UCLA No.13 stunned by return of Jake Haener and Fresno State

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UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson lingered on the pitch after his last pass was knocked down, as if he didn’t know where to go or what to do.

His team had spat and purred at life only to die off dramatically. The Bruins’ race for national notoriety had crashed head-first into a red and white wall on Saturday night at the Rose Bowl, likely sending them back into the shadow of college football.

“Definitely in shock,” Thompson-Robinson would later say when asked how he felt after UCLA’s No. 13 40-37 loss to Fresno State. “Obviously heartbroken.”

There was a slow start and a furious comeback. A Bruins’ defense that couldn’t stop forced two fumbles in the span of a minute and a half midway through the fourth quarter, reviving a breathless crowd of 50,698.

Some early stumbles gave way to late exploits for Thompson-Robinson, whose 15-yard touchdown pass to Kyle Philips with 54 seconds left gave the Bruins a 37-33 lead and left them on the verge of complete the game out of conference undefeated.

All UCLA (2-1) had to do to get there, after the clock did not move at kick-off, was to keep Fresno State (3-1) out of the end zone after the Bulldogs have taken over on their own 25-yard line.

“You look, 75 yards,” said Bruins coach Chip Kelly, “it’s a tough job. “

UCLA couldn’t make it difficult enough for Jake Haener.

The Fresno State quarterback, who skillfully countered every move the Bruins’ defense made, completed five of six assists in his last practice while avoiding constant pressure. Haener totaled the 75 yards his team needed, including a 13-yard touchdown to Jalen Cropper in the front corner of the end zone with 14 seconds left that sent Bulldogs fans into spasms of joy.

“We bombed him, we played zero, we rushed in to three and dropped it all,” said Kelly, who called Haener’s performance, which included 455 passing yards and two touchdowns, said. ‘be as good as he had seen a quarterback do in his coaching career. “I think we threw the whole kitchen sink on this young man and he took care of everything.”

UCLA’s chance for a miracle finish died after Thompson-Robinson completed a pass to reach the Bruins’ 39-yard line. He soared into the backfield in the last play of the game, looking for an opening in defense, before throwing a pass that was knocked back to the goal line.

Thompson-Robinson’s 278 passing yards and three touchdowns weren’t enough on a night the Bulldogs challenged the quarterback to beat him by focusing their defensive game plan on the UCLA running game. Fresno State limited running backs Brittain Brown and Zach Charbonnet to a combined 42 rushing yards and 2.8 yards per carry.

Fresno State celebrates their 40-37 victory after a UCLA Hail Mary assist in the dying seconds failed to connect.

(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

“They loaded the box and gave us some funky looks to get us out of our running game,” said Thompson-Robinson, who was UCLA’s top rusher with 67 yards on 13 carries.

Everything in the game seemed a little crazy.

Kelly had joked earlier this week that it would be staged in prime time in the Philippines, even if it debuted at bedtime on the West Coast.
The way UCLA played for the first 3½ quarters, the Bruins might have wished it had started while everyone was asleep.

The Bruins were dominated at every level, unlike the team that had won their first two games convincingly to rise to the national standings for the first time in four years.

UCLA coach Chip Kelly opens up about the Bruins’ 40-37 loss to Fresno State at the Rose Bowl on Saturday.

They couldn’t run the ball, failed to hit open receivers, and were shot offside twice on punters, which led to Fresno State’s first downs. Thompson-Robinson also fumbled over a game he wasn’t even touched in, the ball slipping out of his hand as he leaned his arm back to throw.

“They did a lot of plays tonight,” Kelly said, “but we also gave them a few plays and these are things we need to correct if we are to end up in the ‘W’ column.”

UCLA seemed to be doing it improbably, turning the momentum in their favor with two fumble recoveries.

With Fresno State trying to maintain a 26-24 lead midway through the fourth quarter, UCLA freshman cornerback Devin Kirkwood was one of three defensemen who invaded the Bulldogs’ Josh Kelly after catching a pass. . Kirkwood hit the ball and Bruins linebacker Jordan Genmark Heath recovered at the Fresno State 18-yard line.

UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson talks about the Bruins’ 40-37 loss to Fresno State on Saturday at the Rose Bowl.

Three games later, Charbonnet crossed the goal line for a three-yard touchdown that gave his team a 30-26 advantage. UCLA were unable to increase their lead when their two-point conversion failed.

Bruins linebacker Carl Jones had triggered the comeback a minute and a half earlier when he snatched the ball out of Haener’s hands for a fumble that was recovered by fellow linebacker Myles Jackson.
Thompson-Robinson converted the occasion, connecting with Philips in the end zone for a 42-yard touchdown that brought the Bruins down to 26-24 with eight minutes left.

Fresno State’s focus on stopping the run saw Philips win head-to-head encounters while capturing seven passes for 113 yards and two touchdowns. UCLA receiver Kam Brown provided a good addition with five catches for 111 yards and a touchdown.

Unfortunately for the Bruins, their high school was also bloated. Defensive back Qwuantrezz Knight attributed some of UCLA’s struggles to pre-game nervousness. At halftime, Haener had made more passes (21) than the Bruins had made in offensive plays (16). The Bulldogs then held a 23-10 lead, allowing them to rush into the locker room like conquering heroes in front of pockets of fans who showered them with applause.

UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson hints at a tackle attempt by Fresno State linebacker Tyson Maeva.

UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson hints at a tackle attempt by Fresno State linebacker Tyson Maeva in the second half on Saturday.

(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

A similar scene unfolded after the game, with Fresno State players flooding the field to celebrate their fourth straight win over the Bruins as Thompson-Robinson turned in anguish. A few UCLA teammates approached with words of comfort that might bring little comfort.

In the locker room, there was talk of not letting that loss define the Bruins, as all of their goals have remained intact with the Pac-12 Conference play starting next week against Stanford.

“Being Bruins means we’re very resilient,” Knight said. “We take a punch in the face, we know how to get up. That was the main thing I said to the guys in the locker room. … We’re just ready to get back to work and show the country what we’re made of.

After looking momentarily ready for prime time, what UCLA revealed on Saturday wasn’t quite as flattering.


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