UCLA football stings Alabama State Hornets with 2nd straight blowout victory
Members of UCLA football celebrate. The blue and gold led the entire way against Alabama State on Saturday, improving to 2-0 on the season. (Marc-Anthony Rosas/Daily Bruin)
By Francis Moon
Sept. 10, 2022 6:03 p.m.
This post was updated Sept. 10 at 7:05 p.m.
Less than three minutes into the second quarter, Dorian Thompson-Robinson sustained a hit to his legs and jogged off to the sidelines.
In came the redshirt senior quarterback’s backup, Ethan Garbers.
After seeing the field for one garbage-time drive last week against Bowling Green, the redshirt sophomore entered Saturday’s game with the Bruins holding a 14-7 lead following an opposing touchdown a couple minutes prior.
Immediately, Garbers led the offense down the field before punching it in from the 5-yard line for the first rushing score of his career. The quarterback played out the rest of the contest to lead UCLA football (2-0) to its second straight win by defeating Alabama State (2-1) 45-7 at the Rose Bowl.
“I came in this week and prepared as if I was going to play,” Garbers said. “You’ve got to go into it with the mindset of, ‘Hey, you’re here right now. You’ve got to be here right now. You’ve just got to do your job.’”
Garbers completed 14 of his 18 throws for 164 yards in the game after taking over for Thompson-Robinson, who threw for 101 yards and a touchdown before exiting. However, after carrying the ball 45 times for 269 yards last week against Bowling Green, the blue and gold opted to lean on its passing game early on with 249 first-half yards through the air compared to 46 on the ground.
The shift can be attributed to an absence in the backfield, as the Bruins were also without their starting running back. Senior Zach Charbonnet – who was limited in practice this week – watched from the sidelines in full pads as coach Chip Kelly opted for more of a running-back-by-committee strategy.
Garbers said the offensive line gave him the needed protection to get the passing game going, which was a point of emphasis coming into the season.
“We’ve been working this whole offseason on throwing the ball more,” Garbers said. “We’ve got a great offensive line that can really protect the passer. … Whatever the defense allows us to do and whatever we can set up, we just do what we do.”
Redshirt junior running back Keegan Jones tallied 10 of UCLA’s 14 carries in the first half, including a 2-yard run for the first score of the game in the middle of the opening period. Including the first-drive score, the Bruins managed to score on seven of their 12 drives on the day.
On the other side, the Hornets were also without their lead man in quarterback Dematrius Davis as he dealt with an injury sustained last week against Miles. Myles Crawley filled in for Alabama State and found his receivers early and often with 104 first-quarter passing yards, helping his squad outgain the home team in the frame.
“Their quarterback was really accurate,” Kelly said. “They try to suck you up a little bit with the run and then throw over the top, but I thought the ball was accurate, and they did a nice job.”
Despite their early success through the air, the Hornets were unable to make it count in the red zone, as five of their six drives in the opening half resulted in a punt or turnover. The Bruins took advantage and started to pull away in the second period, with Garbers extending the lead to 31-7 at halftime by rushing in for a 2-yard touchdown in the closing minutes.
Kelly said Garbers filled in admirably as the quarterback and made the most of his chances.
“He’s a kid that’s taking advantage of the reps and opportunities he gets,” Kelly said. “I thought he was really accurate with his ball today, did a nice job of placing the ball in certain places.”
In the opening drive of the second half, redshirt junior wide receiver Colson Yankoff and freshman running back T.J. Harden received the carries, as the latter capped off a 70-yard drive with the first touchdown of his collegiate career.
Harden took advantage of his seven carries to complete the game as UCLA’s leading rusher with 56 of UCLA’s 220 yards on the ground. Yankoff also received six carries – all in the second half – while Jones did not see any after halftime.
Kelly said the game allowed him to give more opportunities to players who don’t normally see the field, adding that some may have earned themselves more playing time going forward.
“To get some depth behind Zach has been important for us,” Kelly said. “We felt like we could count on Keegan, but now we think we’ve got some other guys. As the season goes along, your depth is always going to be tested.”
Fourth-year Bruin and redshirt junior running back Christian Grubb even got in on the fun in the first game action of his career with a 7-yard rushing score, pushing the Bruins’ lead to 45-7 a minute into the fourth quarter. Grubb garnered 55 yards and also accounted for the longest run of the day from either side with a 21-yard rush on one of his seven carries in the game.
From there, Alabama State seemingly waved the white flag by putting in third string quarterback Joe Owens Jr. and punting the ball on three straight drives to close the contest, bookended by two picks.
The Bruins ended the day with 485 total yards, including 265 through the air, though five of their six touchdowns came on the ground. On the defensive side, the blue and gold forced four turnovers from the Hornets and shut out its opponents in the second half to help improve the team’s record to 2-0 for the second straight season.
“We get after offenses, and we want to control the tone of the game,” said redshirt senior linebacker Bo Calvert. “We have a lot of really great relationships off the field, which I think is helping us get out there on Saturday and get after offenses.”