LOS ANGELES – Having covered the UCLA football team as beat writer for the Los Angeles Daily News from 2009-2012 and sporadically for other publications ever since, I can confidently say that I’ve never seen UCLA look like it did on Saturday in a program-defining win over the 11th-ranked Utah Utes.

UCLA has been good at times, even bordering on great.

UCLA has been talented often, more talented than you’d expect, given the results.

UCLA has delivered on occasion, but somehow always found a way to come up empty when it mattered most.

There would be no stubbed toe on Saturday, no squandered opportunity. The Bruins did not simply win on Saturday, they dominated every facet of the game against the defending Pac-12 champions. They were quick and agile and tough and decisive. They were clutch and ready and active and creative.

They didn’t just look like the potential Pac-12 champions. They looked hungrier for a lot more.

And in the process, they resurrected the Chip Kelly Brand in one week.


To be fair, maybe it’s been nine weeks.

Saturday’s win over the Utes was UCLA’s ninth straight dating back to last season. That is when the tide started to turn on the Chip Kelly era, when he started to live up to his lofty name and his loftier contract.

When he was hired by UCLA in November 2017, his arrival was met with muted enthusiasm. One contingent of Bruin backers celebrated as if UCLA had already won three Rose Bowls. They were convinced Kelly would be the Kelly of old, the Oregon Kelly, the one who led the Ducks to a 46-7 record in four years, with two Rose Bowl appearances (one win, one loss), a Fiesta Bowl win and a national title game appearance.

Even more importantly for those fans, Kelly’s hiring showed the Bruins’ powers-that-be were willing to break out the checkbook and get the best available coach on the market.

Was he, though?

Before UCLA, Kelly had been laughed out of the NFL after a four-year stint, a 2-14 record in his lone season in San Francisco in 2016 turning the opinion of the court against him. For many Bruin fans, he was damaged goods.

And those Bruin fans reacted with almost a bemused indifference when he led UCLA to 3-9, 4-8, and 3-4 records in his first three seasons in Westwood.

Even an 8-4 record last year did little to appease them. Three of the Bruins’ four losses last year came at the Rose Bowl, which got progressively emptier. A 62-33 win over USC, the team’s biggest since their sole national title season of 1954, did little to excite the fan base — the following week against Cal, no small rivalry itself, UCLA only drew 36,000-plus at the Rose Bowl.

When Kelly signed a three-year contract extension in January, his re-signing was met with mixed results.

He entered this season with a lot to prove.

In one two-week stretch, he proved it.


We live in a society that does not reward patience. It is no longer a virtue, but a sucker’s bet. Why wait for a fine wine to age when you can chug down a liter of Boone’s Farm tonight?

Those UCLA fans who stuck with Kelly were rewarded on Saturday night, precisely eight days after getting their first bite of the caramel apple.

But unlike the Bruins’ impressive 40-32 win over then-No. 15 Washington last Friday night at the Rose Bowl, they left no doubt on Saturday against the Utes.

Washington put up two scores late against UCLA to trim what was a 40-16 margin and turn it into a competitive game; the Utes scored on two consecutive 75-yard drives in the late third and early fourth quarters, but the Bruins responded with a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns to ice the game.

Against the Huskies, UCLA wilted at times. Against the Utes, the Bruins looked like grown men, imposing their will at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball.

I’ve seen UCLA’s long list of talented skill players break off big runs and connect on long balls before, but this felt entirely different. This was not Johnathan Franklin squeaking through a hole and then hitting the jets with his breakaway speed. This wasn’t Brett Hundley or Cade McNown uncorking one deep.

This was a whole new level of strength and fortitude for the Bruins. Most importantly, a completely new level of certainty.

At no point did UCLA appear emotionally overmatched by the defending league champions. The Bruins were steady in a way rarely seen before.

“The cool part about this group is that our goal is to be the most prepared team and the least distracted team,” Kelly said after the game. “I don’t think that any of us are governed by the fear of what other people say. It is a tough society nowadays, with likes and everybody, do they like this or do they like that? Just go play football and that’s the fun part. The best part about football is football, and our kids really enjoy playing football and that is what you saw on display today.”

With a bye week followed by UCLA’s stiffest test so far — a road date in rollicking Autzen Stadium against the No. 12-ranked Oregon Ducks — all eyes will quickly be descending on Westwood. Kelly’s task is to keep UCLA singularly focused on the task at hand.

“It’s not about attention,” he told reporters after the game. “The thing that makes me so happy is that our players have embraced the process and what they’re seeing is what they are getting out of it. That is the joy that you gain from it. When I watch our players have success, I see the smiles on their faces, I watch that celebration in the locker room, those are the things that really get us going as people and are the reasons that we get up in the morning and go to work. But for accolades and what is written in the newspaper — and I know that’s what you guys do and I’m not slighting that — I don’t really pay any attention to that. And if I preach to our players that we should be the most prepared and the least distracted, then I can’t get caught up with that stuff.

“I am really good at selective ignorance and there are just a lot of things that I don’t pay attention to.”


After a second straight win over a top-15 opponent and with the squad off to a 6-0 start, the Bruins are about to find themselves in the national crosshairs for the first time in almost a decade.

In 2014, the Bruins found themselves in the top 10 three different times, faltering each time. They opened the season at No. 7 but struggled in a Week 1 win at lowly Virginia, dropping to No. 11. After beating No. 15 Arizona State 62-27 in Week 4 and moving up from 11th to eighth, the Bruins lost to Utah by two at home. Finally back in the Top 10 in Week 13 after beating the 24th-ranked Trojans, the ninth-ranked Bruins lost the season finale at home to Stanford, 31-10.

Back then it was Hundley who helped lift the Bruins to heights they hadn’t reached in years.

Now it’s Dorian Thompson-Robinson, who broke Hundley’s career touchdown mark on Saturday and continued his fantastic season. DTR now finds himself square in the Heisman race after throwing for another four touchdowns and running for another against the Utes, giving him 23 total touchdowns (19 passing) and just two interceptions.

He entered the game as the Pac-12’s highest-rated quarterback… and then scored a 236.2 rating against Utah after completing 18-of-23 passes for 299 yards. His completion percentage is up above 75% for the year.

Thompson-Robinson’s progress has mirrored Kelly’s at UCLA, and the two of them have the chance to lift the Bruins to even greater heights.

“I definitely wanted this one,” Thompson-Robinson said after the game. “We all know the history between UCLA and Utah. We haven’t beaten them since 2016, the point differential has been crazy. We knew the beast at hand coming in here. And I think my boys went outside and went to work.”