UCLA defeats Colorado to become bowl eligible for first time under Chip Kelly

UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson scrambles under pressure against Colorado at the Rose Bowl.
UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson scrambles under pressure during the second quarter of the Bruins’ win over Colorado at the Rose Bowl on Saturday night.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Chip Kelly finally did it, in his fourth season at UCLA. He got his team to qualify for a bowl game.

Left in salvage mode after back-to-back midseason losses, the Bruins overcame a sloppy start riddled with penalties and other blunders Saturday night at the Rose Bowl, finally wearing down Colorado with a rejuvenated rushing game during a runaway second half.

After looking as though it might be headed for a new level of futility under Kelly, UCLA overcame a 10-point deficit by scoring 37 unanswered points on the way to a 44-20 victory that made the Bruins bowl eligible for the first time since 2017.


The UCLA offense exploded in the second half Saturday night at the Rose Bowl, thoroughly dominating Colorado to become bowl eligible.

Nov. 13, 2021

They won’t end their 22-year Rose Bowl game drought after being eliminated from Pac-12 South contention earlier in the day, but the Alamo, Las Vegas and Holiday bowls remain in play.

“The cool part is we don’t just have two games left now,” Kelly said, his shirt drenched from the celebratory water spraying in the locker room, “we have three games left and they deserve them.”

UCLA senior quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson sparked the breakthrough by starring in his return from the thumb injury on his throwing hand that had sidelined him since late last month. He ran for a team-high 99 yards and a touchdown to go with his 257 yards passing that moved him past Cory Paus and into fifth place on the school’s all-time list with 7,028 yards.

Colorado safety Mark Perry intercepts a pass intended for UCLA tight end Greg Dulcich in the first quarter.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Running backs Zach Charbonnet (67 yards rushing, three touchdowns) and Brittain Brown (58 yards, one touchdown) ran free while helping the Bruins (6-4 overall, 4-3 Pac-12) pile up 245 yards on the ground.


The UCLA defense shut out the Buffaloes (3-7, 2-5) in the second half while holding them to 117 yards of offense, notching a big stop early in the fourth quarter when cornerback Jay Shaw stuffed Brady Russell on fourth and one.

“In years past, we went down a couple points, we were kinda out of it,” UCLA safety Quentin Lake said, “but I think we’ve got a different morale on this team in the sense that we always fight and we’re always gonna finish. So that was kinda the motto going into the second half.”

UCLA scores 37 unanswered points in the second half to defeat Colorado at the Rose Bowl. Here are 10 photos capturing some of the game’s defining moments.

Nov. 13, 2021

The Bruins made it a miserable homecoming for former UCLA coach Karl Dorrell in his first game at the Rose Bowl since before his firing near the end of the 2007 season, outscoring the Buffaloes 34-0 in the second half after regrouping in the locker room at halftime.

“I was pretty pissed,” Thompson-Robinson said. “You know, very frustrated and obviously we had some penalties … we had to fix some stuff up and obviously I wasn’t playing the best.”

The turnaround came in every facet for the Bruins, including special teams.

UCLA receiver Kyle Philips returned a punt 82 yards for a touchdown early in the fourth quarter and caught eight passes for 99 yards to help his team snap a two-game losing streak and a three-game skid at the Rose Bowl, where the Bruins had last won on that dreamy night in early September against Louisiana State. Home losses against Fresno State, Arizona State and Oregon followed, erasing any hopes of a major bowl bid for Kelly’s Bruins.

They can pad their record and move up in the bowl pecking order with victories over slumping USC and California in their remaining games.

UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson leaps over Colorado safety Curtis Appleton during the third quarter Saturday.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Having entered the game as a 17-point underdog, Colorado held a 20-10 lead at the game’s midpoint after generating its highest-scoring first half of the season.

The Buffaloes, who entered the game ranked No. 128 out of 130 Football Bowl Subdivision teams by averaging 266.7 yards per game, piled up 242 yards by halftime.

Colorado trampled the Bruins’ fading run defense to that point by gaining 155 yards on the ground. Jarek Broussard ran for 102 yards and Alex Fontenot thrived in short-yardage situations, scoring on two one-yard touchdown runs.

Midway through the second quarter, UCLA’s best two offensive plays did not count. Charbonnet had a 51-yard run wiped out by a holding penalty on tight end Greg Dulcich, and Kam Brown’s 40-yard touchdown reception was taken off the board after he stepped out of bounds and came back in to make the catch.

Coming off a bye week, UCLA was not crisp in the game’s early going. Thompson-Robinson had a pass that sailed over Dulcich’s head intercepted. Kicker Nicholas Barr-Mira missed a field-goal attempt for the fourth consecutive game — he also missed an extra point in the third quarter when the ball hit the left upright — and the Bruins committed seven penalties for 42 yards by halftime.

In a symbol of their massive cleanup efforts, the Bruins committed only two penalties in the second half.

The narrative had changed considerably, the fans heading home satisfied for the first time in more than two months and with an extra game to watch over the holidays.