Undefeated and No. 18 UCLA welcomes a top 15-ranked, Pac-12 opponent to Pasadena, Calif., for the second time in as many weeks with 11th-ranked Utah’s visit on Saturday.
The Bruins (5-0, 2-0 Pac-12) scored arguably the signature win of coach Chip Kelly’s five seasons at UCLA, outside of two victories over rival Southern California, with a 40-32 defeat of then-No. 15 Washington last Friday.
UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson was electric, going 24-of-33 passing for 315 yards with three touchdowns and rushing for another 53 yards and a score. Running back Zach Charbonnet rushed for 124 yards with a touchdown, and wide receiver Jake Bobo caught six passes for a career-high 142 yards and two touchdowns.
The offensive onslaught gave UCLA a second-half lead of as many as 24 points against the previously unbeaten Huskies. The Bruins’ defense put enough pressure on nation-leading passer Michael Penix Jr. to force two interceptions and got into the backfield for the first two sacks Washington allowed all season.
“We didn’t think we’d go into that game and we’re going to shut down that offense for the entire game, but you’ve gotta get stops,” Kelly said this week. “That’s the key to what our defense has done.”
The Bruins’ defense draws another prolific offense this week.
Utah (4-1, 2-0) is putting up some of the most impressive offensive numbers in the nation at 42 points per game, 11th in the nation. The Utes hit their average in last week’s 42-16 home rout of Oregon State, a game in which Utah flexed its muscle on both sides of the ball.
Cornerback Clark Phillips III had three interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown, to complement quarterback Cameron Rising’s 19-of-25 passing performance for 199 yards.
Rising passed for three touchdowns, giving him 13 through the air on the season – a pace that, if continued, would be the most from any Utah quarterback since Alex Smith threw for 32 in a Heisman Trophy-contending 2004 season.
Rising and Thompson-Robinson, both passing for three touchdowns while rushing for a fourth last week, continued a season-long parallel in their production.
The duo has attempted almost an identical number of passes – 140 from Thompson-Robinson, 139 from Rising – gone for 1,211 (Thompson-Robinson) and 1,153 (Rising) passing yards and are at per-attempt clips of 8.7 and 8.3 yards respectively.
The dual threats also have put up a high volume of touchdowns while limiting interceptions. Thompson-Robinson has 11 passing scores and one pick thrown, while Rising has thrown just two interceptions.
“You can see him getting better and better. He’s playing his best football right now, as far as my vantage point,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said about Thompson-Robinson. “Chip has done a great job of developing. Not that (Thompson-Robinson) was not good before, but he’s really taken his game to another level.”
Thompson-Robinson’s play this season is a continuation to his strong finish to 2021. He scored nine total touchdowns – seven passing and two rushing – over UCLA’s last two games a season ago. He accounted for six total TDs in a victory against USC alone.
And the Bruins have flourished right along with their quarterback, carrying a winning streak of eight games – a program-best since 2005 – into Saturday. The last UCLA defeat? At Utah 44-24 on Oct. 30 last season.
Adding a ninth-consecutive overall victory for the Bruins means ending a different streak. Utah has won the last five meetings between the teams since 2016 and has not lost to UCLA inside of the Rose Bowl since 2012.
“I’m very aware,” Thompson-Robinson said of the losing streak to the Utes. “I circled about three or four games before the start of the season, Utah being one of them.”