SPORTS DIGEST: Riding high at 5-0, UCLA faces a tough Utah team

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By Don Wanlass

Contributing Writer

I’m not sure Chip Kelly saw this coming in his wildest dreams.

After going 18-25 in his first four seasons as the UCLA football coach, Kelly has his Bruins with a 5-0 record, ranked 18th in this week’s Associated Press college football poll and riding an eight-game winning streak dating back to last November.

That all could come crashing down on the Bruins Oct. 8 when they host 11th ranked Utah at the Rose Bowl in a game that will be televised nationally on Fox.

The Pac 12 Conference is rebounding this year with five teams currently ranked in the top 25 and Washington State hoping to break into the top 25 this week with an upset win over USC.

Kelly has taken advantage of the rule allowing all players who played during the COVID pandemic in 2020 to maintain that year of college eligibility. His quarterback, Dorian Robinson-Thompson, is in his fifth year as a starting quarterback, something we will never see again.

Robinson-Thompson put aside his NFL aspirations to come back for a fifth season and he is leading the Bruins to their best start since 2015.

Through five games, Robinson-Thompson has thrown for 1,211 yards and 11 touchdowns with one interception. He also has gained 223 yards running the football, adding five touchdowns with his feet.

Running back Zach Charbonnet is averaging 6.4 yards a carry and has scored five touchdowns while leading the Bruins revamped ground game.

Wide receiver Jake Bobo, like Charbonnet a transfer portal addition for the Bruins, is leading the Bruins with 21 catches for 363 yards and five touchdowns.

They faced the Washington Huskies Sept. 30 in their first real test of the season and raced out to a 33-10 lead early in the third quarter before holding on for a 40-32 victory.

Robinson-Thompson was his usual dynamic self, throwing for 315 yards and three touchdowns and adding another touchdown and 53 yards running the ball.

On one run, he hurdled a would-be tackler. On another, he made a move that caused two tacklers to collide with each other while he skipped into the end zone.

He may be too small to have much of a future as an NFL quarterback, but he could have a future playing on Sunday in a hybrid role that utilizes his speed and ability to make tacklers miss.

Utah will test the Bruins this week. The Utes have bounced back from their opening week loss to Georgia and are 4-1 with a 2-0 record in the Pac 12.

Like the Bruins, they are led by their quarterback, Cameron Rising, who can beat you with his arm and his legs.

The Utes are coming off a 42-16 win over Oregon State, a team that gave USC all it could handle the previous week.

The Utes rely on a ball-control offense that marches methodically down the field and runs the clock. On defense, they are tough on the running game.

Utah is the last team to beat the Bruins last November, providing even more incentive for the Bruins to keep surprising people.

Last week’s game with Washington attracted more than 40,000 fans to the Rose Bowl on a Friday night. With this week’s game set for a more conventional Saturday afternoon kickoff, and the Bruins on a role and facing a Utah team that travels well, the Rose Bowl might be half full for a change.

And that might be the biggest surprise of this year’s UCLA team.

ANOTHER TRAP: The USC Trojans improved to 5-0 Oct. 1 with a 42-25 win over 1-4 Arizona State in a game that was typical of most Trojans’ games this season.

The Trojans scored a lot of points and their defense gave up a lot of yards.

The Sun Devils converted on seven of 13 third downs and rolled up 331 yards.

The Trojans, led again by transfer quarterback Caleb Williams, rolled up 42 points in moving their record to 5-0. They remain the sixth-ranked team in the country.

This week, they face the Washington State Cougars Oct. 8 at 4:30 p.m. in the Coliseum in a game that will follow the UCLA-Utah game on Fox.

The Cougars are a solid 4-1 team. They led the 12th-ranked Oregon Ducks 27-15 after three quarters before surrendering four fourth-quarter touchdowns in a 44-41 loss Sept. 24.

They rebounded last week with a 28-7 win over Cal and would love to catch USC looking ahead to its Oct. 15 game against Utah.

It will be up to USC coach Lincoln Riley and his quarterback not to let them happen.

Williams threw his first interception of the season last week against Arizona State, but still passed for 348 yards and three touchdowns and ran for another score. Oregon transfer Travis Dye continued to lead the way on the ground for the Trojans, adding 62 yards and two touchdowns.

Defensively, the Trojans only recorded one turnover against the Sun Devils, with safety Calen Bullock picking off his second pass of the year, giving the Trojans 12 on the season.

The Cougars are led by another transfer quarterback, Cameron Ward, who played at Incarnate Word, a small Catholic school in San Antonio, Texas.

He has thrown for more yards (1,445) and touchdowns (13) than Williams, but he also has thrown seven interceptions while being sacked 14 times.

The Trojans will need to put some heat on him and hope he adds to that interception total. They also need to be focused on the game at hand, not looking ahead to Utah the following week.

STUCK AT .500: The Chargers and the Rams, who both entered the season four weeks ago with Super Bowl aspirations, are both staring at 2-2 records as they head to Week 5 of the NFL schedule this week.

Both teams have been beset by injuries, with the Chargers losing pass rusher Joey Bosa and wide receiver Keenan Allen and the Rams going through offensive linemen at a ridiculous clip.

The offensive line was a Rams’ strong point during their Super Bowl run last season, but then left tackle Andrew Whitworth retired and guard Austin Corbett left in free agency.

When they face the Dallas Cowboys at 1:25 p.m. Oct. 9 at SoFi Stadium they will be using their fifth different starting line combination, never a good sign for a football team.

Joe Noteboom, who has been a capable reserve since being drafted in 2018, has taken Whitworth’s place in the starting lineup but hasn’t really replaced him.

Center Brian Allen injured his knee in the season opener against Buffalo and won’t return for another week or two. His replacement, Coleman Shelton, injured his ankle Oct. 3 against the San Francisco 49ers and will miss up to six weeks, so the Rams are down to their third-string center, Jeremiah Kolone.

Starting guard David Edwards missed the 49ers games due to concussion protocol and the Rams aren’t sure when he will be cleared to play.

And this week they face the Cowboys, who have two outstanding pass rushers in Micah Parsons and DeMarcus Lawrence.

The Cowboys are still without quarterback Dak Prescott, but his backup Cooper Rush is 3-1 in his place.

The bright spot for the Rams is that every other team in their division is also 2-2, but they need to turn around the season this week.

The Chargers travel to Cleveland to face the Browns Oct. 9 at 10 a.m. Quarterback Justin Herbert was much improved in his second week of playing with broken rib cartilage in the Chargers 34-24 win over the Houston Texans Oct. 2, but the Chargers are still having problems putting teams away.

They led the Texans, 27-7 at halftime and then were shut out for the first 27 minutes of the second half before Austin Ekeler scored on a touchdown pass from Herbert with 2:28 left in the game.

Ekeler had his best game of the season, scoring three times and accounting for 109 yards rushing and receiving.

ALMOST SHOWTIME: The Dodgers have been waiting for the postseason since the season started last April.

It finally arrives Oct. 11 when the Dodgers face the winner of a three-game series between the San Diego Padres and the New York Mets.

The Dodgers have set a new franchise mark for wins in a season, but that will all be forgotten if they don’t win 11 more games.

They have been playing like a team on cruise control for the last week and enter the playoffs with question marks at the end of their starting rotation and the bullpen, and with several key members of the offense in late-season slumps.

Manager Dave Roberts will be severely tested as a tries to guide his team through a postseason that could include a series with the Atlanta Braves to decide the National League pennant for the third year in a row and a World Series against the Houston Astros or the New York Yankees, two teams that Dodgers fans want to see for different reasons.

 

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