UCLA’s second-stringers are first-rate in rout of Alabama State

It was the kind of mismatch that UCLA’s backups seemed to play at.

Just not before halftime.

Just looking at the bottom line — UCLA 45, Alabama State 7 — you might have thought the Bruins’ first game against a Football Championship Subdivision opponent in their 103-year history went to script.

Not as much.

UCLA’s main protagonists on Saturday afternoon at the Rose Bowl included some unexpected names due to some notable absences.

Star running back Zach Charbonnet did not play for unknown reasons, giving Keegan Jones the starting nod. Veteran quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson left the team early in the second quarter with an apparent ankle injury, forcing Ethan Garbers into the game.

The second stringers were mostly top notch.

UCLA running back Keegan Jones is looking for a second-quarter opener against Alabama State on Sept. 10, 2022.

Bruins running back Keegan Jones rushed for 33 yards and a touchdown and also had four catches. Zach Charbonnet did not play for unknown reasons and gave Jones the start.

(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

Jones recorded the Bruins’ opening points and kept his legs churning on a two-yard touchdown run. Garbers completed 11 of his first 12 passes. Running backs TJ Harden, Christian Grubb and Colson Yankoff showed some consistency as UCLA relied heavily on their game on the ground in the second half.

With the Bruins (2-0) comfortably on their way to a fifth straight win dating back to last season – their longest streak of continued success under coach Chip Kelly – the final 20 minutes of the game belonged to the third and fourth graders.

“Being able to share the love was the best thing about today, in my opinion,” said UCLA linebacker Bo Calvert. “To only see guys come in who don’t like the spotlight that much, to see these guys doing plays was great.”

In another twist, it was an escape full of comeback stories.

There was Laiatu Latu, the UCLA linebacker, who logged two sacks and forced a fumble in just his second game after a medical retirement in spring 2021 because of a neck injury while playing for Washington.

UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson (1) is on the bench in the second half on Sept. 10, 2022.

UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson (1) rushed for 101 yards and a touchdown on a nine-for-11 pass before being sidelined with an ankle injury.

(Ashley Landis/Associated Press)

“To recover from that and deal with such a serious injury, something that obviously takes over your life and turns you 180 [degrees]and then to be able to just keep going every day and finding his way, finding his way, and now he’s acting at UCLA and doing a lot of plays,” Calvert said, “…I’m so happy to have him back there to see them play outside.”

There was Yankoff, the quarterback-turned-receiver-turned-running-back whose career had been plagued by a foot injury, who rushed for 35 yards in six carries, including an impressive 19-yard rush that put his 230 pounds well used bowling over defenders.

“I’ve seen Colson come a long way with those injuries and switch positions,” Bruins tight end Hudson Habermehl said, “so it’s really cool to see him get in there and really make some big plays. “

Finally, there was Grubb, the redshirt junior who had struggled in anonymity while recovering from a torn Achilles tendon and was buried on the depth chart, charging 55 yards forward as a bruin in his first seven carries.

“It was good to see the cultivators come out and do some things,” Kelly said.

UCLA running back Christian Grubb is battling for a seven-yard touchdown streak on Sept. 10, 2022.

Running back Christian Grubb puts down a 7-yard touchdown run for UCLA in the fourth quarter. “It was good to see the cultivators come out and do some things,” said trainer Chip Kelly.

(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

UCLA’s ground game, which had been largely a one-man show with Charbonnet in the opening game, included 220 yards and five touchdowns. Harden, a true freshman, rushed for 56 yards and a touchdown for a solid eight yards per carry. Jones was a two-way threat, rushing for 33 yards and catching four catches for 31 yards.

Kelly declined to comment on the status of Charbonnet or Thompson-Robinson after the game, saying only that they were both “unavailable.”

Thompson-Robinson completed nine of 11 passes for 101 yards and a touchdown on a 25-yard pass for Habermehl before leaving early in the second quarter. Thompson-Robinson was under heavy pressure in 3rd and 11th and appeared to be injured on a play where he turned the ball to Jones for an 18-yard gain.

There was little dropoff with Garbers running for two touchdowns and completing 14 of 18 passes for 164 yards. His only misstep was an unsightly interception at the Alabama State goal line.

“You know, he wants it back,” Kelly said.

UCLA tight end Hudson Habermehl (right) and wide receiver Titus Mokiao-Atimalala celebrate Habermehl's touchdown grave.

UCLA tight end Hudson Habermehl (right) and wide receiver Titus Mokiao-Atimalala celebrate Habermehl’s 25-yard touchdown grab in the first quarter.

(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

Alabama State (2-1) won decisively in one division – the battle of the bands. The Mighty Marching Hornets’ fast, slippery moves and flawless choreography drew a standing ovation from the 33,727 spectators, significantly larger than the record low UCLA drew at its opener last week in unbearable heat.

The Hornets had some success moving the ball and generated 310 offensive yards, but committed three turnovers. UCLA defensemen Jaylin Davies and DJ Justice each had an interception, Justice goes for a touchback and saves a possible touchdown.

UCLA defensive tackle Grayson Murphy fires Alabama State quarterback Myles Crawley in the second quarter.

Bruins defenseman Grayson Murphy sacks Alabama State quarterback Myles Crawley in the second quarter.

(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

Davies, a transfer from Oregon, is expected to get some ribs this week after running back his interception 46 yards but was brought down in open field by Alabama State’s 305-pound offensive tackle Keeundra Salter.

“He’s got to make that cut inside,” Calvert said of his teammate with a smile. “That’s just one on one with a tackle, I mean you gotta put some jukes in there.”

The Bruins made needed moves against 48½-point underdogs and dodged drama amid unexpected setbacks.

https://www.latimes.com/sports/ucla/story/2022-09-10/ucla-routs-alabama-state-football-recap UCLA’s second-stringers are first-rate in rout of Alabama State

Emma Bowman

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