The template was unveiled in the late-night quiet of Stanford Stadium.
Pair steady, efficient play at quarterback with a punishing rushing attack and a steely defense. Maybe that’s all No. 23 UCLA (5-2 overall, 2-2 Pac-12) needs to win the rest of its games on a schedule that includes only one more ranked team, the rapidly crumbling No. 24 USC Trojans.
Ethan Garbers filled all those requirements at quarterback Saturday during the Bruins’ methodical 42-7 victory over Stanford. Making his first start since the season opener, the redshirt junior was poised and didn’t rush throws while patiently scanning the field for open receivers. When he couldn’t find any, or the pocket collapsed under pressure, he took off and ran.
Those runs resulted in 51 yards to go with the 240 passing yards he totaled while completing 20 of 28 passes. Garbers threw for two touchdowns and did not have a pass intercepted in his first action at quarterback since appearing in UCLA's rout of North Carolina Central more than a month earlier.
“Him just taking ownership of the offense and what-not, he took it like he was there ever since Day 1,” tight end Hudson Habermehl said. “Him being able to take on that role and lead the offense and do what he did, it’s impressive.”
It was practically mistake-free football for a veteran given a midseason reprieve. Was it enough to win him the starting job for the rest of the season?
Predictably, coach Chip Kelly would not divulge his plans Monday, saying only that he had three quarterbacks who were good enough to start at the Power Five level in Garbers, freshman Dante Moore and redshirt junior Collin Schlee. Schlee returned to practice Monday from the apparent sternum injury he suffered earlier this month against Oregon State.
Kelly said he only made the quarterback switch because Moore had been “banged up” early last week, giving Garbers more practice repetitions that allowed him to earn the start. The coach added that Moore also played “really good toward the end of the week himself [in practice], so we’re pretty confident in what we have at quarterback right now.”
Moore thrived in a cameo role against Stanford, completing four of five passes and running for 11 yards in his only carry, before giving way to backups Chase Griffin and Justyn Martin. Every quarterback looked capable and confident while playing against one of the worst defenses in college football.
But that should not diminish Garbers' ability to stabilize what had been a shaky offense. Moore’s three consecutive games with a pick-six — albeit against much stronger defenses — momentarily left the Bruins with a deflated feeling to go with a losing record in conference play.
Now they might just have found their winning formula.
Kicker Blake Glessner arrived at UCLA on scholarship as a transfer from Montana State, making him something of an outlier.
Kelly has not prioritized recruiting scholarship kickers.
J.J. Molson was already on scholarship upon Kelly’s arrival, and Nicholas Barr-Mira spent three seasons as a walk-on before being awarded a scholarship.
Glessner has handled kickoffs and holding duties while walk-on R.J. Lopez has become the field-goal specialist. Lopez got off to a strong start, making his first three field goals. But he’s missed four of his last seven, including both attempts against Stanford. Two of the recent misses have been blocked.
“We had a couple protection issues inside that we need to shore up,” Kelly said of the misses against Stanford. “They got tips, so we gotta get that straightened out.”
A ‘tarp sellout’
Can a stadium that seats 80,616 be sold out with considerably fewer fans?
Yes, according to UCLA.
The school has dubbed its game against Colorado (4-3 overall, 1-3 Pac-12) on Saturday afternoon at the Rose Bowl a sellout even though only four of the 12 tarps that cover seats in the end zones are set to be removed. That will leave capacity at 70,865.
Whatever it’s called, the crowd should easily top the 43,705 who attended UCLA’s opener against Coastal Carolina, giving the Bruins their biggest home draw of the season.
The Bruins will wear light blue throwback uniforms against Colorado to honor their 1954 national championship team. “Pretty cool colors,” Habermehl said, “so we’re all looking forward to it.” … UCLA’s game at Arizona on Nov. 4 will be televised by FS1 beginning at 7:30 p.m. PDT.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.