UCLA rebounds from a slow start in a steaming Rose Bowl to smother Bowling Green

UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson celebrates with teammates.
UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson, center, celebrates with wide receiver Titus Mokiao-Atimalala, left, and wide receiver Kazmeir Allen after scoring a first-half touchdown against Bowling Green at the Rose Bowl on Saturday.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

Dorian Thompson-Robinson and the Bruins stumbled early but scored 38 unanswered points after trailing in the second quarter of a 45-17 win over Bowling Green.

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UCLA rebounds from a slow start to smother Bowling Green in a steaming Rose Bowl

UCLA running back Braxton Todd, right, is tackled by Bowling Green linebacker DJ Taylor during the first half Saturday.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

Fans who braved the 100-degree temperature and searing midday sun that robbed the Rose Bowl of a shady side weren’t the only ones sweating Saturday.

UCLA, which entered its opener against Bowling Green as a 23½-point favorite, looked like a team in need of another month of practice during a first quarter packed with Bruin blunders.

There were two turnovers and a turnover on downs in addition to a blocked punt resulting in a touchdown. More baffling, UCLA was forced to burn a timeout after punt returner Jake Bobo trotted onto the field … only for the Bruins to realize another player wearing his No. 9 was already on the field.

UCLA fell behind by 10 points, bringing out the boos and kicker Nicholas Barr-Mira after getting flagged for delay of game on fourth-and-goal from the two-yard line.

Just when it looked like the Bruins might choke on a creampuff, they swallowed hard and could give a weary smile.

Rolling off 38 unanswered points thanks to a dominant offense and a defense that finally started making tackles, UCLA ran away with a 45-17 victory before an announced crowd of 27,143 that was the lowest the team has drawn since moving to the Rose Bowl in 1982.

Those who endured the triple-digit heat saw the Bruins pile up yardage after shaking off that sorry first quarter. Quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson accounted for four touchdowns and 385 of UCLA’s 626 yards of offense despite constantly running from pressure.

The fifth-year senior completed 32 of 43 passes for 298 yards and two touchdowns with one interception while also running for 87 yards and two more touchdowns. Even a rare slipup resulted in something positive, offensive lineman Atonio Mafi scooping up Thompson-Robinson’s fumble in the third quarter and rumbling several yards for a first down.

UCLA running back Zach Charbonnet provided the necessary complement, refusing to go down on initial contact while bulling his way to 111 yards and one touchdown in 21 carries.

Bruins backup quarterback Ethan Garbers made the most of a fourth-quarter cameo appearance, converting a fourth down when receiver Josiah Norwood took a short pass and sprinted for a 50-yard touchdown.

The defense UCLA unveiled under new defensive coordinator Bill McGovern was stingy outside of shoddy tackling in the first half. The Bruins held Bowling Green scoreless over the game’s final 43 minutes and held the Falcons to 162 total yards of offense.

UCLA linebacker Darius Muasau recovered a fumble that would have gone for a touchdown had teammate Laiatu Latu not been called for an illegal block in the back.

The game initially looked like a different kind of runaway.

In some ominous foreshadowing, a few boos were unleashed at the end of the Bruins’ first drive when Thompson-Robinson had to throw the ball away on third down with defenders quickly closing in on him.

Bowling Green blocked the resulting punt, Barr-Mira getting pummeled by an unblocked rusher before the ball left his foot. The Falcons recovered the loose ball for a touchdown and UCLA trailed less than two minutes into the game.

Bill McGovern, a longtime acquaintance of UCLA coach Chip Kelly, is staying true to himself and his players as he tries to fix UCLA’s defensive woes.

Sept. 2, 2022

It was a particularly rough debut for Bobo, a graduate transfer from Duke. His jersey snafu — he eventually pulled No. 87 over his pads — came with a painful epilogue when he got smashed on the punt return and was slow to get up, appearing woozy.

That wasn’t the worst of it. Bobo fumbled the next punt, leading to a short Bowling Green field goal.

The Falcons extended their lead to 17-7 early in the second quarter thanks to another UCLA deficiency, three missed tackles allowing tight end Christian Sims to reach the end zone on a 22-yard reception.

The Bruins bounced back with 17 consecutive points to take a 24-17 halftime lead, but even that wasn’t perfect. Their delay of game on fourth down led to a field goal when the Bruins were only two yards from a possible touchdown.

Thompson-Robinson, whose zigzagging 68-yard touchdown run in the first quarter had given the Bruins their first score, threw for two touchdowns late in the second quarter to nudge the Bruins ahead. The first was a short pass to Kazmeir Allen, who zipped his way into the end zone on a 20-yard reception. The second was another short pass to running back Keegan Jones, who slipped a tackle on the way to a 52-yard touchdown.


UCLA scores again and what once looked dire is now a rout

Hard to believe UCLA trailed 17-7 in the second quarter.

The Bruins are blowing out Bowling Green 45-17 after backup quarterback Ethan Garbers connected with Josiah Norwood on a 50-yard touchdown play with under five minutes to play.

Garbers, a redshirt sophomore transfer from Washington who attended Corona Del Mar High, was three for four for 59 yards on the drive.


UCLA begins fourth quarter with a touchdown to extend lead to 38-17

Dorian Thompson-Robinson ran eight yards for a touchdown on the first play of the fourth quarter to extend UCLA’s lead to 38-17.

The Bruins trailed 17-7 well into the second quarter and have since scored 31 unanswered points.

DTR’s TD capped a methodical nine-play, 47-yard march during which the longest gain was a pass completion to Zach Charbonnet.


UCLA extends lead as the scorching heat appears to be severely impacting Bowling Green

At least a dozen Bowling Green players have needed treatment for leg cramps, and it’s only four minutes into the second half.

It’s 101 degrees at the Rose Bowl. Most fans are huddled in shady seats underneath the press box.

And Bowling Green players seem to be wilting in the scorching heat.

UCLA drove 58 yards in eight plays capped by a four-yard scoring run by Zach Charbonnet, who rushed for 26 yards on the drive and has 108 in the game on 19 carries.

UCLA leads 31-17 and has scored 24 consecutive points.


UCLA takes a huge statistical edge into the locker room at halftime

Thanks to a torrid final five minutes in the second quarter, UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson threw for 208 yards in the first half, completing 22 of 30 passes.

Touchdown passes of 52 yards to Keegan Jones and 20 yards to Kazmeir Allen both were the result of excellent runs after the catch. The scores came within 1:38 of each other late in the half.

Zach Charbonnet rushed for 82 yards in 14 carries, leading a Bruins ground game that racked up 161 yards. DTR added 73 yards in three carries, with 68 coming on a touchdown run less than three minutes into the game.

UCLA held Bowling Green to 102 yards — 61 passing and 41 rushing. Quarterback Matt McDonald is seven for 16, averaging only 3.8 yards per attempt.

The Bruins need to clean up the turnovers (they had two in the first half) and penalties (six for 40 yards in the first half). Otherwise they ought to pull away in the second half.


UCLA goes ahead 24-17 on two touchdown passes within two minutes

UCLA scored two touchdowns in less than two minutes to take a 24-17 lead with 2:18 to play in the first half.

Dorian Thompson-Robinson completed a short pass that Keegan Jones took down the left sideline for a 52-yard touchdown on UCLA’s first play after forcing Bowling Green to punt.

UCLA tied the score 17-17 with four minutes to play in the half, capping a quick three-minute, 61-yard drive with a 20-yard touchdown on a screen pass to Kazmeir Allen.

The score was preceded by a 10-yard run by Zach Charbonnet, who already has 82 yards rushing in 14 carries.


UCLA cuts deficit to 17-10 with short field goal

UCLA cut its deficit to 17-10 on a 24-yard field goal by Nicholas Barr-Mira with 8:28 to play in the first half.

Penalties thwarted any chance of a Bruins touchdown, including a delay of game flag on fourth-and-goal from the two-yard-line. His offense backed up five yards, coach Chip Kelly opted to send in the field-goal unit.

UCLA got the ball back quickly, however, stopping Bowling Green on a three-and-out that included a third-down sack by Matt McDonald.


Bowling Green pokes hole in middle of UCLA defense, scores

UCLA’s defense had largely been the team’s strongest performer, limiting damage following turnovers by the offense and special teams unit.

However, Bowling Green quarterback Matt McDonald found tight end Christian Sims for a screen across the middle. His blockers cleared his path enough for a 23-yard touchdown. With the extra point, the Falcons pulled ahead 17-7 at the 13:43 mark in the second quarter.


UCLA closes first quarter on its heels

Dorian Thompson-Robinson hasn’t been sharp on his reads, but UCLA remained confident keeping the ball in his hands facing fourth and four on the Bowling Green 27-yard line.

After a Falcons timeout, DTR’s pass was incomplete and Bowling Green took over on downs.

The Falcons were efficiently driving upfield as the first quarter expired, closing a sluggish opening period for the Bruins.

Bowling Green leads 10-7 to open the second quarter.


Bowling Green settles for field goal deep in UCLA territory

The UCLA defense limited the damage from a fumbled punt Bowling Green recovered, limiting the Falcons to a 23-yard field goal.

The score gives Bowling Green a 10-7 lead with 4:34 left in the first quarter.


UCLA suffers another special teams gaffe

It seemed UCLA’s defense was going to bail the Bruins out of trouble after Dorian Thompson-Robinson tossed an interception, but special teams problems flared up again.

Jake Bobo fumbled the punt deep in UCLA territory and Bowling Green recovered at the Bruins’ 11-yard-line.


Bowling Green easily picks off DTR pass across the middle

The UCLA offense was getting a little bit of traction, but Dorian Thompson-Robinson tried to a force a pass across the middle without putting much air on it and it was easily intercepted by D.J. Brown and returned 24 yards.

DTR got a lift from the Bruins’ defense, which gave up a fourth-and-one conversion, but then pushed Bowling Green back and forced a punt.


UCLA special teams still in preseason mode

The revamped UCLA defense forced a three-and-out, but the Bruins’ special teams unit had another issue.

The Bruins had to take a time out before receiving the Bowling Green punt so that the punt returner Jake Bobo, a graduate transfer from Duke, could change jerseys because another player on the return team wore the same jersey number and the Bruins could have been hit with a penalty.

It was a short punt and Bobo called for a fair catch and was hit. With a 15-yard penalty, UCLA started its next possession at the Bowling Green 48-yard line. Bobo lingered on the field after he was crushed on the play, but he eventually got up following medical treatment.


Dorian Thompson-Robinson helps UCLA quickly notch equalizer

Dorian Thompson-Robinson has seen a lot of early game miscues during his UCLA career and was not rattled by the early Bruins special teams miscue that led to a touchdown.

DTR slipped out of the pocket after Bowling Green deployed a nickle blitz, scrambling from sideline to sideline during a 68-yard touchdown. With the extra point, UCLA leveled the score 7-7 at the 12:20 mark in the first quarter.


UCLA receives opening kick, struggles through first possession

UCLA received the opening kick at the Rose Bowl and did not return it.

The temperature was 98 degrees at kickoff, with it expected to climb past 100 during the game.

The Bruins tried a mix of run and pass plays to move the ball, but Bowling Green rolled out a blitz on third-and-12 and forced Dorian Thompson-Robinson to loft the ball out of bounds.

Pinned deep in UCLA territory, the Bruins’ blocking collapsed and Bowling Green easily blocked the punt, scooped it up and scored. Including the extra point, UCLA quickly trailed 7-0 at the 13:46 mark in the first quarter.


If it seems like old times at UCLA, then Ken Norton Jr. will have succeeded in return

UCLA linebackers coach Ken Norton Jr. gives instructions to linebackers Shea Pitts and Adam Cohen at spring practice.
(Steve Galluzzo / For The Times)

The old linebacker is teaching the new generation what it means to practice like a Bruin.

“Get there, get there, get there!” he hollers during a pursuit drill. “Great intent, now. Great intent!”

The old linebacker wants his successors to understand what it means to be mean.

“See ball, get ball,” he howls. “Gotta have it!”

The old linebacker … well, he isn’t happy.

“Naw, naw, naw,” he says. “Come back.”

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Rose Bowl or a season with thorns? The UCLA Bruins’ best- and worst-case scenarios

UCLA head coach Chip Kelly walks the sideline during a game against Hawaii last season.
(Kyusung Gong / Associated Press)

The running back could dart into the Heisman Trophy race by halftime of the first game. The quarterback likely will set school records. The twin edge rushers might pack a wallop that leaves their targets seeing double.

One doesn’t have to squint to notice all the ways UCLA not only could contend for the Pac-12 Conference title for the first time under coach Chip Kelly, but also win the thing in a runaway.

The Bruins are experienced at critical positions, they’re likely to pile up points, they could be considerably better on defense.

And yet …

There remain more questions than a week’s worth of “Jeopardy!” as the team nears its season opener against Bowling Green on Sept. 3 at the Rose Bowl.

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College football picks 2022: Predicting winners for every Power Five game

Alabama coach Nick Saban leads his team on the field before the College Football Playoff championship.
Alabama coach Nick Saban leads his team on the field before the College Football Playoff championship game against Georgia in January.
(Paul Sancya / Associated Press)

If you’re like me, August is the longest month of the year. That has nothing to do with the weather and everything to do with college football being so close that you can practically feel Ralphie running onto the field in the Rocky Mountains or hear the different renditions of “Tiger Rag” trumpeting across the Southeast.

Ten years ago, to get through this month, a friend who shares my disgust for August joined me in picking the winner of every single Power Five football game. No matter how much we disagreed on a game, we had to come to a consensus and go with it. It was a way of checking each other and, we hoped, coming to a greater place of understanding.

Well, after a few years, we stopped doing this. Life moved on. I got married and happened to honeymoon in August. The next year, my wife and I had our daughter in August. (Those are definitely two recommended ways to get through this month, if you’re so lucky).

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Success appears built into UCLA’s easiest football schedule in three decades

UCLA coach Chip Kelly speaks during the Pac-12 Conference NCAA college football media day.
UCLA’s preconference schedule might be a smorgasbord of college football cupcakes, but this isn’t how coach Chip Kelly originally planned it.
(Damian Dovarganes / Associated Press)

Have you heard the ones about UCLA’s nonconference football schedule?

After agreeing to play Bowling Green, Alabama State and South Alabama — all at the Rose Bowl — the Bruins are on the verge of a sponsorship deal with Sprinkles cupcakes. . . .

The Bruins became the first team in college football history to receive a bye into conference play. . . .

You know it’s an easy schedule when none of the teams’ nicknames come to mind. . . .

Before UCLA moves into the Big Ten, it’s making a stopover in the Football Championship Subdivision. . . .

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A fraction of the man he used to be, Atonio Mafi is ready to dominate for UCLA

UCLA offensive lineman Atonio Mafi takes part in Bruins training camp on Aug. 17, 2022.
(Sam Lazarus / UCLA)

Late at night, craving the comfort of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, he hears the words.

If you lose the weight, you’ll have a shot.

Longing for his mom’s lamb chops swimming in coconut milk, he hears the words.

If you lose the weight, you’ll have a shot.

Wishing he could splurge for his favorite In-N-Out order of a triple cheeseburger, double-double, animal-style fries, regular fries and a strawberry milkshake, he hears the words.

If you lose the weight, you’ll have a shot.

The words are annoying. They keep him starving. They momentarily make him want to abandon this whole giving-up-what-he-loves madness.

Atonio Mafi marinates in those words, the UCLA offensive lineman remembering how he once strained the scale at 411 pounds, stretching the fabric of his XXXXL jersey on a frame measuring 6-foot-2.

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College football roundtable: How many wins do USC and UCLA need this season?

During the opening week of the college football season, staff writers Ben Bolch, Ryan Kartje, J. Brady McCollough and Thuc Nhi Nguyen addressed the most pressing questions facing the UCLA and USC football programs.

This season’s College Football Playoff national championship game will be played at SoFi Stadium, so they also tackled which team they believe will clinch the title in Inglewood.

UCLA players celebrate defensive back Cameron Johnson's second half interception.
UCLA players celebrate defensive back Cameron Johnson’s interception against USC at the Coliseum on Nov. 20, 2021.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

How many wins does UCLA need to call this a successful season?

Ben Bolch: It’s not the number of wins but which ones the Bruins bag that will be most important. They’ll probably need to win two of three games against contenders Utah, Oregon and USC to get to the Pac-12 championship game. That would likely get them to (at least) 10 wins.

Nguyen: Especially with such an easy schedule, the Bruins have to get to at least double-digit wins to sustain the steady (but slower than desired) improvement of the Chip Kelly era. After several years of low-stakes rivalry games as both UCLA and USC struggled, this year’s figures to have some real juice as both teams are, theoretically, going to be battling at the top of the conference.

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Love, wrath and mind games: Meet the man tasked with fixing UCLA’s defense

UCLA defensive coordinator Bill McGovern stands on the field during a practice session.
(Sam Lazarus / UCLA Athletics)

Bill McGovern’s top defender looked slightly deranged, with his eye black smeared like a WWF wrestler.

He would pace the sideline before every game. He would stare across the field at the player he wanted to destroy.

The menace on his face was unmistakable.

“That was my thing,” Mark Herzlich recalled this week, more than a decade after the linebacker terrorized quarterbacks and running backs alike under McGovern at Boston College. “It’s weird and a little sadistic but Bill was like, ‘Hey, this is what gets Mark jacked up.’”

Pulling his star aside before the 2008 season opener, McGovern delivered an even bigger jolt.

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College Football Playoff will expand from four to 12 teams by 2026

Alabama’s James Burnip warms up before the College Football Playoff championship game Jan. 10 in Indianapolis.
(Charlie Riedel / Associated Press)

The university presidents who oversee the College Football Playoff voted Friday to expand the postseason model for determining a national champion from four to 12 teams no later than the 2026 season.

A person familiar with the decision told the Associated Press that the presidents would like to have the new format in place as soon as the 2024 season. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because an official announcement was still forthcoming.

A process that started 14 1/2 months ago with an optimistic rollout of an ambitious plan, and then was derailed as conference leaders haggled over details and questioned each other’s motivations, is now finally moving forward.

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UCLA vs. Bowling Green: What to watch during the Bruins’ season opener

Here are five things to watch during UCLA’s season opener against Bowling Green Saturday at the Rose Bowl:

Bye, September blues?

UCLA running back Zach Charbonnet carries against LSU.
UCLA running back Zach Charbonnet carries against LSU during the first half on Sept. 4, 2021, at the Rose Bowl.
(Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

It’s a new UCLA football season. Slather on the sunscreen, wipe out the cooler and dust off the folding chairs. There’s one usual trapping of September that the Bruins would just as well abandon. That’s the disappointment they have experienced before the first chill of fall overtakes the Rose Bowl.

UCLA has not completed a nonconference schedule unbeaten since 2015 (unless you smart alecks count COVID-19-shortened 2020, when the Bruins played only Pac-12 foes). This could be the year that changes. UCLA is a 24½-point favorite over the Falcons and will also be heavily favored against Alabama State and South Alabama.

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