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Redshirt freshman Chase Griffin savors his first win as UCLA’s starting quarterback

UCLA quarterback Chase Griffin looks for a receiver during the second half against Arizona on Nov. 28, 2020.
UCLA’s Chase Griffin looks for a receiver Saturday. The redshirt freshman earned his first win as a starting quarterback for the Bruins, finishing 12 for 20 for 129 yards and one touchdown.
(Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

Chase Griffin will savor this one.

After the redshirt freshman recorded his first win as a starting UCLA quarterback Saturday, helping the Bruins to a 27-10 victory over Arizona at the Rose Bowl, Griffin clutched the game ball as teammates surrounded him for high-fives on the field. He shook hands with opponents, carefully grasping the ball in his other arm. He smiled as offensive linemen Alec Anderson and Sam Marrazzo posed with the quarterback for a photo and kept the ball in his arms as he ran up the tunnel.

The win is a memorable highlight in Griffin’s young UCLA career, but throwing for 129 yards and one touchdown on 12-for-20 passing might not be enough for him to keep his starting role for much longer.

Demetric Felton Jr. ran for 206 yards and a touchdown and Brittain Brown added 72 yards rushing and accounted for two touchdowns as UCLA beat Arizona 27-10.

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Junior Dorian Thompson-Robinson, who was one of nine players to sit out a second straight game Saturday, could soon return from a mandatory 14-day quarantine because of COVID-19 contact tracing. When Thompson-Robinson returns, possibly next weekend against Arizona State, Griffin will dutifully step to the sideline again, although the generously listed 5-foot-11 quarterback might stand a little bit taller after completing 31 of 51 passes for 324 yards and two touchdowns in his two starts and winning the confidence of his teammates.

“We call him the president because he knows how to lead this group,” said running back Brittain Brown, who rushed for 72 yards in 16 carries and one touchdown Saturday. “I know we’re down and out about Dorian not being here, but having Chase Griffin is not a minus at all.”

UCLA coach Chip Kelly called Griffin “one of the most driven young guys I’ve been around,” adding teammates thrive off Griffin’s calm demeanor.

Griffin, who won Texas’ Gatorade Player of the Year award as a senior in high school, showed his mettle last week as he nearly led UCLA to an upset of Pac-12-favorite Oregon in his college debut. He completed 19 of 31 passes for 195 yards and a touchdown at Autzen Stadium, but his two interceptions, which contributed to four UCLA turnovers, were the team’s undoing in a three-point loss.

After the game, Griffin praised his teammates’ effort and humbly recognized the need to protect the ball better. On Saturday, he delivered with no interceptions, managing the offense that relied on its running backs.

UCLA’s next two scheduled opponents — Arizona State and USC — canceled their games this week because of positive coronavirus tests among players.

The Bruins rushed the ball 56 times, led by Demetric Felton Jr.’s 32 carries with a career-high 206 yards rushing. Griffin did just enough when it counted, zipping a 21-yard pass to Kyle Philips on second and 12 from the UCLA six-yard line in the fourth quarter, advancing a drive that eventually ended in a UCLA punt downed at the Arizona one-yard line. It was one of two passes Griffin made in the fourth quarter.

“Sometimes a win is a win and the rest of the team played great,” Griffin said, grinning as UCLA ended a nine-game streak with at least one turnover. “I just have to go in and protect the ball.”

Even after the game, Griffin kept protecting the ball as he tucked it away, hoping to take the souvenir home.


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