The bandwagon is barreling now.
You’ll need to sprint to catch it. You’ll need to shove to board it.
The UCLA football bandwagon furiously eight-clapped its way across the grass-stained backs of college football royalty at a roaring Rose Bowl Saturday and is now churning up wondrous clouds of hope.
These Bruins are honest-to-goodness good. These Bruins are for-real real.
UCLA locked helmets with the mighty 2019 national champion LSU Tigers from the fabled Southeastern Conference on Saturday night and an amazing thing happen.
The Bruins didn’t flinch. The Bruins didn’t fade. The Bruins were tougher. The Bruins were faster. The Bruins were better.
Yeah, did you hear that, all you SEC honks? The Bruins were better. They were way better.
Maybe you couldn’t hear it because the Rose Bowl was rocking, and the Bruins were dancing, and a Saturday night in Pasadena was screaming for the first time in forever.
It was UCLA 38, LSU 27, with the Bruins moving to 2-0 in a season whose promise is now limitless.
On a steamy night in front of a huge UCLA crowd whose cheers overwhelmed the thousands of LSU voices and shook the grand old house, the Bruins used a punishing rushing game, a timely passing attack and a bruising rushing defense.
A night in which many thought the Bruins’ early-season promise would go whoa was instead full of wow.
Dorian Thompson-Robinson connected with Greg Dulcich on a spinning, juking 75-yard touchdown pass that rocked the stands.
Thompson-Robinson hit Chase Cota on a skipping-into-the-end-zone 14-yard touchdown pass that left folks laughing at the dominance of it all.
Zach Charbonnet and Brittain Brown ran over everybody again. The defense crunched and squeezed and Caleb Johnson intercepted a pass.
The Bruins gave up the game’s first score, but responded 14 seconds later on the pass to Dulcich and never trailed again, continually countering LSU jabs with powerful gut punches.
The punctuation was applied midway through the fourth quarter when new UCLA athletic director Martin Jarmond grabbed the field microphone and exhorted the crowd to, “Get on your feet, stay on your feet the whole time, let’s go.”
They did, and the Bruins also kept going, receiver Kyle Philips broke two tackles on a spinning 45-yard touchdown pass with 6:31 left to clinch it.
The afternoon began with a jab delivered by LSU coach Ed Orgeron to a heckling UCLA fan as Orgeron was walking into the Rose Bowl from the team bus.
“Bring your ass on, in your sissy blue shirt,” shouted Orgeron.
The fight was on.
After trading blows with the Tigers for most of the first quarter, the Bruins blinked first. In fact, the Bruins blinked twice.
Late in the period, an LSU punt pushed the Bruins back to their nine-yard line after an unnecessary roughness penalty against defensive back Ethan Fernea. Thus pinned, when the Bruins couldn’t move the ball, they gave it back to the Tigers at their own 37-yard line.
Sixty-three yards and eight plays later, LSU took advantage of another dumb UCLA penalty to score. On an 18-yard pass from LSU quarterback Max Johnson to Brian Thomas Jr., the Bruins were hit with a face-masking call against Mo Osling III, moving the ball to the Bruins’ 18-yard line. Four plays later, Kayshon Boutte beat Stephan Blaylock to the corner of the end zone for a three-yard touchdown pass and a 7-0 LSU lead against a frustrated Bruin team.
That frustration, however, lasted all of 14 seconds.
On the first play of their ensuing possession, the Bruins completed their most dramatic play in several seasons on a pass from Thompson-Robinson that a wide-open Dulcich caught on the Bruin 30-yard line and then took off for the distant end zone. After juking Major Burns at the LSU 37-yard line, Dulcich sprinted through two more Tigers to spin in for a 75-yard touchdown reception that was accompanied by such a roar, the Rose Bowl press box shook. With the completion, Thompson-Robinson also touched the heavens, passing Troy Aikman for seventh place on the all-time pass yardage list.
Between the first and second quarter, there was a sweet tribute to the late Terry Donahue, the former great UCLA coach who died on July 4 at the age of 77. It featured an end-zone gathering of his family and many of his former players. Even Bruins coach Chip Kelly ran down from his sideline perch to join the memorial.
Coach Donahue would have loved this night.
After tying the game, the Bruins held the Tigers on their next possession, then took the ball, the momentum and the lead with a six-play, 71-yard drive that ended in a 12-yard touchdown run by an untouched Zach Charbonnet.
Earlier in the drive, Charbonnet had busted out on a 20-yard run and a 35-yard pass completion helped by a crunching block by receiver Kyle Philips. So basically, Charbonnet had gained 67 yards on the drive, making his first big Heisman Trophy statement of the afternoon.
UCLA’s 14-7 lead and all that momentum lasted only long enough for Thompson-Robinson to give it back.
Late in the quarter, the UCLA quarterback threw it behind Philips and cornerback Eli Ricks picked it off at the Bruins 33-yard line. Three lousy passes by Max Johnson later, the Tigers closed the gap to 14-10 on a 26-yard field goal by Cade York.
It took UCLA about five minutes into the second half to grab the energy back.
On the Tigers’ first possession of the half, Johnson threw a horrible pass directly into the arms of UCLA’s Johnson around midfield. Johnson returned it 34 yards to deep in LSU territory, from where Thompson-Robinson promptly threw a 14-yard touchdown pass to an open and skipping-into-the-end-zone Cota.
The 21-10 lead seemed huge. Then, moments later, it didn’t, after Johnson connected with Boutte on a 44-yard touchdown pass made possible when an official screened off defensive back Jay Shaw from making the tackle.
UCLA countered again, however, with a Brown run, a Dulcich catch, and 43-yard field goal by Nicholas Barr-Mira to make it 24-17.
The Tigers responded with yet another field-goal drive, going 60 yards in 12 plays until the Bruins held them to a 33-yard field goal by Cade York.
UCLA led only 24-20 entering the fourth quarter. But the Bruins didn’t wilt, a 43-yard run by Charbonnet setting up Brown’s one-yard touchdown run before Philips clinched it, ending the game and revving up that bandwagon.
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