UCLA football falls in final fight of season in first loss to California since 2016
Sophomore quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson finished Saturday’s loss with 278 yards and one touchdown pass. The signal-caller also turned the ball over for the 19th time on the season. (Alice Naland/Daily Bruin staff)
By Sam Connon
Nov. 30, 2019 11:27 p.m.
This post was updated Dec. 1 at 12:56 a.m.
A diving interception in the first half kept the Bruins’ hopes alive, but one by the Golden Bears in the fourth quarter put the nail in the coffin Saturday night.
UCLA football (4-8, 4-5 Pac-12) lost to California (7-5, 4-5) 28-18 in the final game of its 2019 season, getting outscored 21-11 over the final three quarters. Junior cornerback Darnay Holmes’ pick in the waning minutes of the second quarter set the Bruins up for a field goal that cut the Bears’ lead to four heading into the break, but a late turnover by sophomore quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson stopped their comeback dead in its tracks.
Coach Chip Kelly said he was satisfied with Thompson-Robinson’s growth over the course of the season, despite the fact that the quarterback had at least one turnover in each of his 11 starts this season.
“I just love (Thompson-Robinson’s) competitiveness,” Kelly said. “He’s one of the tougher kids I’ve ever had an opportunity to coach, and he’s going to battle and he’s going to fight. He’s also a guy that learns from when mistakes are made. He usually doesn’t make the same mistake twice and he continues to grow and get better.”
Thompson-Robinson’s late-game giveaway came less than a minute into the fourth quarter with UCLA facing a 10-point deficit. After the Bruins cut the Bears’ lead to three late in the third, Cal put together a 75-yard, six-play scoring drive and UCLA was back down by double-digits.
Thompson-Robinson looked deep toward redshirt junior tight end Devin Asiasi – who was in double coverage – but the ball was tipped by linebacker Kuony Deng and subsequently picked off.
“It was a heck of a play by (safety Ashtyn Davis), who’s a really good free safety,” Kelly said. “(Thompson-Robinson) will get a chance to watch film and take a look at kind of what happened there, but credit to the DB from Cal for making a diving interception. It was a really good play by him on his part.”
The turnover didn’t lead to Cal points, but it bled 4:15 off the clock and made a comeback even less likely for UCLA. Thompson-Robinson – who finished the game with 278 yards on 23-of-39 passing – left the game because of injury with four minutes left on the clock.
The Bruins’ defense held the Bears to 180 total yards in the first half, but Cal’s 232 yards in the second helped it put the game away. Despite the defense’s decline in production down the stretch, redshirt senior linebacker Josh Woods said Saturday’s game was emotionally resonant considering it was his last with the program.
“I think it hits deeper when younger guys come to you after the game and just tell you how much of an impact you’ve had on their lives and their development,” Woods said. “I’m just grateful to be a part of this program and just built so many special bonds with guys like (Kelley) that keep me going every day – it’s bittersweet.”
The teams traded punts to open the second half and Cal strung together an 83-yard drive to make it a two-possession game. Two red-zone penalties by the UCLA secondary – a holding by freshman defensive back Sitiveni Kaufusi and a pass interference by redshirt freshman cornerback Rayshad Williams – extended the drive, and running back Christopher Brown Jr. finished it off with a 1-yard touchdown.
The Bruins nearly went three-and-out on the ensuing possession, but an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty by Bear linebacker Evan Weaver following a failed third-down conversion handed UCLA a first down.
That penalty opened the doors for the Bruins – who were down by 11 at the time – and despite capitalizing on it, their comeback effort fell short.
Redshirt freshman wideout Kyle Philips hauled in a screen pass and got wrapped up after only gaining a few yards, but he spun and managed to stay off the ground and turn it into a 39-yard reception. An offsides by Cal gave UCLA another 5 free yards, and the scoring drive was capped off by a 1-yard stuff by redshirt senior running back Joshua Kelley, followed by a two-point conversion from Thompson-Robinson to sophomore wide receiver Delon Hurt that closed the gap to three.
Kelley played his final game in blue and gold Saturday night, but he made sure to clarify that the offense would be in good hands with him gone.
“As you guys can see, Kyle Philips, that’s a baller,” Kelley said. “Our offense is gonna be loaded, they’re gonna be stacked. I have a ton of confidence in coach Kelly and his ability.”
Kelley led UCLA with 19 carries and 76 yards, marking the third straight game he finished with fewer than 100 yards. He was able to break the 1,000-yard mark for the second year in a row, wrapping up his UCLA career with 2,303 yards on the ground.
Now the eighth Bruin back to eclipse 1,000 yards in back-to-back seasons, Kelley said he would enjoy looking back on the impact he left on Westwood.
“It feels pretty cool because there have been so many incredible running backs here. You’ve got (running backs) coach (DeShaun) Foster and Maurice Jones-Drew,” Kelley said. “I know I didn’t win as much as those guys, and that’s something I really wish I could do, … but I think it’s pretty cool that someday I’m gonna see my name listed with some of those guys.”
And while the Bruins were able to finish the season with one more win than they did in 2018, the loss Saturday night meant UCLA would finish under .500 against in-state opponents for the first time in coach Chip Kelly’s tenure.
With Kelly’s record in his stint with the Bruins now sitting at 7-17, reports have swirled that he may have coached his last game on the UCLA sideline. Kelly, however, said he remains committed to the program.
“(My commitment level is) the same since I’ve been here – it’s been 100%,” Kelly said. “We go to work every day and give everything that we have to this program.”