UCLA’s big win at Stanford might’ve shut up the Chip Kelly haters and saved his job

UCLA coach Chip Kelly yells instructions to one of his players from the sideline during a game against Fresno State
UCLA coach Chip Kelly shouts instructions to his players during a loss to Fresno State on Sept. 19.
(Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

Years from now, assuming a contract extension is signed, the buyout talks unnecessary, it could be remembered as the day that Chip Kelly solidified his standing at UCLA.

Facing a team that haunted nearly every UCLA season for more than a decade, Kelly’s Bruins persevered Saturday in a way they had not since his arrival in Westwood.

They lost a two-touchdown lead and didn’t let it crush them. They briefly lost their quarterback and it only made them stronger upon his return.


“It just took guts, do you know what I mean?” defensive back Qwuantrezz Knight said after the team’s 35-24 victory at Stanford. “Guts to finish the game.”

Dorian Thompson-Robinson’s gutsy performance lifts UCLA to a 35-24 victory over Stanford, but the quarterback’s shoulder injury could be cause for concern.

Sept. 25, 2021

That it all came against the dreaded Cardinal — longtime conqueror of UCLA while winning 12 of the 13 previous meetings — provided extra satisfaction. The Bruins (3-1, 1-0 Pac-12) have emerged with their best start under Kelly, who is assembling the kind of breakthrough he needs to earn an extension on the contract that runs through next season.

UCLA, which rose to No. 20 in the Associated Press rankings Sunday, is a 3½-point favorite against Arizona State (3-1, 1-0) next weekend at the Rose Bowl and likely will be favored the following weeks against Arizona and Washington.

If the Bruins go unbeaten in that stretch, it’s not hard to imagine ESPN’s “GameDay” crew settling in at the Rose Bowl to watch UCLA face conference heavyweight Oregon on Oct. 23. Win that showdown, and it will be reasonable to start talking about the team’s first Pac-12 title since 1998.

This is the kind of buzz that was expected immediately upon Kelly’s hiring but has taken years to build, the Bruins finally cultivating a deep and savvy roster in his fourth season.

A stumble against Fresno State in the final nonconference game briefly revived the narrative that little had changed, but UCLA showed against Stanford that these are no longer your 3-9 or 4-8 Bruins.

N.C. State’s upset of No. 9 Clemson and Baylor’s win over No. 14 Iowa State would have deeper meaning if the College Football Playoff pool were expanded to `12 teams.

Sept. 26, 2021


This team combines an elite offense with a run-stuffing defense and a strong resolve. Quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson threw two touchdown passes in the fourth quarter after Stanford tied the score, the second coming one play after an apparent shoulder injury knocked him out of the game.

A defense that ranks No. 6 nationally against the run, giving up 64 yards per game, held the Cardinal to 67 yards on the ground and three yards per carry.

Most importantly, the Bruins made the late plays they couldn’t the previous week in losing to the Bulldogs.

“Last week, we weren’t able to go in and absolutely finish the game the way we’ve been coached,” Knight said. “This week, during practice, that’s the main thing that coach Kelly talked about. We have to finish, we have to finish, we have to finish. Bruins finish.”

Injury news

There was no update on Thompson-Robinson’s status. Receiver Kyle Philips said after the game that Thompson-Robinson had injured his shoulder, but the quarterback did not speak with the media.

Tight end Mike Martinez, whose left foot was encased in a walking boot earlier in the week, did not play against Stanford. Neither did safety Quentin Lake, who suffered an undisclosed injury against Fresno State. Kenny Churchwell III started in Lake’s place.

Defensive lineman Otito Ogbonnia returned from the injury that forced him out of the Fresno State game. Edge rusher Mitchell Agude played through an apparent leg injury that limited his mobility in practice.