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Five Things: UCLA vs. Stanford

UCLA football redshirt senior defensive back Stephan Blaylock (left) and junior defensive back John Humphrey (right) stand together on the field after a play ends. (Joseph Jimenez/Assistant Photo editor)

By Sam Settleman and Francis Moon

Oct. 30, 2022 10:08 p.m.

No. 10 UCLA football (7-1, 4-1 Pac-12) ran over Stanford (3-5, 1-5) at the Rose Bowl on Saturday behind 324 rushing yards on the evening. Sports Editor Sam Settleman and senior staff writer Francis Moon give their five main takeaways from the Bruins’ seventh win of the year.

Star in the making

(Jeremy Chen/Assistant Photo editor)
Senior running back Zach Charbonnet takes a carry and bursts through a hole. (Jeremy Chen/Assistant Photo editor)

During the Bruins’ perfect start to the season, redshirt senior quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson got the lion’s share of the praise.

Though much of the credit was deserved, Zach Charbonnet has once again shown he’s the heart and soul of this offense.

The senior running back shouldered much of the offensive load in a relatively quiet night for the Bruins’ passing game, tying his career high with 198 rushing yards while adding a career-best 61 receiving yards on five catches.

Everyone in the entire stadium knew who the ball was going to all night, and yet Charbonnet refused to go down time and again despite Stanford stacking the box. Twelve of his 21 carries resulted in gains of seven yards or more, while he converted his two biggest runs for touchdowns from 23 yards and 37 yards out, adding on a 1-yard score.

With the performance, the former Michigan transfer has now compiled just under 1,200 yards from scrimmage despite missing a game early in the season. Charbonnet’s per-game rushing production ranks third in all of college football and has made a strong case for him as the most efficient back in the nation with an absurd 7.5 yards per carry, nearly half a yard more than the next closest rusher in the country.

Coach Chip Kelly praised Charbonnet, calling him a swiss army knife that can do it all – pass-blocking, pass-catching, and of course, running. But the manner in which he evades defenders and patiently finds a hole before bursting through the defense makes him one of the most exciting players to watch in college football.

Entering the home stretch of the season, expect to see even more from Charbonnet before he becomes the first Bruin to hear his name called in the 2023 NFL Draft in April.

Punishing pressure

(Joseph Jimenez/Assistant Photo editor)
UCLA players celebrate after sacking Stanford quarterback Tanner McKee. (Joseph Jimenez/Assistant Photo editor)

UCLA got carved up through the air in its loss to Oregon, in large part because the Bruins failed to put quarterback Bo Nix under any duress whatsoever.

The blue and gold’s lone loss of the year also marked its first game all season in which it failed to register a sack.

But UCLA flipped that script Saturday, routinely putting pressure on Stanford quarterback Tanner McKee. As a result, the Bruins wound up with four sacks and four more quarterback hits on the night as McKee was forced into the worst game of his career.

Generating pressure has proven to make a difference for this defense. UCLA gave up 45 points when it had no sacks in its loss to Oregon and 31 points when it recorded just one sack in a near-loss to South Alabama.

The Bruins’ defense has turned a corner in 2022, but this group is still susceptible to giving up big offensive performances, and generating pressure on the quarterback changes that equation.

UCLA got in the backfield from all angles Saturday, with redshirt senior defensive back Stephan Blaylock registering a sack on a safety blitz, junior defensive lineman Gary Smith III tacking on another up the middle, and redshirt junior linebacker Laiatu Latu adding one of his own to raise his season total to 7.5.

As a result, McKee looked uncomfortable all afternoon as he was forced to scramble out of the pocket and make throws into tight coverage.

If Latu and company can keep up the pressure, this defense can become a true threat.

McKee misses the mark

(Joseph Jimenez/Assistant Photo editor)
Stanford quarterback Tanner McKee stands in the pocket. (Joseph Jimenez/Assistant Photo editor)

McKee was projected by some to be a top-10 pick in the 2023 NFL Draft heading into this season.

Saturday showed that while the Stanford quarterback may have the physical tools of an NFL quarterback, he is far from reaching that point.

Thompson-Robinson didn’t exactly look incredible himself Saturday, but eight games into the 2022 season, he seems far more NFL-ready than McKee – who is somehow still viewed as a first-round pick by some outlets.

McKee had the worst game of his career at the Rose Bowl on Saturday, completing only 45% of his passes for 115 yards and throwing an interception. The Cardinal struggled mightily to move the ball, with McKee missing throws left and right while showing a lack of any semblance of mobility.

Stanford just barely got on the board in garbage time, putting up its first touchdown in more than 10 quarters.

McKee might not have a plethora of weapons at his disposal, but it’s hard to imagine a high-level NFL prospect leading an offense that’s looked as bad as the Cardinal’s has over the last three weeks.

Minor miscues

(Jeremy Chen/Assistant Photo editor)
Redshirt senior wide receiver Jake Bobo fails to haul in a deep pass. (Jeremy Chen/Assistant Photo editor)

The game was never close, but it wasn’t a perfect performance for the Bruins by any stretch.

Late in the first quarter, Thompson-Robinson loaded up a deep ball down the middle to redshirt senior wide receiver Jake Bobo. Although slightly overthrown, the pass glanced off the fingertips of Bobo and fell to the ground.

Bobo had his man beat in what surely would’ve been a breakaway touchdown. But that wasn’t the Bruins’ only miscue of the night.

Junior wide receiver Logan Loya and redshirt junior wide receiver Kazmeir Allen each tacked on another drop in the first half before Loya muffed a punt later in the second quarter.

On the final drive of the first half, with UCLA set up just outside of the red zone, Thompson-Robinson missed a wide-open redshirt junior wide receiver Kam Brown for what would have been a walk-in touchdown. Brown had gotten free down the sidelines after a Stanford defender slipped, but Thompson-Robinson threw low and behind him.

A 14-yard loss on a sack three plays later forced UCLA into a 41-yard field goal try – one that redshirt junior kicker Nicholas Barr-Mira wound up missing.

Those miscues didn’t cost the Bruins against the Cardinal, but they won’t fly against higher-quality competition.

Taking care of business

(Jeremy Chen/Assistant Photo editor)
Coach Chip Kelly walks along the sidelines. (Jeremy Chen/Assistant Photo editor)

Coming off their first loss of the season, it was fair to question whether the Bruins have what it takes to be among the conference’s elite.

UCLA won’t have a real chance to prove that until it matches up with USC on Nov. 19, but it would be a moot point if it drops any contests before then.

After three straight games as the underdog, the blue and gold took care of business Saturday to keep it right on track, just as it has done all season when favored. Aside from a last-second win over South Alabama, UCLA has defeated its four other unranked opponents by an average of just under 30 points.

While fans may be getting more accustomed to blowouts over inferior teams, this is certainly a positive development compared to Bruin teams of years past, as they made a habit of shooting themselves in the foot early in Kelly’s tenure.

Even in an 8-4 season last year, the Bruins dropped two games early in the campaign that they were favored to win, destroying their chances at a run for the conference title before it even started.

Though the loss to Oregon was disappointing, UCLA’s hopes for a spot in the Pac-12 championship game are still very much alive. But every team is susceptible to dropping a trap game, especially as the postseason approaches.

Prior to its meeting with its crosstown rival, UCLA has Arizona State and Arizona on its schedule, as well as a matchup with California to finish the regular season – all games the Bruins will be favored to win.

Currently sitting third in the conference, UCLA can’t afford to revert to its old habits and drop any of those.

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Sam Settleman | Sports editor
Settleman is currently the Sports editor on the football, men's basketball and gymnastics beats. He was previously an assistant editor on the gymnastics, women's soccer, women's golf, men's water polo and women's water polo beats and a contributor on the gymnastics and women's water polo beats.
Settleman is currently the Sports editor on the football, men's basketball and gymnastics beats. He was previously an assistant editor on the gymnastics, women's soccer, women's golf, men's water polo and women's water polo beats and a contributor on the gymnastics and women's water polo beats.
Francis Moon | Sports senior staff
Moon is currently a Sports senior staff writer. He was previously an assistant Sports editor on the women's basketball, men's soccer, track and field and cross country beats and a contributor on the women's basketball and women's tennis beats, while also contributing for Arts. He is a fourth-year molecular, cell and developmental biology student.
Moon is currently a Sports senior staff writer. He was previously an assistant Sports editor on the women's basketball, men's soccer, track and field and cross country beats and a contributor on the women's basketball and women's tennis beats, while also contributing for Arts. He is a fourth-year molecular, cell and developmental biology student.
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