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UCLA vs. LSU: Special teams ace Ale Kaho made most of Hawaii miscue

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Hawaii Warriors quarterback Chevan Cordeiro is sacked by UCLA Bruins linebacker Ale Kaho
Hawaii Warriors quarterback Chevan Cordeiro (12) is sacked by UCLA Bruins linebacker Ale Kaho (10) Saturday in Pasadena.
(Ashley Landis / Associated Press)

UCLA is hoping to build on a rout of Hawaii in the season opener when it hosts LSU on Saturday at the Rose Bowl. Follow along for the latest news.

Ale Kaho and David Priebe combining for blocked punt and touchdown was special but not surprising

Hawaii, meet Ale Kaho.

It seemed inexplicable that proper introductions had not been made prior to the UCLA special teams dynamo blocking a Rainbow Warriors punt last weekend.

Kaho was the one guy on the Bruins’ punt coverage team who should have been a priority. Circle him in red. Watch his every move. The redshirt junior linebacker had blocked three punts while at Alabama before transferring to UCLA after last season.

But there he was late in the third quarter Saturday, charging through a giant hole.

“It was just wide open,” Kaho remembered Tuesday.

Kaho blocked Matthew Shipley’s punt without anyone so much as feigning a move in his direction. The ball bounced toward the end zone, where it was fallen on by UCLA’s David Priebe after he won a footrace with teammate Myles Jackson.

Priebe, a redshirt junior tight end, was as surprised as the small Rose Bowl crowd that roared.

“It was kind of one of those slow-motion deals,” Priebe said, “where you see it happen and you don’t really believe it.”

Priebe celebrated his first college touchdown by racing over to Kaho and sharing a special moment before flipping the ball to an official.

“It was just kind of pure bliss,” Priebe said.

It was also a rarity for the Bruins. Priebe’s touchdown on a blocked punt was UCLA’s first since Jordan Lasley recovered a punt blocked by DeChaun Holiday against Oregon State on Nov. 12, 2016.

It might be a more regular occurrence with Kaho around. He could be especially valuable Saturday against No. 16 Louisiana State given his familiarity with the Tigers. Kaho was Alabama’s special teams player of the week against LSU last season after making a tackle on kickoff coverage late in the game while limiting the Tigers to 54 yards on kickoff returns for the game.

Priebe will go into Saturday’s game having notched his first touchdown before making his first catch.

“Nobody really envisions their first college touchdown being on special teams,” Priebe said, “but I’m not complaining at all, you know?”

Etc.

UCLA reserve quarterback Chase Griffin has struck a name, image and likeness deal with Degree Deodorant to promote content and fund local community projects. Griffin was one of 19 college students selected for the program after sharing how they had overcome personal and societal challenges.

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Zach Charbonnet for Heisman? UCLA teammate Bo Calvert says an emphatic yes

UCLA running back Zach Charbonnet breaks free for a touchdown against Hawaii in the second quarter Saturday.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Two words that haven’t been spoken in relation to UCLA football in years were uttered Monday, and not in jest.

Heisman Trophy.

In a sign that the Bruins are at least back to being fun, if not back to national prominence, outside linebacker Bo Calvert lobbied for running back Zach Charbonnet to be in the early discussions for college football’s top award after Charbonnet’s huge showing in his UCLA debut against Hawaii at the Rose Bowl.

Calvert spent nearly two minutes praising his teammate before offering a pithy summary.

“So, pretty much, Zach Charbonnet for Heisman, is what I’m saying,” Calvert said.

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It was hard to argue after the Michigan transfer scored touchdowns on his third, fourth and sixth touches Saturday during the Bruins’ 44-10 romp over the Rainbow Warriors. Charbonnet finished with a game-high 106 yards rushing and the three scores in only six carries, running through open holes and contact with equal ease while becoming the first Bruin to score three touchdowns in a game since Josh Kelley did it against Arizona State in October 2019.

True to his modest form, Charbonnet sounded as though he wanted to run away from any Heisman hype.

“Right now I’m just looking forward to the next week, the next game ahead of me,” Charbonnet said when asked whether he was ready for a Heisman campaign. “That’s all I’m ever going to have in mind is how I can help the team as best I can.”

Calvert, who also played with Charbonnet at Oaks Christian High in Westlake Village, might be the only publicist that his longtime teammate needs given his strong admiration.

“Last week’s showing was kind of an every-week think for me,” Calvert said. “I’m not really surprised at how great he did, he was doing that every week at Oaks, so now it’s just kind of the rest of the nation seeing what I saw for the other four years in high school and now coming on here at UCLA, but the kid’s a beast, obviously, he’s just going to run through people’s faces. To be honest, you can just run a zone read and the kid’s going to find a way to get to the end zone. I think he had six carries, three touchdowns, so that’s unheard of, the kid’s nuts.

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“Excited to have him here on this team, obviously, and he’s just warming up. Trust me, the kid hasn’t shown you everything he’s got yet, there’s some things that he’s done on the field out here that I can’t wait for him to show at the Rose Bowl and he’s a young guy who plays like he’s been playing for four years, so just excited for him and it’s just awesome to see him make plays on the same team with me. I just love to have him as a teammate — great guy, great team player.”

As if on cue, Charbonnet deflected praise to his teammates when asked what it felt like to be so productive in his first game with the Bruins.

“It was exciting,” Charbonnet said, “but I’ve got to give it back to the O-line and tight ends and receivers; they did a great job blocking, Dorian [Thompson-Robinson] just being a dual threat and being able to also help me have some of those holes for the running backs and I’ve just got to thank those boys.”

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Dorian Thompson-Robinson doesn’t get clearance to take flight like he did against Hawaii

UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson tries to get past Hawaii defensive back Chima Azunna.
UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson tries to get past Hawaii defensive back Chima Azunna during the Bruins’ win Saturday.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Hey, Dorian: Don’t do that.

That was essentially the message that UCLA coach Chip Kelly conveyed to his quarterback after watching Dorian Thompson-Robinson try — and fail — to hurdle a defender Saturday against Hawaii.

Thompson-Robinson awkwardly spun in midair at the end of the 13-yard run in the first quarter but avoided injury, something that has nagged the senior in each of his first three seasons while sitting out games because of various wounds.

“We always talk to our guys about making proper decisions in that situation,” Kelly said Monday before practice. “He’s done that before because of his athleticism, but that wasn’t the right maneuver at the right time, so we’ll cover that.”

By going airborne, Thompson-Robinson also risked a fumble that could have proved pivotal so early in the game that the Bruins eventually won in a 44-10 runaway.

UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson tries to hurdle over Hawaii defender Chima Azunna in the first quarter Saturday.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

“No one wants to put themselves in harm’s way,” Kelly said, “so we’ve got to protect ourselves and we’ve got to protect the football.”

Running the ball wasn’t a big part of Thompson-Robinson’s arsenal against the Rainbow Warriors. He finished with 16 yards in three carries and was sacked once.

It was also one of Thompson-Robinson’s less memorable games throwing the ball as he completed half of his 20 passes for 130 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions. UCLA won in dominant fashion thanks mostly to a running game that produced 244 yards and four touchdowns.

“Obviously, ball security is job security, so definitely protecting the ball is the first thing,” Thompson-Robinson said, “and then obviously availability is your best ability, so being able to stay on the field for as long as possible and finishing the game is important and definitely something we talk about throughout the game.”

Etc.

Running back Ethan Fernea, who limped off the field near the end of the third quarter, returned to practice Monday and was moving around without any limitations.… Kelly on former UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel saying coaches wearing shorts and T-shirts at a college football game was too casual: “We modeled it after his golfing attire.”

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