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UCLA football unfazed by Zach Charbonnet’s absence in win over Arizona State

Redshirt junior wide receiver Kazmeir Allen takes off with the ball. Allen notched a career-high 137 rushing yards in UCLA football’s win over Arizona State on Saturday. (Jeremy Chen/Assistant Photo editor)

By Francis Moon

Nov. 8, 2022 4:07 p.m.

This post was updated Nov. 8 at 10:55 p.m.

When the Bruins lined up for their opening drive Saturday, one player was notably absent from the field.

Standing on the sideline in full gear and bandages, senior running back Zach Charbonnet never took the field in No. 12 UCLA football’s win over Arizona State in what was presumably a game-time decision. Coach Chip Kelly said after the game that Charbonnet went through pregame warmups before being dubbed unavailable despite practicing in the week leading up to the matchup.

Without its lead back and his 137.7 rushing yards per game, the blue and gold opted for a committee in the backfield that combined for five rushing touchdowns in a 14-point victory.

“When you lose somebody like Zach, that’s a big blow to your football team,” Kelly said. “Guys on the offensive side of the ball really responded when they knew Zach wasn’t going to play after warmups.”

Four Bruins combined to run for 402 yards, the highest total for the blue and gold since 2010, en route to a season-high 50 points. Redshirt junior wide receiver Kazmeir Allen led the charge with a career-best 137 rushing yards, including the longest play of the Bruins’ season on a 75-yard touchdown run.

Allen, who joined UCLA in 2018 as a running back but made the transition to wideout in 2020, saw a career-high 11 carries and brought in four catches for 63 yards. Though the Sun Devils routinely avoided kicking toward Allen, he also played his usual role as a kickoff returner, tacking on a 23-yard return.

“He’s going to be used in many different positions when he gets to the next level,” said redshirt senior quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson. “Being able to execute at a high level at both positions is something that he can do really well, and he has a lot of background at being a running back, so it’s an easy transition.”

Redshirt junior running back Keegan Jones turned 12 carries into 98 yards and a touchdown, while redshirt junior wide receiver Colson Yankoff finished with 48 yards. Thompson-Robinson said the discipline of both the skill players and the offensive line allowed the offense to be prepared for the unexpected absence of Charbonnet.

“It just speaks to the level of maturity and the talent we have behind him as well as around him,” Thompson-Robinson said. “That goes back to coach Kelly’s recruiting and getting smart guys in here that can just play football and don’t really have to be robots.”

Thompson-Robinson was no slouch on the ground either, finding the end zone twice with his legs while notching 120 rushing yards and two passing touchdowns.

Despite the effort, UCLA experienced a late-game scare by almost allowing a comeback before Yankoff punched it in for a 1-yard touchdown late in the fourth quarter to make it a two-possession game.

Yankoff, who has played primarily at running back this season, was a quarterback in high school. The fourth-year Bruin said the team has the depth to still play its game without one of its leaders, adding that he is getting more comfortable playing out of the backfield after logging his first career rushing attempt early in the season.

“We’re deep at all positions, and we can do what we need to do to win games,” Yankoff said. “It’s going to be a work in progress, but I feel way more comfortable than I did weeks ago.”

Kelly said with the magnitude of every game from here on out, he is continuing to emphasize situational awareness and responding rather than reacting.

“It’s a game of emotion, and you have to play the game with emotion, but you can’t let the emotion play with you,” Kelly said.

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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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