No. 9 UCLA carried by Kazmeir Allen and backups

Kazmeir Allen spent just one day at practice last week taking reps as a running back. The wide receiver didn’t know that UCLA’s star running back Zach Charbonnet would be unavailable for Saturday’s game at Arizona State.

Allen, who spent his first three years at UCLA as a running back but has been a wide receiver for two years, looked right at home in the backfield. Allen recorded a 137 rushing yards on 11 carries, both career highs, in the Bruins’ 50-36 win over the Sun Devils.

That included a 75-yard touchdown burst in the third quarter, when Allen took the handoff, paused briefly, found a gap and sprinted up the middle of the field to the end zone to give UCLA a 42-18 lead. Allen, who won the 100 meters at the 2018 CIF state track and field championships and briefly competed for UCLA’s track team in 2019, looked every part the former track star.

“I’m just a ball player, at the end of the day,” Allen said to reporters. “I just like the ball in my hands.”

Allen, a redshirt junior, is in the midst of his best season for UCLA (8-1, 5-1 Pac-12), which is ranked No. 9 in the latest AP poll and was No. 12 in last week’s College Football Playoff rankings.

Through nine games, Allen has already notched career bests with 43 receptions and 331 yards. His performance at running back Saturday gave him 203 rushing yards for the season, more than he had in his first season as a reserve running back in half the number of carries.

“With his speed, if he gets out in the open field (and) makes the first defender miss, it’s lights out for him,” quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson said.

The Tulare Union High School product also had four carries in last week’s win over Stanford. But in Tempe, he was called upon to help fill the shoes of the Pac-12’s leading rusher in Charbonnet, who wasn’t deemed out until warm-ups, according to coach Chip Kelly.

Allen shared running back duties with Keegan Jones, who also had a career-high 98 yards on 12 carries — to go along with both a rushing and receiving touchdown.

Without Charbonnet, who has rushed for 100 yards in his last five games, UCLA still ran all over Arizona State (3-6, 2-4 in the Pac-12) with more than 400 rushing yards split among four rushers. Thompson-Robinson rushed for 120 yards and two touchdowns, and Colson Yankoff had eight carries for 48 yards and a game-sealing touchdown.

Charbonnet’s absence did not change Thompson-Robinson’s approach to the game at all, the fifth-year quarterback said.

“We’re always looking for the next man up anyway,” Thompson-Robinson said. “I have full confidence and faith in our guys behind Zach. So for me, it was really easy to just kind of go out there and read my keys and execute the plays that are called.”

UCLA leads the Pac-12 in rushing at 242.3 yards per game. The 402 rushing yards on Saturday were the most in program history since 2010, when the Bruins rushed for 437 yards against Washington State. It was also UCLA’s sixth game this season with at least 200 yards on the ground.

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The rushing attack helped UCLA stave off a late Arizona State rally. After the Sun Devils scored 18 straight points to cut the Bruins’ lead to 42-36 with just over six minutes to play, UCLA went on a seven-play, 74-yard touchdown drive that also ran the clock down.

The drive, aided by a key unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty, included six runs — the first two by Jones and the last four by Yankoff, a quarterback-turned-receiver-turned-rusher suddenly thrust into a big moment for a Pac-12 title contending team.

He barreled into the end zone from a yard out to cap off a successful running-back-by-committee effort.

“Our guys up front understand our scheme and understand what we can do, so I think we can attack in a couple of ways,” Kelly said. “It took every single guy to finish off that football game.”

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