April 24, 2024

It was a goof of a first half, host Rob Gronkowski dancing with his mouth full of spiked whipped cream before sprinting down the field in a race with a dog.

It was another Chip Kelly collapse, his UCLA football team stumbling against another depleted opponent, trailing Boise State by nine points under an avalanche of flags and failures.

For more than an hour Saturday, the third annual LA Bowl in a half-empty SoFi Stadium was a Bruins mess.

Then, Bruins magic.

It still exists. Kelly still can summon it. His players still can thrive on it. A season still can end with it.

Just when it looked like the entire UCLA football program was crumbling around Kelly’s shaky feet, his kids showed up for him, played smart for him, shut up his critics, covered his back, and mounted a thrilling second-half comeback to defeat Boise State, 35-22.

Talk about a giant, powder-blue sigh of relief …

Those UCLA officials who refused to fire Kelly despite overwhelming dismissal demands from fans — and this columnist — are at least temporarily happy they didn’t.

Those UCLA players who thought they soon would be playing for a new coach after they lost three of their previous four games clearly are happy they’re not.

And Kelly’s damning 34-34 record in his first six seasons before Saturday? Those numbers have been replaced by a single digit — eight.

This was their eighth win of the season, making Kelly only the fourth coach to lead UCLA to at least eight wins in three straight seasons, joining Jim Mora, Terry Donahue and Red Sanders.

That might not be good enough to predict Bruins success next season in the Big Ten, but it’s good enough for officials to justify keeping Kelly employed and — who knows? — perhaps even good enough to sell recruits and garner the name, image and likeness endorsement money required to sign them.

Yeah, a lot happened in that second half.

“Coach Kelly says all the time, life is hard and if you can find a way to get through these battles and win those battles, it’s going to help you out in the long run,” said quarterback Ethan Garbers, who came off the bench to replace an injured Collin Schlee and threw for 152 yards and two touchdowns to lead the second-half comeback.

Life has been plenty hard for Kelly lately, with the regular season ending on a terrible loss to California after an inspirational win against USC, with the onset of all sorts of madness.

They lost their star defensive coordinator, D’Anton Lynn, to USC in an embarrassing defection by a bright young coach. They also lost quarterback Dante Moore to the transfer portal, and if a five-star recruit doesn’t think he can develop under a reputed offensive genius like Kelly … what does that say about Kelly?

UCLA quarterback Ethan Garbers scrambles for a first down while getting chased by Boise State players.

UCLA quarterback Ethan Garbers scrambles for a first down during the second half against Boise State during the LA Bowl at SoFi Stadium on Saturday.

(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

That was a lot of baggage to lug into a half-filled stadium for a three-year-old bowl game, and the weight on Kelly at halftime surely was enormous, and then …

His season ended with him floating through Inglewood, celebrating with his players on a midfield stage, happily wearing a corny victory chain while his players joyfully raised a corny victory belt.

Then, later, from my seat in the front row of a press conference, I had to ask him.

Does this win vindicate his season and his program?

He could have answered with anger. He could have glared at me and scolded. He could have shown all sorts of nasty emotions in addressing a columnist who publicly called for his firing.

He did none of those things. He was classy, he was thoughtful, he was illuminating.

“Nice to see you, Bill,” he said with a laugh before dismissing the talk of vindication. “No, because we don’t pay attention to that. These players can tell you that. We talk about being the most prepared and the least distracted. If we did pay attention to that, we would be distracted.”

He said he doesn’t read the criticism but believes it can be hard for his players, so he uses it to teach them.

“It’s tough,” he said. “I’m older and so that stuff really doesn’t bother me. I’m not a social media guy, I can’t do that. I feel for our players at times because what used to be the information age, we’re not in the information age, we’re in the information overload age. And I think you have to really kind of build a moat around your mind and allow the right things in, and I think these guys have stayed the course through everything and just watch their performance today, I think they’ve really done that, you know.”

UCLA receiver J. Michael Sturdivant celebrates with teammates after scoring a touchdown against Boise State

UCLA receiver J. Michael Sturdivant celebrates with teammates after scoring a touchdown against Boise State Saturday during the LA Bowl at SoFi Stadium.

(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Kelly said handling all this adversity, both for him and the players, is about more than just football.

“This is life,” he said. “What these guys showed today, I’m really proud of them. I’m really proud of how they responded and that’s what a competitor does. A competitor responds. A noncompetitor reacts and this group does it every single day. Did the ball bounce our way every single time, no, but that’s football, that’s what it is, but I think as a football coach, you have to teach life lessons and sometimes those life lessons are hard and you have to go through them as a group and we did, but the performance today by this group was special and it’s a truly special group.”

How special? Their comeback Saturday began in the third quarter with a frightening thud, a 44-yard run by Schlee that ended when he banged his head on the turf and had to leave the game. But Garbers, who had been sidelined after suffering an arm injury early against Cal, was ready, and everything changed.

Three plays later, Garbers hit Kyle Ford on a five-yard touchdown pass to eventually close the gap to 16-14.

On the next Bruins series, Garbers connected with J. Michael Sturdivant on a 39-yard pass that was completed with Sturdivant’s lunging grab at the Boise four-yard line. Three plays later, T.J. Harden scampered around the left side and into the end zone to eventually give UCLA a 21-15 lead.

On the ensuing UCLA possession, Garbers hit Sturdivant across the middle for a 41-yard gain that set up Harden’s 14-yard touchdown run and an eventual 28-16 UCLA lead that basically cemented it.

In the end, most of the sizeable Bruins crowd celebrated, but not everyone.

As Kelly walked off the field, a solitary fan stood near the UCLA bench facing Kelly while holding up a giant cardboard sign.

“Fire Chip” it read.

Kelly was too busy patting backs and shaking hands to notice.

Bingo Blitz Credits Farming Strategies: Success Tips
Coin Master Spins Farming Strategies: Insights from Pros
genshin impact redeem codes january 2023 mobile matters
Get Free Zems on ZEPETO: Tips and Tricks
match masters arena 7 funny game like paper clash royale what
TikTok Coin Generator Safety Tips
Unlimited Gems in Brawl Stars: Myth or Reality?
new cheats dragon city free gems mod generator freemind
free family island hack cheats unlimited rubies and energy
how to get diamonds in hay day tips tricks youtube
tutorial how i get unlimited diamonds in litmatch app youtube
myths of moonrise codes september 2022 g7r
Boost Your TikTok Influence with Free Coins
Unlocking TikTok Coins: Insider Techniques
Comment obtenir légalement et rapidement des pièces gratuites sur TikTok
Maximiza tus Ganancias de Monedas TikTok con Estos Consejos
Coin Master Free Spin Generators: Fact or Fiction?
Insights from Pros: Coin Master Free Spins Farming Strategies
Avakin Life Avacoins Farming Demystified

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *