UCLA has high expectations in Kelly’s 4th season in charge

Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports
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LOS ANGELES — It’s now or never as Chip Kelly enters his fourth season at UCLA.

Kelly has one of the more experienced squads in the Pac-12 Conference with 19 starters returning. That’s quite a change from 2018 and ’19 when the Bruins had one of the youngest squads in the nation.

Upperclassmen now make up 38% of the Bruins’ roster. Only Stanford (50%) and Southern California (46%) have a higher percentage.

“It’s comforting. It took us a while to get to this point,” Kelly said. “Our classes are now a little more evenly distributed. We have a group of juniors and seniors that have played a lot of football. We’re going to have to rely on that experience.”

No one symbolizes the trial by fire during Kelly’s tenure more than quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson. The senior was thrown into the fire quickly due to injuries and started what was then just his second collegiate game – at Oklahoma in 2018.

Thompson-Robinson has gone on to start 24 of the 26 games he has played. Last season he completed a career-high 65.2% of his passes with 12 touchdowns and four interceptions.

“Just seeing the growth, We were kids out there playing when we were freshmen. We’re grown men now,” Thompson-Robinson said. “I’m excited. It is a complete team now.”

The Bruins showed improvement last year. Even though they were 3-4, the losses were by a combined 15 points. The expectation this season is that they can notch their first winning season since 2015.

Seven or more wins is also what Kelly might need to save his job. Kelly came to Westwood with much fanfare in December 2017 but is 10-21 in three seasons. Athletic director Martin Jarmond is beginning his second year and Kelly will have only one year remaining on his contract at the end of this season.

“People are expecting big things out of the Bruins,” defensive back Qwuantrezz Knight said. “We just want to elevate all around and be the best that we can be. We are going to attack the season like that.”

PRETTY SKILLED

Brittain Brown is expected to be the starting running back after Demetric Felton‘s graduation. Brown joined the Bruins as a grad transfer from Duke last season and averaged 6.6 yards per carry. He got the start in last year’s season finale against Stanford and rushed for 219 yards.

Also expected to get plenty of carries is Michigan transfer Zach Charbonnet, who had 11 rushing touchdowns as a freshman in 2019.

The receiver group is also deep. Kyle Phillips – whose 38 catches were second in the conference last season – was the Bruins’ only first-team selection to the all-preseason team. Tight end Greg Dulcich averaged 19.9 yards per catch and had five touchdowns last season.

ON DEFENSE

The Bruins return all but one starter on a defense that was among the nation’s most improved last season. The unit had 48 tackles for loss, nine interceptions and averaged 3.3 sacks per game.

Even though the unit was stout against the run (the 3.6 yards per carry were 25th in the nation), they allowed 274.1 passing yards per game, which was the seventh-most among Power Five teams.

“The guys understand the things we got to do better at,” assistant head coach Brian Norwood said. “A lot of that is just little things. It’s not so much at times a guy running free as much as it is finishing at the point of attack.”

LINING THEM UP

The Bruins offensive line has all five starters back and it could be one of their best in years. Left tackle Sean Rhyan – who was the highest-ranked recruit in Kelly’s 2018 early-signing class – could find himself being a highly rated draft prospect with another solid season.

KEEP AN EYE ON

The backup quarterback spot. Chase Griffin nearly led the Bruins to a win at Oregon but there is increased competition after Ethan Garbers transferred from Washington.

SCHEDULE

The Bruins are 0-6 in nonconference games under Kelly but should be favored in their Aug. 28 opener against Hawaii. The bigger test comes a week later when No. 16 LSU comes to the Rose Bowl. In Pac-12 play, UCLA has tough road games against No. 24 Utah (Oct. 30) and crosstown rival No. 15 USC (Nov. 20). It hosts No. 25 Arizona State (Oct. 2) and No. 11 Oregon (Oct. 23).

No. 2 Michigan beats Purdue 43-22 for Big Ten crown

Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
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INDIANAPOLIS – Donovan Edwards ran for 185 yards and a score, J.J. McCarthy threw three touchdown passes and No. 2 Michigan beat Purdue 43-22 on Saturday night for its second straight Big Ten title and a likely No. 2 playoff seed.

College football’s winningest program has the first 13-win season in school history. Two more victories would give the Wolverines (13-0, No. 2 CFP) their first national championship since 1997.

And with injured star Blake Corum sidelined by a season-ending left knee injury, Edwards stole the show for the second straight week.

After shredding rival Ohio State for 216 yards and two scores last week, Edwards broke open this game with a 60-yard on the first play of the second half to set up one score. He added a 27-yard TD sprint on Michigan’s next series to make it 28-13.

Purdue (8-5) never recovered from Michigan’s quick, seven-play onslaught after it trailed 14-13 at halftime.

But quarterback Aidan O'Connell and receiver Charlie Jones helped the Boilermakers make it interesting for a while.

O’Connell was 32 of 47 with 366 yards and two interceptions after missing some practice time early this week to mourn the death of his oldest brother. Jones, who lost to Michigan in last year’s game while playing for Iowa, had 13 receptions for 162 yards.

It just wasn’t enough.

Michigan showed no signs of a hangover after last week’s rout over the Buckeyes, taking a 7-0 lead on its opening possession with a 25-yard TD pass from J.J. McCarthy to Colston Loveland.

Purdue answered with Devin Mockobee’s 1-yard scoring run to tie the score then took the lead on Mitchell Fineran’s 33-yard field goal.

Michigan answered by taking advantage of an offside call on fourth-and-6 by going for the first down, picking it up and eventually converting the drive into a 7-yard TD pass from McCarthy to Luke Schoonmaker. They never trailed again.

Edwards big run set up Kalel Mullings‘ 1-yard TD plunge before Edwards celebrated his own scoring run.

All Purdue could muster was three more field goals.

McCarthy was 11 of 17 with 161 yards and one interception.

Corum posted a message on Twitter on Saturday morning to say his knee surgery went well.

THE TAKEAWAY

Purdue: The Boilermakers’ magical season ended with a solid showing in the championship game where they played better than most expected. Still, they won the Big Ten’s wild, wild West, both trophy games and should be bound for a warm-weather bowl game.

Michigan: Yes, the Wolverines may have already locked up a top-two seed thanks to losses by Southern Cal and TCU. Michigan now has back-to-back conference crowns for the first time since 2003-04 though the hard part remains – ending its national title drought.

DIALING UP TRICKERY

Brohm played one season in the now defunct XFL and has acknowledged that experience helped him understand how to inject personality and creativity into play calling. It was on full display Saturday.

A surprise end around set up Purdue’s first score, a fake punt helped keep its second scoring drive alive and then Mockobee sprinted 25 yards on a fake flea-flicker in the third quarter.

UP NEXT

Purdue: Will find out its bowl game, destination and opponent Sunday.

Michigan: Waiting to see where its headed and who it will face in the national semifinals.

Klubnik, No. 10 Clemson rout No. 24 UNC 39-10 for ACC title

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Backup quarterback Cade Klubnik completed 20 of 24 passes for 279 yards and a touchdown and ran for another score and No. 10 Clemson reclaimed the Atlantic Coast Conference championship with a 39-10 victory over No. 24 North Carolina on Saturday night.

Cornerback Nate Wiggins broke up two passes in the end zone, blocked a field goal and returned an interception 98 yards for a touchdown to help the Tigers win their seventh ACC title in eight seasons.

Clemson (11-2, No. 9 CFP) won six straight ACC championships from 2015 to 2020 before failing to reach the title game last season. But coach Dabo Swinney‘s Tigers rebounded in a big way, going 9-0 against ACC foes this season to reach the Orange Bowl.

They have Klubnik to thank for that.

With Clemson down 7-0, Swinney benched two-year starter D.J. Uiagalelei after the Tigers failed to pick up a first down on their first two possessions, Swinney turned to Klubnik, a 5-star recruit from Austin, Texas. He responded by leading the Tigers to four straight scores and a 24-10 lead at halftime.

Clemson stretched it to 39-10 heading into the fourth quarter.

It wasn’t the first time Swinney has turned to Klubnik.

He benched Uiagalelei in the second half against Syracuse and Klubnik responded by leading the Tigers to a come-from-behind 27-21 victory. Swinney also turned to Klubnik against Notre Dame, although the results were the opposite with the freshman throwing a Pick 6 in a 35-14 loss.

Swinney has never been shy about replacing veteran QBs with less experienced players. He did it in 2014, sitting Cole Stoudt for Deshaun Watson, and again in 2018 replacing Kelly Bryant with Trevor Lawrence.

ACC player of the year Drake Maye was limited to 268 yards passing and turned the ball over three times for North Carolina (9-4, No. 23 CFP), which was seeking its first ACC championship since 1980 when Lawrence Taylor was wreaking havoc on quarterbacks.

Maye got things started on the right foot for the Tar Heels, capping an 11-play, 78-yard drive with a 3-yard touchdown run for a 7-0 lead on UNC’s first possession.

But the Tar Heels repeatedly sputtered on offense inside the red zone after that, the biggest blow coming when Maye misfired near the goal line and Wiggins – who had struggled in Clemson’s 51-45 win over Wake Forest – returned his pass for a touchdown to give Clemson a 32-10 lead with 5:05 left in the third quarter.

Klubnik provided an immediate spark for Clemson.

He led the Tigers on a nine-play, 71-yard drive, culminating in a 1-yard TD pass to Davis Allen. After Maye’s fumble, Klubnik caught a 19-yard pass from Phil Mafah to set up Mafah’s 4-yard touchdown run – Clemson’s second TD in a span of 40 seconds.

Klubnik then showed off his arm strength with a 68-yard pass to fellow freshman Cole Turner to set up his own 1-yard TD run for a 21-7 lead.

END OF AN ERA

This is the final year the ACC will feature its two division winners playing for a championship. In future years, all ACC teams will be lumped together and the two teams with the best records will advance to the title game.

THE TAKEAWAY

North Carolina: Maye garnered plenty of Heisman Trophy talk during the season, but the Tar Heels offense has stalled resulting in a three-game losing streak. But as long as Maye doesn’t transfer – and there are no indications he will given his family history at North Carolina – the Tar Heels have a good chance to get back to the ACC title game next season.

Clemson: The Tigers have set a high bar by winning national championships, so as much as they will enjoy getting back atop the ACC mountain there will be plenty of talk over whether Swinney cost his team a chance at a spot in the College Football Playoff by not turning to Klubnik at quarterback earlier in the season. It seems Uiagalelei might be a logical transfer portal candidate.

UP NEXT

Clemson will play in the Orange Bowl, while North Carolina awaits a bowl bid.