PASADENA — Most of the talk around the Pac-12 this week was about Washington quarterback Michael Penix Jr., and how he was leading the nation’s top offense into the Rose Bowl against the Bruins. The other quarterback on the field Friday night had other thoughts.
In a battle of fifth-year quarterbacks leading unbeaten teams, Dorian Thompson-Robinson put on a show as UCLA beat No. 15 Washington, 40-32. The Bruins (5-0 overall, 2-0 Pac-12) improved to 5-0 for the first time since 2013, scored their first regular-season win against a Top-15 team since 2014 and should be a strong candidate to enter the Top 25 poll next week ahead of games against No. 12 Utah and No. 13 Oregon.
At the postgame presser, Thompson-Robinson’s voice was nearly gone. He made it clear: There was some extra motivation for him on Friday.
“We got to beat the best to be the best, and play the best to be the best,” Thompson-Robinson said. “And y’all say Washington is up there. Damn right I’m going full-go and I’m giving my all.”
Thompson-Robinson finished 24-of-33 passing for 315 yards with three touchdowns and added 53 yards rushing and another score on the ground. Running back Zach Charbonnet had 124 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries.
On Thompson-Robinson’s rushing touchdown, a 2-yarder that extended the Bruins’ lead to 33-10 in the third quarter, the quarterback made such a sudden stutter-step that two defenders for Washington (4-1, 1-1) collided with each other, remaining down at the goal line as UCLA celebrated an impending win.
“I just thought he was clutch,” Coach Chip Kelly said. “I have total confidence in everything that Dorian does.”
Because of a soft early schedule, very few people outside the Bruins’ locker room had a sense of how good UCLA was heading into Friday. But anyone who caught a glimpse of the score on ESPN is now aware, the Bruins intend to be a factor in the Pac-12 race.
“People were saying all week that we’re the worst 4-0 team out there and writing us off. I think my boys came here with a chip on their shoulder,” said Thompson-Robinson, who had the sixth 300-yard passing game of his career. “I think I told y’all on Monday, see if Washington can run with us, not the other way around.”
Penix, who entered the game leading the nation in passing yards, finished 33-of-48 for 345 yards but UCLA recorded its first safety in four years and forced two turnovers – all before halftime.
UCLA led 40-16 in the third quarter but Washington cut the deficit to one score with four minutes left. The Huskies capped a 93-yard, 12-play drive with a 9-yard touchdown pass from Penix to Rome Odunze.
Thompson-Robinson answered the late threat. He ran for a pair of first downs and then found Hudson Habermehl on a third down play on the ensuing possession to help UCLA run out the clock.
UCLA forced two turnovers in the first half – and the safety – which led to nine points. Laiatu Latu recorded the first sack of the season against Penix, forcing a 9-yard loss on a third down play in the second quarter that held the Huskies’ drive to a field goal.
The strong defensive start helped spark the offense. Thompson-Robinson picked apart the Huskies’ secondary, delivering two touchdown strikes to Jake Bobo and a third to Kam Brown.
Bobo had his best game in a UCLA uniform with six catches for 142 yards, perhaps entrenching himself as the team’s new top receiver. He credited the defense for putting the offense in favorable situations.
“When the offense sees an opportunity like we had tonight – when the defense is rolling and getting those guys off the field – it juices you up a little bit for sure,” Bobo said. “It’s definitely a motivational factor.”
Washington scored first on the opening drive, but it was all UCLA after it took advantage of a botched handoff by the Huskies that led to the safety.
“First drive was a bad start, but: Bend don’t break,” defensive back Stephan Blaylock said. “We didn’t break. We didn’t fold. That’s what I love about this team.”
Thompson-Robinson engineered an 11-play, 93-yard drive, capped by a Charbonnet touchdown, to give UCLA a 9-7 lead. It was the first time the Huskies had trailed all season.
The Bruins led 26-10 at halftime, swinging the momentum midway through the second quarter on an interception by Stephan Blaylock, who returned it to the 15-yard line. On the next play, Thompson found Brown open in the end zone to give UCLA a two-score lead.
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The two teams traded touchdowns on the first four possessions of the second half.
Kelly likes the way his team is building off of each victory. The Bruins have won eight consecutive games dating to last season – their longest unbeaten streak since 2005 and the second-longest current streak in the nation behind Clemson. UCLA has scored at least 40 points in six of those victories.
“There’s a resiliency to this group,” Kelly said. “They’ve been through a lot. We’ve been fortunate to be on the pretty good end of the score the last couple of games. Each week they get a little bit better, and each week has new challenges depending on who you play.”
UCLA will enjoy watching Saturday’s slate of games knowing it already has a win this week. But it’ll just be one day of relaxation.
“And then we have the defending Pac-12 champions coming in here in Utah, so that will get your eyes up getting ready for that one,” Kelly said.