A year later, “unavailable” was finally decoded.
UCLA coach Chip Kelly said he did not hold out players against an overmatched Football Championship Series opponent last September because of load management but because of injuries.
The topic came up because the No. 24 Bruins (2-0) are facing another FCS opponent Saturday when North Carolina Central (2-0) comes to the Rose Bowl. The Eagles can expect to face all of UCLA’s top players, according to Kelly, and if things go well for the Bruins, a lot of reserves as well.
“Load management, that’s an NBA term,” Kelly said Monday. “We’ve got 12 games a year — there’s no load management in college football, at least not in this program.”
Of course, Kelly could have avoided unnecessary speculation had he more directly addressed the issue a year ago. Asked immediately after UCLA’s 45-7 rout of Alabama State if running back Zach Charbonnet and quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson were injured, Kelly replied, “Unavailable.” Charbonnet did not play and Thompson-Robinson was taken out in the second quarter.
Thompson-Robinson appeared to tweak an ankle shortly before leaving the game but said the next week that he was fine, leading reporters to theorize he had been taken out because he wasn’t needed during a blowout. Kelly said Thompson-Robinson’s removal was a trainer’s decision, not his.
“If you know Dorian Thompson-Robinson like I know Dorian Thompson-Robinson,” Kelly said, “in the five years he was here, Dorian’s never been hurt because he’s a tough S.O.B. He’s as tough as I’ve ever coached and so if you ask Dorian, ‘How do you feel?’ [he would respond] ‘I feel great’ and his helmet would be sideways and he’d be looking out through the hole.”
The Bruins used 88 players against Alabama State, including walk-ons and third- and fourth-stringers, but are bracing for a more robust challenge Saturday. The Eagles, ranked No. 17 in the FCS coaches poll, are coming off a 30-16 victory over rival North Carolina A&T in which running back Latrell Collier and quarterback Davius Richard combined for 190 yards and four touchdowns on the ground.
“They have our utmost respect,” Kelly said. “Their quarterback is an NFL prospect, they have a safety who is an NFL prospect, this is a good football team.”
A star turn
There was some extra celebrating in the shared home of two former walk-ons this weekend.
Defensive back Alex Johnson intercepted two passes against San Diego State on Saturday and wide receiver Josiah Norwood made an 81-yard touchdown catch, the longest reception of his career.
Norwood’s catch fulfilled a hunch that former teammate and current defensive analyst Shea Pitts had the night before the game, when he told Norwood that he would go for 70 yards against the Aztecs.
Once Norwood caught a pass over the middle from quarterback Dante Moore, he said, “I was like, ‘I might as well go for 80 now.’ It was a fun moment.”
Norwood and Johnson are among a small group of sixth-year seniors on the team that also includes starting safety Kenny Churchwell III. Their perseverance has paid off in more than a scholarship.
“As a walk-on, you’re striving to get better but at the same time to earn that scholarship and you want to be validated for your efforts and things like that,” Norwood said. “But even when we weren’t on scholarship, it didn’t change the way that we worked and I think that’s what’s really important now, it’s like our work habits have been the same and eventually it will catch up to you, as they say. It’s been awesome.”
Moore was selected the Pac-12’s freshman of the week after throwing for 290 yards and three touchdowns in only three quarters. … Wide receiver Jadyn Marshall, who has not appeared in a game this season, worked out with the defensive backs during the early part of practice, though he was still wearing the blue jersey of an offensive player. … Linebacker Ale Kaho, who did not play Saturday and was spotted wearing a protective boot, was “unavailable,” Kelly said. The coach used the same term to describe the status of receiver Titus Mokiao-Atimalala and running back Deshun Murrell. Mokiao-Atimalala has not played this season and Murrell did not participate in training camp. … Right tackle Garrett DiGiorgio on UCLA’s occasional use of tempo on offense: “Well, I weigh 300 pounds, so I do get tired, but tempo’s good for us. It gets the other team tired and allows us to impose our will against them.” … UCLA’s game against Utah on Sept. 23 in Salt Lake City will start at 12:30 p.m. PDT and will air on Fox.