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2021 Preview: UCLA Bruins

By Lance Tominaga, ESPN Honolulu Web Editor.

The 2021 University of Hawaii football season is now fewer than 40 days away. For the fourth time in five seasons, the Rainbow Warriors will open their schedule with a road game, this time against the UCLA Bruins of the Pac-12 Conference. The two teams last met on Sept. 9, 2017, when the Bruins easily handled UH, 56-23, at the Rose Bowl. Prior to that, Hawaii and UCLA only played each other twice, in 1935 and again in 1939. Both were losses. On the other hand, second-year UH coach Todd Graham knows what it takes to beat the Bruins: In his six seasons as Arizona State’s head coach, Graham beat UCLA three times.

Here’s a quick look at the UCLA Bruins:

Date: Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021, 9:30 a.m. HST

Location: Rose Bowl, Pasadena, CA

UCLA Head Coach: Chip Kelly (4th season, 10-21 record)

2020 Record: 3-4 (5th in Pac-12 South Division)

♦ Although the Bruins have yet to post a winning season under Chip Kelly, the program appears to be on the upswing, particularly on offense. In 2019, UCLA averaged 26 points per game. In 2020, the Bruins upped that average to 35 points in their seven games. They jumped 70 spots in the rushing category, going from averaging 154 yards on the ground in 2019 to 224 in 2020.

♦ UCLA returns nine offensive starters and 10 on defense. Also, the Bruins’ latest recruiting class has been ranked 31st in the country, so this should be the most talented team of Kelly’s tenure.

♦ Might the Bruins be looking past Hawaii? UCLA is the heavy favorite (-16.5 according to the latest line) to beat the Rainbow Warriors. Also, after hosting UH, UCLA welcomes LSU to the Rose Bowl the very next Saturday.

♦ All four of UCLA’s losses in 2020 were by six or fewer points, including a 3-point road loss to No. 11 Oregon and a 5-point loss to No. 16 USC.

♦ One Bruin to watch is QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson. The 6’1, 210-lb. senior passed for 1,120 yards and 12 TDs last season, earning Second-Team All-Pac-12 honors. Against Colorado, Thompson-Robinson became the first UCLA player to pass for 300+ yards and rush for 100+ yards in one game.

♦ Watch for running back Zach Charbonnet, a Michigan transfer who is expected to lead the Bruins’ ground attack. In his freshman season as a Wolverine, Charbonnet ran for 726 yards and a school freshman record 11 TDs. Kelly has been quoted as saying Charbonnet is “everything you thought he was, coming out. He’s been a huge impact player for us right now.”

♦ UCLA’s defense has been a shortcoming under Kelly. Last season, the Bruins surrendered 30.1 points and 274 passing yards per game. The team’s defensive unit is now among the most experienced in the Pac-12, however. One player to watch is linebacker Caleb Johnson, who led the Bruins in 2020 with 5.5 sacks.

♦ The UCLA coaching staff has a very prominent Hawaii connection. Former Radford High School and University of Hawaii defensive back Brian Norwood is the Bruins’ assistant head coach, defensive passing game coordinator and defensive backs coach. Norwood played at UH from 1984 to ’87.

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