UCLA’s late night would include first in Pac-12 South with win over Arizona State

UCLA receiver Kyle Philips celebrates after catching a pass for a touchdown in front of Stanford safety Kendall Williamson.
UCLA receiver Kyle Philips celebrates after catching a pass for a touchdown in front of Stanford safety Kendall Williamson, right, during the Bruins’ win on Sept. 25.
(Tony Avelar / Associated Press)

Can the Pac-12 South be decided on the first weekend of October?

It sure looks like it given the unease at USC and Utah that has seemingly knocked the division favorites out of the race before pumpkin patches start popping up.

The Trojan tumult has included two early conference losses and the dismissal of coach Clay Helton. The pain is literal for the .500 Utes after the fatal shooting of defensive back Aaron Lowe sparked nationwide condolences. Utah isn’t playing this weekend as it begins to process the unspeakable tragedy.


That means everybody is looking at you, UCLA and Arizona State, or at least as many people who can stomach another “Pac-12 After Dark” game.

UCLA lineman Jon Gaines II and his teammate hope their success helps his father secure a hard-to-find kidney donor that would massively improve his life.

Sept. 29, 2021

UCLA coach Chip Kelly groused this week about late starts costing Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey the Heisman Trophy in 2015 because of a lack of exposure, but low viewership won’t keep the No. 20 Bruins (3-1 overall, 1-0 Pac-12) from becoming the division front-runner with a bedtime victory over the Sun Devils (3-1, 1-0) on Saturday night at the Rose Bowl.

Kelly will forgive buddies in his native New Hampshire from skipping the FS1 telecast given his viewing habits when he lived back that way.

“I never watched a 10:30 East Coast Pac-12 game,” Kelly said, “and I love football.”

Those who tune in should receive a caffeinated jolt from the offenses. UCLA has scored 35 or more points in six straight games (dating back to last season) for the first time in school history. Arizona State coach Herm Edwards called Kelly’s schemes that involve constant motions and shifts “eye candy.”

The Sun Devils’ offense is equally prolific, averaging more yards (443.7 per game) than the Bruins’ (428) while featuring the Pac-12’s best rushing attack. Arizona State running backs Rachaad White and Daniyel Ngata are among the top rushers in the conference — and could be upstaged at any moment by quarterback Jayden Daniels, whose 62 yards rushing per game rank ninth among all players in the Pac-12.


Arizona State quarterback Jayden Daniels carries the ball against Colorado on Sept. 25.
(Rick Scuteri / Associated Press)

“A lot of it’s not designed runs,” Kelly said, “it’s just when things are covered, he can take off and go and he can eat up some chunks of yards cause he’s a really productive runner.”

The question is whether he’ll run into a wall of defenders. UCLA has established itself as the class of the Pac-12 and among the best teams in the nation at stopping the run, holding opponents to 64 yards per game. The only possible qualifier is that the Bruins have not faced a quarterback as mobile as Daniels.

But Daniels, the onetime San Bernardino Cajon High star, has been unable to engineer a victory over the Bruins, going 0-2 in his first two college seasons.

UCLA’s Dorian Thompson-Robinson was the winning quarterback in both of those games, giving him a chance to finish his college career unbeaten in games he started against the Sun Devils. (Wilton Speight was the starter for the Bruins in a loss to Arizona State during Thompson-Robinson’s freshman season in 2018.)

UCLA’s Quentin Lake went to Mater Dei, teammate Stephan Blaylock to St. John Bosco. The two Southland high school football powers meet Friday night.

Sept. 29, 2021

Thompson-Robinson said he hurt his non-throwing arm while helping his team clinch a victory over Stanford in its Pac-12 opener last weekend, though he did not appear limited in the portions of practice open to the media earlier this week.

If the Bruins find themselves in a taut game in the second half against the Sun Devils, they’ll likely be in a good spot if Thompson-Robinson is in the game. He’s been much more productive after halftime this season, completing 67.4% of his passes for 560 yards and eight touchdowns with no interceptions.

In first halves, Thompson-Robinson has completed 46.5% of his passes for 359 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Maybe he should start throwing on the bus ride over to the Rose Bowl to get those early kinks out.

UCLA is seeking its first 2-0 start in Pac-12 play since 2013. Whichever team wins Saturday will be alone atop the Pac-12 South given that Utah (2-2, 1-0), the only other team in the division that has gone unbeaten in conference play, is idle this weekend.

It could be lonely at the top by game’s end, depending on how many people are still watching.

UCLA football fans attending the Bruins’ game against Oregon on Oct. 23 at the Rose Bowl must show proof of vaccination under a new policy approved by the city of Pasadena.

Sept. 28, 2021

Kelly has acknowledged a preference for afternoon starts but said he didn’t have a solution for the late kickoffs — and none are likely before the Pac-12’s current television contract ends after the 2023 season.

“They tell us when we play, we play,” Kelly said. “They tell us we play in [Parking] Lot 8 at 6 a.m., we’re gonna play in Lot 8.”

There’s no need. Sticking around until midnight at the Rose Bowl will be exotic enough.