Five takeaways from UCLA’s rout of Alabama State

UCLA had two boxes to check en route to a suspected 3-0 start against non-conference cupcakes.

Clean up any problem areas.

Avoid injury.

For the first two weeks of the season, the Bruins played one-on-two.

The special teams’ mishaps that plagued them in the opener against Bowling Green were not an issue at Saturday’s Rose Bowl during a 45-7 win at Alabama State. But quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson went down with an apparent ankle injury never to return, and running back Zach Charbonnet didn’t play for unknown reasons, putting their status in doubt for UCLA’s final non-conference game against South Alabama next weekend let.

Here are five takeaways from the game:

Injured… or not?

Dorian Thompson-Robinson sits on the bench.

UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson is on the bench in the second half against Alabama State at Saturday’s Rose Bowl.

(Ashley Landis/Associated Press)

Let the conspiracy theories begin.

UCLA coach Chip Kelly pretended to run an undercover operation, not a college football team, when asked about the status of Charbonnet and Thompson-Robinson after the game.

Reporter: “Can you give us any updates on what happened to Zach and Dorian?”

Kelly: “Yeah, they were both unavailable.”

Reporter: “Injuries?”

Kelly: “Not available.”

Kelly’s non-updates, particularly on Charbonnet, came naturally to the manager, who has used “unavailable” as a catch-all for anyone who hasn’t played since the onset of COVID-19. A player could be dealing with injuries, legal issues, academics, COVID-19 or a cold, and Kelly would simply say he was “unavailable.”

Charbonnet was in uniform for the game and appeared to move freely on the touchline, leading to speculation that he might have been held up for load management against a Football Championship Subdivision opponent.

Thanks to Kelly’s secrecy, fans may never know.

Kelly remained secretive when asked about Charbonnet’s availability for next week.

“I’m not a forecaster, and if I were, I’d be at Del Mar tomorrow and making a lot of money,” Kelly said, “so let’s just take it as it comes.”

water bomb

UCLA's Christian Grubb holds onto the ball while other players pile on.

UCLA running back Christian Grubb (32) battles a seven-yard touchdown streak in the fourth quarter against Alabama State at Saturday’s Rose Bowl.

(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

Charbonnet’s mysterious absence meant the Bruins would learn a lot about the quality of their backup running backs.

What they discovered made them feel a lot better should Charbonnet miss any more games. True freshman TJ Harden led with 56 yards and a touchdown in seven carries, while redshirt junior Christian Grubb had a nearly identical 55 yards and a touchdown in seven carries.

Redshirt junior Colson Yankoff made the most of his second position change, gaining 35 yards in six carries, and redshirt rookie Deshun Murrell amassed 34 yards in his first six carries as a bruin.

Redshirt junior Keegan Jones, taking the starting role from Charbonnet, rushed for 33 yards and a touchdown in 10 carries while also making four catches for 31 yards.

Once again special

Nicholas Barr-Mira plays for UCLA.

UCLA field kicker Nicholas Barr-Mira scored his only field goal in UCLA’s win over Alabama State on Saturday.

(Kyusung Gong/Associated Press)

A week after a horrendous show, UCLA’s special teams were perfectly fine.

Nicholas Barr-Mira made his only field goal attempt from 19 yards after missing two of three attempts the previous week.

Barr-Mira and Chase Barry averaged 37.3 yards on their three punts, but they had no blocked punts, and Alabama State generated zero punt return yardage.

Logan Loya, making his season debut, showed reliable hands as he replaced Jake Bobo as the punt returner and gained two yards on his one return.

Special teams are often at their best when they go unnoticed, which was the case on Saturday.

Secondary becomes the center

UCLA defenseman Gabriel Murphy pressures Alabama quarterback Myles Crawley.

UCLA defenseman Gabriel Murphy pressured Alabama State quarterback Myles Crawley, which eventually led to a fumble in the first-quarter game at Saturday’s Rose Bowl.

(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

Alabama State kept moving the ball, especially in the first half.

Most of the Hornets’ early successes came through the air, with quarterback Myles Crawley finding open receivers. Midway through the second quarter, Alabama State’s 177-yard offense surpassed the 162 yards Bowling Green had rushed for the entire game the previous week.

But the Bruins’ pass defense stiffened in the second half, intercepting two passes and keeping the Hornets at 46 passing yards after giving up 177 yards in the first half.

“Luckily we kept them at seven points,” Kelly said. “We did some body shots there, but we made sure we got them when we needed them. There are of course some things like everything you need to clean up.

oh brother

Grayson Murphy and Gabriel Murphy walk briskly across the field.

UCLA defensemen Grayson Murphy (12) and defenseman Gabriel Murphy (11) celebrate after a first-half sack against Alabama State at Saturday’s Rose Bowl.

(Ashley Landis/Associated Press)

UCLA edge rusher Gabriel Murphy picked up the ball after teammate Laiatu Latu forced a fumble by hitting the Alabama State quarterback. As Murphy was about to be thrown to the ground, he heard a familiar voice.

“I thought, ‘Gabriel, Gabriel!’ ‘ said Grayson Murphy, his twin brother, ‘and he just threw it at me.’

Grayson took the desperation seat and sprinted for a touchdown. Unless there was a problem. Gabriel’s pitch was an illegal forward pass that resulted in a penalty.

All was lost in the next game when Thompson-Robinson connected with tight end Hudson Habermehl for a 25-yard touchdown reception. A few hours later, the brothers were able to laugh about the mishap.

“I wish he would have caught it and thrown it back,” Grayson Murphy said, “so we could have the touchdown.” Five takeaways from UCLA’s rout of Alabama State

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