Search

Sun Bowl: UCLA football could tie program record with 10th win

The UCLA football team will be at full strength ahead of its Sun Bowl matchup against Pittsburgh on Friday (11 a.m. PT, Ch. 2) in El Paso.

The Bruins (9-3, 6-3 Pac-12) became bowl eligible for a second straight year but have yet to play in a bowl game with Chip Kelly at the helm. UCLA had to pull out of its game Holiday Bowl in San Diego, against North Carolina State, just hours before kickoff due to COVID-19 protocols within the Bruins’ program.

UCLA has not been impacted by COVID-19 this season and appears ready for its first bowl game since 2017.

It will be the first and only bowl appearance for several upperclassmen, including fifth-year senior quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson.

“I think they’re really excited,” Kelly said. “We’ve talked about how this is the last time for this group together. It’s a special group and it’s been such a joy to coach this group.”

It will also be the last game for seniors such as Thompson-Robinson, who will have exhausted all of his eligibility and will prepare for the NFL Draft.

A victory for Thompson-Robinson and the Bruins in El Paso would tie a program record of 10 wins in a single season. The team has had nine 10-win seasons in its history with the most recent in 2014.

When UCLA has the ball 

Thompson-Robinson and leading rusher Zach Charbonnet continue to practice with the Bruins leading up to the Sun Bowl, which may indicate they are expected to play.

If both play, they’ll have the opportunity to build on their offensive success from this season against a defense that will have to overcome the loss of several players due to opt-outs.

UCLA ranks third in the country in total offense, averaging 507.8 yards per game, and ninth in scoring offense with 39.6 points per game.

Pitt (8-4 overall, 5-3 ACC) will enter the Sun Bowl ranked 16th in total defense, allowing 319.7 yards per game. The defense allowed 23.4 points per game.

“That’s a chess match that we have been talking about,” Kelly said. “Pat (Narduzzi) is a defensive head coach and they do such a great job with that scheme.

“Their players are really sound and they don’t really give up big plays. They are always where they’re supposed to be and they help each other really well so I think that’s one of the matchups to keep an eye out.”

Related Articles

College Sports |


No. 18 UCLA vs. Pitt in Sun Bowl: Who has the edge?

College Sports |


Game Day: College football’s big finish

College Sports |


UCLA defensive coordinator Bill McGovern back for Sun Bowl

College Sports |


Game Day: USC, UCLA football arm for a big battle

College Sports |


Swanson: UCLA’s Hayden Nelson, Clippers’ Reggie Jackson give gift of their time

Jake Bobo is UCLA’s leading receiver (54 catches for 789 yards and seven touchdowns in 12 games) and is one of many Bruin pass catchers who have been able to stretch the field.

Bobo, a transfer from Duke, will finish his first and only season with the Bruins against a Pitt defense he is familiar with from the ACC.

“They are good,” Bobo said. “They can take the ball away and sack the quarterback.”

For Pitt, defensive linemen Calijah Kancey, Deslin Alexandre, defensive back Brandon Hill and linebacker SirVocea Dennis have decided to sit out of the bowl game. Kancey was the ACC Defensive Player of the Year and a consensus All-American this season.

“I think the biggest strengths for Pitt is they have positional versatility and they’re a very well-coached team and a well-coached defense,” UCLA offensive lineman Jon Gaines II said. “They’ll have a wealth of experience regardless of the opt-outs.”

Offensive linemen Atonio Mafi and Gaines are also playing in their final UCLA game before participating in senior showcase games in 2023.

When Pitt has the ball 

The Panthers will take the field without leading passer Kedon Slovis, who opted out of the game after entering the transfer portal and committing to BYU.

Slovis has previous playing experience against UCLA as a former quarterback at USC.

Fifth-year senior quarterback Nick Patti played in just two games this season but has bowl game experience, having started the Peach Bowl last year after Kenny Pickett opted out of the game.

“I’m excited to get the start and help pull out a win,” Patti told reporters. “The bowl games are a little weird because you get a couple of weeks off. … I think having that experience last year was great.”

Kelly, defensive coordinator Bill McGovern and the defensive coaching staff have already evaluated the difference in Patti’s skill set compared to what they may have seen on film this season from Slovis.

Related Articles

College Sports |


No. 18 UCLA vs. Pitt in Sun Bowl: Who has the edge?

College Sports |


Game Day: College football’s big finish

College Sports |


UCLA defensive coordinator Bill McGovern back for Sun Bowl

College Sports |


Game Day: USC, UCLA football arm for a big battle

College Sports |


Swanson: UCLA’s Hayden Nelson, Clippers’ Reggie Jackson give gift of their time

“You always have to account for the quarterback and his ability to move,” Kelly said about Patti. “He’s a little different than Kedon and we understand that, so our defensive scheme will take that into account.”

UCLA’s defense will also have to prepare for Rodney Hammond Jr. instead of All-ACC first-team running back Israel Abanikanda.

Hammond has rushed for 84 carries for 366 total yards and three touchdowns this season. Pitt has also involved Hammond in the passing game (five catches for 65 yards).

McGovern will make his return to the coaches’ booth after missing the last five games for UCLA. He will be tasked with also drawing up a game plan that will allow the Bruins’ sack leader Laiatu Latu and the Murphy Twins (Grayson and Gabriel) to pressure a depleted offensive line in front of Patti and Hammond.

Share the Post:

Related Posts