Defeat UC Berkeley 34-10
The Bruins weren't phased by the quick turnaround in securing their first win of 2020.
Sometimes, you have to throw out your plans and start from scratch.
The UCLA Bruins were originally scheduled to face Utah on Friday. That game was moved to Saturday and eventually cancelled due to a COVID outbreak for the Utes. Luckily, the Bruins were able to pivot, as UC Berkeley had also had a game cancelled this week due to a COVID outbreak taking out their planned opponent in Arizona State. Both teams were able to make it work to play a hastily-scheduled game on Sunday and the Pac-12 should be commended for making it all happen.
All of which to say: boy, it feels good to get a win! The Bruins raced out to an early lead they never relented on, defeating UC Berkeley 34-10 to notch their first victory of 2020.
There were a lot of factors at play in this game, but at the top it should be mentioned that this was not a UC Berkeley team at full strength. The Bears had their opening game last week cancelled due to COVID and have been unable to have true practices this entire time as the defensive line was in quarantine. Their quarantine period officially ended this morning, which allowed them to play today, but it also meant they had not been able to have the offensive and defensive lines practice against each other for weeks, and it showed. UCLA was able to have their way with both sides of the Berkeley line, as they ran for 244 yards on the day while the defense had five sacks and 9.5 tackles for loss. It isn’t often we get to talk about UCLA imposing its will on both sides of the ball, but that was definitely the case today. Still, that lack of practice time does make it a bit harder to take anything concrete away from this game.
There are some things we can take away, however. For example, UCLA finally appeared to move away from the pro-style sets and system that Chip Kelly has favored during his UCLA tenure and started incorporating concepts that were more reminiscent of his Blur offense from Oregon. UCLA made a concerted effort to get Dorian Thompson-Robinson involved in the running game early and that paid dividends as the game progressed as the Bears were forced to account for his ability to run at all times. That focus allowed the rest of the UCLA rushing attack to flourish, as Demetric Felton ran for 107 yards on 25 attempts (averaging 4.3 YPC) while transfer Brittain Brown threw in 71 yards on 12 carries of his own (for an astounding 5.9 YPC). The Bruin offensive line looked much more physical at the point of attack, being much more successful at the point of attack and opening up solid holes for the running backs.
Dorian Thompson-Robinson looked very good in this game. As I mentioned in the Eye Test this past week, DTR could thrive in an offense more tailored to his skill set and, lo and behold, DTR thrived this week when put in an offense more tailored to his skill set. Thompson-Robinson threw for 196 yards on 14-26 passing and three touchdowns while adding in 52 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries. Outside of a poor throw in the first quarter, DTR also did a great job of constantly making the right decision, even when evading pressure allowed by an at-times suspect UCLA pass block. It was the kind of hyper-efficient performance Thompson-Robinson can produce when given the opportunity and, hopefully, the coaching staff recognizes this going forward.
Finally, let’s talk about the defense. Like I said, it’s hard to take a ton away from this game in part because Berkeley did not have a ton of practice time. It also doesn’t help that the Bears hired Bill Musgrave to run the offense this offseason, and Musgrave is….how do I put it…..a bad coach with a suboptimal scheme. I’m starting to rethink the idea that the Bears could be a surprise team in the North just based on that one hire.
Despite all that, the UCLA defense looked very good in this game. They were much more aggressive than they were against Colorado, and that aggressiveness was rewarded repeatedly with sacks and tackles for loss aplenty. The Bruins even forced their first turnover of the year on a tipped ball interception for Caleb Johnson, which set up a UCLA touchdown in the first half. UC Berkeley was unable to gain anything in the way of offensive momentum all game, and for UCLA fans, this was closer to the expectations when Brian Norwood was hired to help implement his more aggressive 4-2-5 scheme in Westwood. A UCLA defense that shows this level of aggression, even if it gets burned on occasion, would give the team a much higher chance of success.
All told, this was a solid win for UCLA over what should end the year as a good team. Credit goes to the coaching staff for managing the quick turnaround well and getting the win (though for the record, I want it known that I told the other writers UCLA would look good here specifically because they seem to rarely game-plan for individual opponents), and credit to the players for stepping up and responding well after last week’s letdown against Colorado.
Somehow, someway, a successful season for UCLA is back in play, with the biggest test of the season coming up against Oregon. Time to see what’s real for the Bruins this season.