UCLA uses second-half comeback to win LA Bowl 

Wave Wire Services

INGLEWOOD — An acknowledged less than 100% Ethan Garbers replaced an injured Collin Schlee early in the second half Dec. 16 and threw for 152 yards and two touchdowns as UCLA scored on four of its first five second-half possessions in a 35-22 victory over Boise State in the LA Bowl at SoFi Stadium.

Garbers, a redshirt junior from Corona Del Mar High School, started the season opener and five of the six games heading into the LA Bowl, but suffered an arm injury in a 33-7 loss to California Nov. 25 in the regular-season finale.

“Talking to him pregame, he didn’t feel like he was 100% and couldn’t go,” Bruins coach Chip Kelly said. “That’s the type of player he is. He said, ‘I think you got to go with Collin, but I’m ready to be a backup if we have to go.’ So Collin went down and I asked him are you ready to go and he said he was. He played fantastic.”

Garbers completed nine of 12 passes for two touchdowns and was selected as the offensive MVP. UCLA linebacker Darius Muasau was selected as the defensive MVP for making a team-high 11 tackles, including a game-high 2.5 for losses.

Schlee, a redshirt junior who began his college career at Kent State, completed 11 of 16 passes for 78 yards and one touchdown and ran for a career-high 127 yards on seven carries.

Garbers entered the game with 11 minutes, 33 seconds left in the third quarter and the Bruins trailing 16-7 after Schlee was injured on a 44-yard run that gave UCLA a first-and-goal from the Broncos’ 9-yard line.

Garbers threw a 5-yard touchdown pass to Kyle Ford on his third play to cut the deficit to 16-14.

Garbers completed all four of his passes for 62 yards as the Bruins drove 72 yards on nine plays on their next possession, culminated by T.J. Harden’s 1-yard touchdown run that gave UCLA a 21-16 lead with 3:03 left in the third quarter. The score came three plays after Garbers’ 39-yard pass to J. Michael Sturdivant advanced the ball to Boise State’s 4-yard line.

Garbers began the Bruins’ next drive by scrambling for 15 yards, then threw a 41-yard pass to Sturdivant. Harden culminated the three-play, 70-yard drive with a 14-yard touchdown run that put UCLA ahead 28-16 with 19 seconds to play in the third quarter.

Garbers threw a 40-yard touchdown pass to Sturdivant that gave the Bruins a 35-16 lead with 6:11 remaining, one play after Alex Johnson intercepted a pass by C.J. Tiller and returned the ball 11 yards.

UCLA (8-5) drove to the Broncos’ 1-yard line on its final possession, but coach Chip Kelly called for Garbers to kneel twice to run out the final 1:37 instead of trying to score again.

The Bruins outgained Boise State 510 yards to 332, led 18-15 in first downs but trailed 31:33-28:27 in time of possession.

The UCLA defense played without its best player and coordinator and allowed a season-high 215 rushing yards, including 126 in the first half, and scores on each of the first four possessions. The previous high was 133 yards in a 36-24 loss to Oregon State Oct. 14.

“I thought our defense actually played well in the first half,” Kelly said. “We just missed a couple of tackles. But they were where they were supposed to be. The runs were fit the right way. The long screen pass they had — we had a couple shots at him (but) we didn’t get him down.

“Give credit to the running back for Boise,” Kelly said referring to George Holani, who ran for 138 yards and two touchdowns on 17 carries and turned a screen pass into a 45-yard gain that set up the Broncos’ second field goal.

“It was a pretty good run by him. But we felt confident when we were in the locker room at halftime that everything that happened in the first half, it was us. It was missed tackles on defense and penalties on the offensive side of the ball. We felt that if we can clean that up, that we were poised to break out in the second half and that’s what happened.”

Defensive lineman Laiatu Latu, the Lombardi Award winner as college football’s best lineman and the Pac-12’s Pat Tillman Defensive Player of the Year, opted out of the game to focus on finishing school and preparing for the NFL draft.

D’Anton Lynn accepted USC’s offer to be its defensive coordinator Dec. 1. In his one season as the Bruins’ defensive coordinator, Lynn elevated UCLA’s defense from ranking No. 87 in 2022 to finishing the 2023 regular season ranked No. 11 among Football Bowl Subdivision teams.

Jonah Dalmas kicked 33-, 23- and 33-yard field goals on the Broncos’ first three possessions and Holani ran 1-yard for a touchdown on the fourth, giving Boise State a 16-7 halftime lead.

Holani ran 66 yards with 5:08 remaining for the Broncos’ only second-half points.

“Defensively we didn’t execute” in the second half, Boise State coach Spencer Danielson said. “Offensively we couldn’t sustain drives and then we gave up some big plays defensively, lost some of the momentum. Work to find ways to get it back and didn’t so I take full responsibility for the whole team.”

Tiller, a freshman who had played on two snaps without throwing a pass entering the game, completed 12 of 21 passes for 117 yards with one interception for the Broncos, who finished the season 8-6.

The Rancho Cucamonga High alum got the start in place of Talen Green, who posted on social media on Dec. 4 that he would be entering the transfer portal and later announced his commitment to Arkansas.

The loss ended a four-game winning streak for the Broncos, including three games since Danielson, who had been the defensive coordinator, replaced the fired Andy Avalos Nov. 12 on an interim basis. Director of athletics Jeramiah Dickey announced Dec. 3 that Danielson had the job on a permanent basis, subject to approval by the Idaho State Board of Education.

The announced crowd of 32,780 was the most in the bowl’s three-year history, topping the 29,896 for Utah State’s 24-13 victory over Oregon State in the inaugural 2021 game and 32,405 for Fresno State’s 29-6 victory over Washington State in the 2022 game.