In UCLA’s dynamic duo, Zach Charbonnet is no mere sidekick

PASADENA — If Dorian Thompson Robinson is Batman, then Zach Charbonnet is Robin.

As No. 11 UCLA continued its rise in the AP top 25 on Sunday — rising seven spots to No. 11 after a 42-32 win over Utah at the Rose Bowl — most of the national attention has been on Thompson-Robinson, and deservedly so.

But Charbonnet has quietly made a case to be seen as one of the best running backs in the country, one half of an efficient, effective and experienced 1-2 punch that has the Bruins’ offense humming.

Charbonnet has rushed for more than 100 yards in three straight games. He had a season-high 198 yards rushing on Saturday, including a career-long 49-yard run and another 44-yard burst.

“Zach’s our workhorse,” coach Chip Kelly said. “We feel really confident in handing him the ball because it’s always going to be a positive result when you give him the football.”

Through six games, Charbonnet is why UCLA is second in the Pac-12 in rushing, averaging 211.5 yards a game. He leads the Pac-12 running backs and is 13th in the country with 615 total yards. He is averaging 7.1 yards per carry, and his six touchdowns are tied for third among Pac-12 running backs.

“I think he’s taken a new step every game he’s played since he’s been here,” Kelly said.

The 6-foot-1, 220-pound Charbonnet, who transferred from Michigan before last season, arrived at spring camp this year noticeably bigger. His coach and teammates describe him as one of the hardest workers on the team.

“It’s nothing new,” said linebacker Darius Muasau, the only Bruin to play against Charbonnet when Muasau was with Hawaii last year. “We see it every day.”

Charbonnet’s runs are physical, but he also has underrated speed and shiftiness and is hard to tackle going straight ahead. Against Colorado, he put on a highlight-reel cutback to juke a defender to the ground en route to a 46-yard touchdown.

On Saturday, he used a mean stiff-arm to rid himself of Utah’s Zemaiah Vaughn on the career-long dash, as Vaughn went tumbling down while Charbonnet lumbered on.

“You can do whatever you want to try to stop him, but he’s going to get those yards no matter what,” Muasau said.

Mo Osling III, watching from the sideline, was awed by some of Charbonnet’s moves.

“I be like ‘dang,’” the defensive back said. “Out there missing tackles, man, like dang.”

Running backs coach DeShaun Foster emphasizes making the first defender miss, which Charbonent excels at.

“I’m just thankful for the line getting me up to the next level and just being able to go one-on-one and make somebody miss,” Charbonnet said.

Utah coach Kyle Wittingham thought his team defended against the run pretty well but was the victim of big plays.

“Whenever we lost a gap, they exploited that,” Wittingham said. “We missed too many tackles and we had a few breakdowns.”

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Trying to tackle Charbonnet will make that difficult.

But the running back stayed humble after the big game, crediting the offensive line, receivers and Thompson-Robinson.

“We feed off each other,” Charbonnet said.

Moving up

The Bruins’ reward for beating the No. 11 team in the country was to move up to No. 11 themselves, 67 ranking points shy of breaking the top 10. They are the second-highest ranked team in the Pac-12, though USC fell by a spot this week at No. 7.

UCLA’s next opponent, Oregon, is ranked right behind at No. 12, setting up a showdown in Eugene in two weeks.