Pac-12 preview: Will the UCLA Bruins be motivated by the hype generated by crosstown rival USC?
It’s as if everybody has forgotten that UCLA crushed USC last season 62-33 at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum
In the Battle of Los Angeles, USC has been generating considerable attention, thanks to its splashy hire of Lincoln Riley and the addition of a spate of high-profile transfers.
Meanwhile, crosstown at UCLA, things have been relatively quiet. Coach Chip Kelly, who had been on the hot seat, received a contract extension and now enters his fifth season at the helm.
The Bruins are used to being overshadowed by the glitz and glamour of the Trojans in football. But it’s as if everybody has forgotten that UCLA crushed USC last season 62-33 at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
Will all the hype about USC serve as a motivator for UCLA this season after the Bruins posted an 8-4 record a year ago?
UCLA hasn’t won a Pac-12 South title since 2012.
Kelly seems oblivious to all the noise and flash surrounding USC. He continues to go about his business.
Expectations were high when the Bruins hired Kelly but those have yet to be realized. Could UCLA contend for the Pac-12 title this fall? Last year, it led the Pac-12 in scoring offense, 36.5 points per game.
The Bruins return quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson, who completed 62% of his passes for 2,409 yards with 21 touchdowns and six interceptions in 2021 and opted to come back for a fifth season.
DTR missed the Utah game last year after suffering an arm injury the previous week against Oregon.
“He has a ton of reps under his belt that he has in his catalog in the back of his brain,” Kelly said. “Like, ‘I’ve been in this situation before and this is what happened.’
“He’s displayed great leadership with all the younger guys. To have the quarterback really be a leader and coming back for Year 5 has really been huge for us.”
Also back is running back Zach Charbonnet, who rushed for 1,100 yards and 13 TDs.
“They’re both great leaders,” Kelly said of Thompson-Robinson and Charbonnet. “We were just so happy that they came back.”
But can the Bruin offensive line do its job? UCLA must replace three linemen, and it lost its two leaders in receiving, tight ends Greg Dulcich and Kyle Phillips.
But the Bruins did add Duke transfer wide receiver Jake Bobo, who caught 126 passes for 1,448 yards and three touchdowns with the Blue Devils.
While UCLA should be strong offensively, there are questions on the defensive side of the ball. With only three returning starters, the Bruins will have a different look in the fall.
But that could be a good thing — UCLA ranked No. 107 nationally in pass defense in 2021. Its pass rush struggled as well, but maybe the hiring of former Utah player Chad Kauha’aha’a will help.
Kauha’aha’a has spent time as an assistant at Utah, Oregon State, Wisconsin, USC and UNLV.
UCLA also brought in twin brothers Gabriel and Grayson Murphy out of the transfer portal, a pair of edge rushers who played for three seasons at North Texas.
“They’ve made a big impact,” Kelly said of the Murphy brothers.
The Bruins also have a new defensive coordinator, Bill McGovern, who spent the 2021 season as the linebackers coach with the Chicago Bears.
“We feel comfortable about where we are defensively right now,” Kelly said.
Will it be enough to outshine crosstown rival USC this fall?
2021 record: 8-4 (6-3 Pac-12).
Sept. 3 Bowling Green
Sept. 10 Alabama State
Sept. 17 South Alabama
Sept. 24 @ Colorado
Sept. 30 Washington
Oct. 8 Utah
Oct. 22 @ Oregon
Oct. 29 Stanford
Nov. 5 @ Arizona State
Nov. 12 Arizona
Nov. 19 USC
Nov. 25 @ California