PASADENA — UCLA did not receive a single vote in the latest AP Top 25 poll on Sunday, despite outscoring opponents 90-24 through two games. It’s been five years since the Bruins have exceeded the 90-point mark through their first two games. Their defense has allowed zero points in both second halves.
Yet, the national voters didn’t seem too impressed with UCLA’s opening-week blowout of Bowling Green, followed by Saturday’s 45-7 win over FCS program Alabama State.
It is hard to draw conclusions from games in which UCLA was favored by 24.5 and 48.5 points, respectively. UCLA opened as a 14-point favorite over next week’s opponent, South Alabama.
“I don’t think you can look past anybody,” head coach Chip Kelly said postgame Saturday. “You really got to keep your focus on what it is and savor it. It’s a unique sport. You prepare so long for just 12 opportunities.”
Among Kelly’s messages to his players in the locker room after the win was: We only have 10 games left.
“It still feels like it just started, but it goes like that,” Kelly said, snapping his fingers. “The season feels like it’s long, but the games are short.”
The Week 2 matchup was set to feature Michigan, but the Wolverines backed out of a home-and-home for this year and next year, leaving UCLA without an opportunity to prove itself on a national stage early in the season.
That also means little possibility of a Top 25 ranking for a few more weeks.
But the Bruins can only adjust to what is in front of them. Against Alabama State on Saturday, running back Zach Charbonnet did not play at all and quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson was pulled in the middle of the second quarter. Kelly didn’t divulge a reason postgame, but considering both were on the sideline and remained dressed, the duo would have likely been fully involved in a game that carried greater consequence.
As a result, UCLA fans got a glimpse of the third-string and even fourth-string depth. Ethan Garbers, Chase Griffin and Chase Artopoeus all spelled Thompson-Robinson at quarterback.
Keegan Jones, Deshun Murrell, TJ Harden, Colson Yankoff and Christian Grubb all got carries in place of Charbonnet. Harden and Grubb — a redshirt junior seeing his first playing time — recorded their first collegiate touchdowns. Yankoff has gone from playing quarterback to receiver to running back throughout his college journey.
Tight end Hudson Habermahl scored his first career touchdown on a 25-yard catch-and-run right down the middle of the field off a pass by Thompson-Robinson.
“It was crazy,” said Habermahl, a redshirt junior who has seen limited playing time in previous years. “It felt like a blur. A dream — even though you’ve been dreaming about stuff like that your whole life. So it was really cool to happen.”
On defense, linebacker Laiatu Latu, who transferred to UCLA after health issues kept him off the field at Washington the last two seasons, forced his first career fumble. And DJ Justice, a wide receiver-turned-defensive back, recorded his first interception on Alabama State’s final drive with an athletic, leaping grab in the end zone.
“This is a game of adversity,” Kelly said of Yankoff and Latu. “And for both of those guys, they have worked so hard at overcoming some of the adverse situations that they have been in. I’m really proud of them.”
Kelly and his players went into Saturday’s game emphasizing they would respect Alabama State. And the Hornets weren’t a pushover, converting several first downs early in the game via the pass and creating some issues for the UCLA secondary to study on film.
But Kelly probably wouldn’t have planned to roll four-deep through the depth chart had the opponent been Michigan.
Offensive lineman Jon Gaines, a self-described “old guy” in his fifth season, noted the work his teammates put in during practice.
“To see a lot of guys who haven’t been able to have that many snaps to come in and really take advantage of their opportunities, it was great for them,” Gaines said. “You love to see your teammates work hard throughout the week and that hard work pay off for them.”
There may come a point later in the season when a Colson Yankoff or a DJ Justice is called upon to step in during a critical moment. If so, they’ll have fresh live-game experience in their memory bank.
And the fact that the Bruins weren’t getting national love two games into the season would likely not be on anyone’s mind.