UCLA

UCLA vs. Washington College Football Week 5: Postgame Takeaways

Breaking down the most notable storylines that came out of the Bruins’ win over the Huskies on Friday.

The Bruins came into Friday night as a home underdog, and they left as still-unbeaten victors.

UCLA football (5-0, 2-0 Pac-12) bested No. 15 Washington (4-1, 1-1 Pac-12) 40-32 at the Rose Bowl on Friday. The Bruins got everything they wanted on offense, and despite allowing the Huskies to crawl back into it in the fourth quarter, the defense put up one of its best performances of the year.

These are three of the biggest takeaways, narratives and questions to come out of Friday’s game.

For now, these Bruins are for real

A lot of the talk over the past week has been about how UCLA’s 4-0 record didn’t mean much. They were heavily favored to win their first four games, and that’s exactly what they did, so it was difficult for many to extrapolate the Bruins’ success against the Bowling Greens and Colorados of the world to the rest of their Pac-12 slate.

As it turns out, UCLA was a completely legitimate 4-0 team, and now sits at 5-0, controlling its own destiny.

The Bruins did have a few shortcomings in the secondary that allowed the Huskies back into it, and their spotty fourth down conversion success was not a welcome sight, but no team is perfect. For 90% of the game, UCLA was in total control, getting whatever it wanted on offense and making Michael Penix Jr.’s night a living hell.

And this wasn’t against a bottom-tier team or an FCS opponent – this was against a top-15 team in the country, a fellow undefeated and a conference rival on national TV, no less.

UCLA absolutely rose to the occasion Friday, and they proved they are a true contender in the Pac-12. Putting up 500 yards of offense and severely limiting the nation’s leading passer is no small feat, and the Bruins accomplished both at the Rose Bowl this weekend.

Does that mean they are absolutely going to beat No. 12 Utah or No. 13 Oregon? Not necessarily, no. But whereas UCLA would have entered those contests as a massive underdog just 24 hours ago, now they have proved to be equals with the rest of the Pac-12’s top teams. 

The rest of the Bruins’ season could go in any number of directions, but for right now, there is some serious, tangible hope that this team can turn in a genuinely special performance the rest of the way.

Dorian Thompson-Robinson a dark horse Heisman contender

Five years into his career at UCLA, Dorian Thompson-Robinson has finally arrived.

Honestly, for those really paying attention, he probably arrived sometime last season, and he has been a contender for best quarterback in the Pac-12 for three years running now. The former top recruit has quietly been putting up big numbers and extended highlight reels since 2020 – Friday night just signaled a true coming out party on the national stage.

Throwing for 315 yards is impressive, especially when it comes on 72.7% completion, and even more so when you add in 53 yards on the ground. Four total touchdowns may be just another day at the office for Thompson-Robinson, but when you add in the glitz and glamour of his hurdle and goal line side step that garnered millions of views online, it makes those numbers look even better.

Maybe the play of the game didn’t even show up on the stat sheet. Thompson-Robinson had a pass batted up in the air at the line of scrimmage, and just as a defensive lineman camped under it for an interception, the quarterback came sprinting in and speared him right in the chest to break it up.

Of course, his stats look pretty good too.

Thompson-Robinson has gone four consecutive starts without an interception – the longest streak in his career – and he has now thrown 137 straight passes without a pick. Considering that was one of the biggest knocks on him as an underclassman, that makes the turnaround all the more impressive.

Through five games, Thompson-Robinson has thrown for 1,211 yards and 11 touchdowns with just one interception on 74.3% completion and a 171.4 passer rating. The dual-threat passer has also rushed for 223 yards and three touchdowns. Over the next few weeks, Thompson-Robinson will set UCLA’s all-time career records for total yards, total touchdowns and passing touchdowns, and an elite end to the season could even mean he set the school’s passing yards record.

The quarterback of an undefeated Power Five team will always be a Heisman option, especially when their numbers are as gaudy as DTR’s. He has the numbers, highlights, juice and veteran savvy to really make waves this year – that much is certain.

In reality, Thompson-Robinson is a total longshot for Heisman and there is only a minuscule chance he brings home the most coveted individual hardware in college football this season. But the fact that UCLA is nearly halfway through its season and Thompson-Robinson is still one of the 20 or so players still in the conversation is an accomplishment that shouldn’t go overlooked.

The fans showed out, even if the numbers don’t show it

The lack of fans at the Rose Bowl has been a concern for years, and record failures in 2022 have sparked countless arguments, debates and what-ifs over the past month or so.

Even if drawing 41,343 fans won’t erase those takes completely, it was an improved environment in Pasadena on Friday night.

The packed student section looked and sounded raucous, and the noise in the stadium even forced some false starts and early timeouts out of Washington. That’s the kind of homefield advantage the Bruins haven’t boasted this year, and they’re going to need it if this kind of success is going to continue.

It may not be the juiciest storyline, and its impact on the game is certainly tough to make tangible. Still, its importance is paramount.

Safety Stephan Blaylock noted the crowd’s energy and how it helped the defense throughout the game. Players care. Recruits care. The national media cares.

If they can all see that this UCLA fanbase is not a sleeping giant, but rather a living one, the program will benefit in more ways than one.

Again, hitting two-thirds capacity in a historic stadium with giant tarps knocking out roughly 30,000 seats is nothing to throw a parade for. It was just a pleasant surprise and an important factor that stood out Friday and could stand out more as the year goes on.

UCLA fans show up if their team is winning. After beating LSU and jumping into the top 25 for the first time in four years last season, the Bruins drew nearly 51,000 against Fresno State.

A primetime win over Washington should do the same thing, especially when the next game is against No. 12 Utah at the Rose Bowl on Saturday.

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