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Offensive prowess fuels blast from past in UCLA football’s historic LA Bowl win

Members of UCLA football celebrate their LA Bowl win after the game as coach Chip Kelly speaks with the game’s host Rob Gronkowski. (Jeremy Chen/Daily Bruin senior staff)

Football


UCLA35
Boise State22

By Joseph Crosby

Dec. 16, 2023 8:36 p.m.

LOS ANGELES – The Bruins’ defense appeared to walk through a time machine in the first half.

Despite entering the LA Bowl as the No. 11 unit in the nation, it couldn’t buy a stop on all four of the Broncos’ first-half drives. It was a performance oddly reminiscent of coach Chip Kelly’s defenses from his earlier years with the program.

But after the whistle blew for the opening kickoff of the second half, the Bruins’ defense returned to the present – and brought the fiery offenses of the past back with it.

“We had our captains step up, give a little speech, and that’s all we needed to kind of kick our butts and get into the right mindset,” said redshirt senior linebacker Darius Muasau.

Outscoring Boise State (8-6, 6-2 Mountain West) 21-0 in the third quarter, UCLA football (8-5, 4-5 Pac-12) delivered a 35-22 win at SoFi Stadium on Saturday night, securing the first bowl victory of the Kelly era in its final game as part of the Pac-12 conference. After falling behind 16-7 at halftime, the Bruins forced four consecutive punts while scoring on three straight drives to flip the game on its head.

Even with both conference and personnel changes on the horizon, Kelly said the team is taking the time to appreciate the win.

“We wanted to send the seniors … out the right way. And that was our goal, and we did it,” Kelly said. “Today, we’ll savor this victory and the performance of these guys.”

An injury to redshirt junior quarterback Collin Schlee – who had just put UCLA in the red zone with a 44-yard run – early in the third quarter forced Kelly to go to Ethan Garbers.

The redshirt junior – who wasn’t 100% at game time – said he was ready to play when Schlee went down.

“When I looked out there – the team needed me, and that’s my biggest priority. I’ll sacrifice my body for the team, for these guys,” Garbers said. “We put blood, sweat and tears into it, and at the end of the day, it’s all for them. It was an easy call, to say the least.”

He picked up right where his predecessor left off.

Garbers hit senior wide receiver Kyle Ford for a touchdown, cutting the Bronco lead from nine to two. An ensuing punt from Boise State returned the ball to Garbers, who led his team 72 yards downfield behind a 39-yard completion to redshirt sophomore wide receiver J.Michael Sturdivant – followed by a touchdown run from sophomore running back T.J. Harden.

And as if once wasn’t enough, Garbers did it again one drive later.

Redshirt junior quarterback Ethan Garbers runs downfield on a scramble. Entering the game in place of an injured redshirt junior Collin Schlee, Garbers threw for 152 yards and two touchdowns while running for another 38. (Jeremy Chen/Daily Bruin senior staff)

A 41-yard completion to Sturdivant and another Harden touchdown rush completed the 21-point third quarter, giving UCLA a 12-point lead.

Not to be outshined by its offense, the Bruin defense one-upped its streak of forced punts with an interception from redshirt senior defensive back Alex Johnson – his fifth of the season.

The Garbers-Sturdivant connection persisted on the very next play.

A 40-yard touchdown pass extended the Bruins’ advantage to three scores and capped off the California transfer’s season-best 142-yard night. His quarterback notched 152 yards and two touchdowns of his own, eventually earning Offensive MVP honors.

Garbers said the deep passes were a product of practices that started in January.

“At that point, when we were out there, it’s just muscle memory,” Garbers said. “We’ve done it so many times. We just called it, and we got the right look, and we executed.”

Boise State running back George Holani cut into the UCLA lead with a 66-yard rushing touchdown to bring the score to 35-22, but it wasn’t enough. The Bruins held on, eventually entering victory formation at the Broncos’ 1-yard line.

And as for the time machine, it made one final appearance – bringing back the celebrations and emotions of UCLA’s last bowl victory in 2015.

“Very bittersweet feeling,” Muasau said. “Sad that it’s my last collegiate game. Over these past five years, love this game with all I got, and I wouldn’t want to end it off with any other team.”

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Joseph Crosby | Sports editor
Crosby is the 2023-2024 Sports editor on the football, men's basketball and NIL beats. He was previously an assistant Sports editor on the baseball, women's golf, men's water polo and women's water polo beats and a contributor on the baseball and women's golf beats. He is also a fourth-year statistics student.
Crosby is the 2023-2024 Sports editor on the football, men's basketball and NIL beats. He was previously an assistant Sports editor on the baseball, women's golf, men's water polo and women's water polo beats and a contributor on the baseball and women's golf beats. He is also a fourth-year statistics student.
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