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UCLA: The Pac 12's Forgotten Contender

UCLA: The Pac 12's Forgotten Program

UCLA: The Pac 12's Forgotten Program

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UCLA is often the forgotten LA school when it comes to football. Historically this is understandable, USC has been the better football school. In LA, aside from the Lakers, nobody has a better basketball brand than the Bruins. It's just the way it is! Back on the gridiron, Chip Kelly has been slowly but surely improving the football prowess year by year. UCLA has been the program a few have kept their eye on and expected something to happen, but it just has not popped yet. Many lost their nerve and think perhaps it will never pop. However, this may finally be the year where UCLA and Chip Kelly put things altogether, and here is why. Dorian Thompson-Robinson, Zach Charbonnet, and defensive improvements are expected.

Dorian Thompson-Robinson's Health and Consistency

Oh DTR! This young man has been at UCLA for a very long time. He was a top-three QB in the 2018 recruiting class out of Bishop Gorman in Las Vegas. He has had some ups and downs as a Bruin. He has flashed elite ability, then played as poorly as you could imagine. Then he has been hurt in key moments or for several game stretches.

This has to be the year for Thompson Robinson to put it all together in his last chance at the collegiate level. He had 21 TDs to 6 INTs last season and added 600 yards and 9 touchdowns on the ground. DTR will need to elevate his game as a passer. He is on pace to graduate from UCLA in June. Focusing more on football has been a benefit for the likes of Joe Burrow and Baker Mayfield in recent seasons so a big jump is possible.

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We will need to this version of Dorian Thompson-Robinson more often for UCLA to have a chance:

Bill McGovern's Defense Making a Leap

There are no two ways about this. UCLA probably could not stop a football from being rolled from one end of the field to the other if there was a strong breeze over the last few seasons. Last season there was some improvement but overall just not enough. The Bruins need to take a big leap forward here, particularly on negative plays. UCLA was able to generate a respectable 21 turnovers in 2021 but was well below average at getting tackles for loss and sacks.

When you struggle to generate any havoc on your opponent they tend to stay on the field longer and tire you out. You have to get teams off schedule, and out of a rhythm unfortunately UCLA has not done that, which is one of the main reasons they have not yet taken the next step. This is exactly what Bill McGovern was brought in to fix. UCLA took a step there by bringing in twin former North Texas DEs Gabriel & Grayson Murphy, disruptive interior defensive lineman Jacob Sykes from Harvard, and Darius Muasau from Hawaii.

Get the Hell out of Zach Charbonnet's way

Zach Charbonnet is the engine that makes things go. For UCLA they have to remember that and ride him as far as he can take them. DTR may be the leader of the offense and he will need to take a big leap, but Charbonnet is the catalyst. Chip Kelly's offenses have always been predicated on a successful ground attack. UCLA it will be no different, the Bruins must be physical at the point of attack and impose their will. Zach accumulated over 2200 scrimmage yards and 12 touchdowns for the Bruins last season, but at times it appeared as if Chip Kelly forgot he existed.

UCLA needs to find its identity, and that identity needs to be running the football with Charbonnet and working everything else off of that. In their game against Fresno State Charbonnet carried the ball just twice in the fourth quarter as UCLA saw their lead evaporate. This cannot be how the Bruins play if they want to take the next step. An 8-4 season was a nice improvement, but more Zach Charbonnet, and that may have been 10-2. He also does not fumble, he could not be more reliable than he is.

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