Experienced roster could help UCLA Bruins contend in Pac-12

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
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LOS ANGELES — Chip Kelly‘s arduous rebuilding job at UCLA showed positive results last season with an 8-4 record and a Holiday Bowl invitation.

The biggest question is if Kelly can continue the climb to Pac-12 contention.

The Bruins were picked fourth in the conference preseason poll but still find themselves in the shadow of rival Southern California, which is ranked No. 14 in the preseason and continues to dominate local and regional headlines following the hiring of Lincoln Riley.

Even though he had chances to channel Rodney Dangerfield and claim “no respect,” especially after the Bruins won last year’s crosstown showdown over the Trojans 62-33, Kelly isn’t trying to get caught up in who has bragging rights in LA.

“Who runs the city, who doesn’t run the city, I’ll leave that up to the voters, I guess,” said Kelly, who has an 18-25 record during his four years in Westwood.

If the Bruins are going to contend for the Pac-12 title, they will need big seasons again from quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson and running back Zach Charbonnet. They were the leaders on an offense that led the conference in average points per game (36.5) and second in yards (441.3).

Thompson-Robinson surprised many by deciding to return for a fifth season. He accounted for 30 touchdowns last season (21 passing, nine rushing) and cut down on his turnovers, which plagued him his first three years.

Charbonnet led the conference with seven 100-yard rushing games and was second in rushing yards with 1,137.

“I think the biggest thing is him being able to respond to adversity, and that’s been the nature of the whole team,” offensive lineman Jon Gaines II said. “We didn’t have the best couple of seasons when we first got here, but he’s always been the face of the franchise as long as we’ve been here. And he’s the perfect example of how we’ve grown over the years.”

DEFENSIVE OVERHAUL

Bill McGovern, who was one of Kelly’s assistants when he coached the Philadelphia Eagles, was hired as defensive coordinator following the resignation of Jerry Azzinaro. His most significant task will be to fix a pass defense that gave up 260.2 yards per game last season, the worst in the Pac-12.

Safeties Stephan Blaylock and Kenny Churchwell III bring a veteran presence to the secondary. Transfers will bolster the front seven. Kelly lauded the quick adjustments by defensive lineman Jacob Sykes (Harvard), while edge rushers Gabriel Murphy and Grayson Murphy (North Texas) will apply pressure. The Bruins also added linebacker Darius Muasau, who led the Mountain West with seven sacks last season.

KEEP AN EYE ON

Wide receiver Jake Bobo, a graduate transfer, should emerge as Thompson-Robinson’s favorite target after the departures of tight end Greg Dulcich and wide receiver Kyle Phillips to the NFL. Bobo made at least five catches in nine games for Duke last season and finished with 74 receptions for 794 yards.

COMING SOON

While fans are looking ahead to the Bruins’ move to the Big Ten in 2024, Kelly is trying to keep the focus on this year’s team until he has to go out on the recruiting trail.

“I think when I got the news that this was going to happen, that was my first question: When? Then when we found out it’s two years, I think that puts a little bit different spin on it,” said Kelly, who learned about the move while golfing with Ohio State coach Ryan Day in New Hampshire. “Our sole focus and attention is making the 2022 season as memorable as it can be for our players. It’s a unique situation. I’ve never been in it before. But I think the biggest thing is to focus on what we can control.”

SCHEDULE

The Bruins have eight home games for the first time since 1939, including what might be the easiest nonconference slate of any Power Five team – Bowling Green, Alabama State, and South Alabama. The Sept. 10 game against Alabama State replaces a road game against Michigan and marks the first time the Bruins will play a Football Championship Subdivision team.

UCLA hosts Pac-12 favorite No. 7 Utah on Oct. 8 before traveling to No. 11 Oregon two weeks later. The Bruins will host Southern California on Nov. 19.

WVU RB Donaldson in concussion protocol, out for Baylor game

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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) West Virginia running back CJ Donaldson is in concussion protocol and will miss next week’s home game with Baylor after he was injured in a loss to Texas, coach Neal Brown said Tuesday.

Donaldson remained on the ground after he was tackled on a short gain in the third quarter of Saturday’s 38-20 loss to the Longhorns. His helmet and shoulder pads were removed and he was carted off the field on a stretcher. After the game he was cleared to travel home with the team.

“He’s recovering,” Brown said. “There is a strict return-to-play (policy) that we have to follow here and I’m zero involved in it. All I do is ask the question. They don’t even start the return-to-play until they’re symptom free.”

Donaldson, a 240-pound freshman, leads the Mountaineers with 389 rushing yards and six touchdowns, with an average of 6.9 yards per carry.

West Virginia (2-3, 0-2 Big 12 Conference) is idle this week and hosts Baylor (3-2, 1-1) next Thursday, Oct. 13.

Taulia Tagovailoa says he visited brother, Tua, over weekend

Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
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COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Maryland quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa was able to visit his brother, Tua, last weekend after the Terrapins’ game against Michigan State, he said Tuesday in his first comments to reporters since Tua left the Miami Dolphins’ game against Cincinnati last Thursday with a frightening head injury.

Taulia played in Maryland’s win over Michigan State on Saturday but was not made available to the media afterward. He said Tuesday he was able to go to Florida and spend some time with his brother, who suffered a concussion four days after taking a hit in another game but was cleared to return.

“He’s doing good, everything’s fine,” he said. “My biggest thing was just seeing him and spending as much time as I can with him. I came back Sunday night.”

Tagovailoa said he appreciates the support for his brother.

“My brother’s my heart. He’s someone I look up to, someone I talk to every day,” he said. “It was just a hard scene for me to see that.”

Tagovailoa said he was in constant contact with his mother about his brother’s situation, and he was finally able to talk to Tua on Friday night.

“I really just wanted to go there and just spend time with my family, hug them and stuff like that,” Taulia Tagovailoa said. “But he told me he’s a big fan of us, and he’d rather watch me play on Saturday. … After that phone call, I was happy and getting back to my normal routine.”

Tagovailoa indicated that his brother’s injury didn’t make him too nervous about his own health when he took the field again.

“I guess when that happens to someone like my brother, or when anything happens to one of my family members, I don’t really think of how it will be able to affect me,” he said. “I just think of: `Is he OK? How’s he doing?”‘

Although it was a short visit to Florida, he said he and Tua made the most of their chance to be together.

“I just wanted to make sure he’s healthy and stuff, which he is,” Taulia Tagovailoa said.