Such a festive atmosphere has been lacking at UCLA for years.
The Bruins have had five consecutive losing seasons, their attendance dropped in 2019 to its lowest point since moving to the Rose Bowl in 1982 — barely 40,000 per game — and interest in the program had dwindled to the point where six sections are seating. in the north end zone were covered with sails. To boost the crowds on Saturday, UCLA gave away thousands of tickets to UCLA students, youth soccer programs, high school students and veterans.
The crowd, swelled by the freebies and announced at 6:123 p.m., saw what could be the beginning of a much-anticipated awakening under Coach Chip Kelly. Patience was a bit less with Kelly, who appeared to have a cheat code with his quick strike in Oregon before leaving for the NFL.
His record at UCLA stands at 12-21, and the athletics department was more than $40 million in the red — even before taking into account last season, which was played without in-person spectators.
“This is the year it has to happen,” Troy Aikman, who was on the search committee that landed Kelly a $23.3 million five-year contract, said on the field before the game. “There has to be progress this year. Now is the time.”
Aikman was one of about 150 former Bruins who attended a private memorial service Friday in Beverly Hills for longtime coach Terry Donahue, who died in July. Donahue was the epitome of the Gutty Little Bruin, a 190-pound defensive lineman who helped the Bruins win the Rose Bowl as a player and then coached the team to four more appearances and three more wins in the game.
He would have liked Saturday’s performance.
Mixing up his cover, the Bruins’ defense sent an assortment of rushes at Johnson, leaving him battered and at times stunned, thwarting a running attack that Orgeron admitted had become predictable. (It didn’t help that a top defender, John Emery Jr., was one of three LSU players who held out for academic reasons.)
On the other side of the ball, using clever schemes, the Bruins repeatedly cut LSU with their two best players. Returning Michigan transfer Zach Charbonnet had 117 yards rushing and one touchdown on 11 carries, along with 35 yards receiving — an audition that certainly caught the attention of eight NFL scouts watching from the press box.