PASADENA, Calif. — After three frustrating seasons at UCLA, the tide is starting to turn for the Bruins under coach Chip Kelly.
Their 38-27 win against No. 16 LSU at the Rose Bowl on Saturday went down as an upset in Las Vegas, but it shouldn’t have. It was a convincing performance that, coupled with poor performances around the Pac-12, established the Bruins as a serious conference title contender.
“There may be some people surprised out there,” Kelly said. “There wasn’t anybody surprised in our locker room because of the preparation that they put in this week.”
Before last week’s 44-10 win against Hawaii, the Bruins were 0-6 under Kelly in nonconference games. And while that win mattered, it was played before a scarce crowd and carried little national significance.
Beating LSU is different.
While the Tigers are coming off a disappointing 5-5 season, they’re still less than two years removed capping the 2019 season with a dominant performance to win the national title. UCLA finished that season 4-8.
In a drastic reversal of fortune, UCLA has almost assuredly played itself into the national rankings, while LSU will likely drop out. Not that Kelly cares for such things.
“I don’t care where you’re ranked and — what are we, in August or September? It really doesn’t matter,” he said. “I think what’s important is these guys know, you don’t have to write down a ranking for these guys. They know they played really well tonight. They also know on Monday nobody cares. So whatever. It is what it is it’s going to talk about for other people but not for us.”
Offensively, UCLA displayed an impressive balance between the run and pass. Running backs Zach Charbonnet (117 yards) and Brittain Brown (96 yards) both had positive showings, while quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson came up with some key throws (9 of 16, 260 yards, 3 TD).
“I’m proud of this team. We knew we could do it all along,” Thompson-Robinson said. “We didn’t listen to the noise, blocked all that out and played for each other tonight.”
The loss represents a consecutive season-opening defeat for LSU since winning the national title.
“Obviously, a tough night. We didn’t perform like we’re supposed to at LSU,” coach Ed Orgeron said. “It’s my responsibility. I told that to the team. Obviously, we’re going to look at it schematically — where we’ve got to get better.
“One game does not define a season, but we do understand that was a letdown for our fans and I take responsibility for it. We’ve got to get better.”