It came down to the final moments, but the Bruins still escaped with a victory.
UCLA football (3-0) defended the Rose Bowl with a tight 32-31 win over South Alabama (2-1) on Saturday. Taking a look at each unit individually, here are the three student-athletes who have earned the All Bruins UCLA Football Players of the Game awards.
Offensive Player of the Game: QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson
Thompson-Robinson’s performance wasn’t anything particularly special, but he got the job done and put up some really solid stats.
It wasn’t a particularly clean start for the Bruins’ fifth-year starter, considering he was 3-of-6 passing with 52 yards in the first quarter, and 44 of those yards came on one swing pass to running back Zach Charbonnet. Thompson-Robinson then rattled off 10 completions and two touchdowns on his next 11 attempts, turning his mediocre day into a genuinely good one.
Thompson-Robinson did not take a single sack, and he did not have a single interception. Even his lone “fumble” was almost entirely Keegan Jones’ fault. By limiting mistakes, Thompson-Robinson showed once again how he has grown over the years.
And as he has done many times before, Thompson-Robinson led a go-ahead drive in the final minutes. It was well-timed enough that his defense didn’t have a chance to blow it like it did against Fresno State in 2021 and USC in 2020, which is another credit to the veteran quarterback’s clock management.
Thompson-Robinson ended the day 20-of-30 with 263 yards and three touchdowns, and he spread the ball around to eight different receivers. Six of them had multiple catches, and new arrivals like Jake Bobo and Titus Mokiao-Atimalala look like they’ve really meshed with their star quarterback.
Defensive Player of the Game: LB JonJon Vaughns
Vaughns’ game-opening interception only led to a field goal, but points are points, and a turnover created is a turnover created.
The dual-sport star was all over the field, ranking second on the team with seven tackles in the game. And on top of his early interception – which showed great instincts and an ability to read the quarterback – he swatted down another pass at the line and nearly picked it off.
Vaughns was probably more effective against the pass than any defensive back outside of Mo Osling III. The Bruins are going to need that moving forward, whether their secondary picks up the slack or not.
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It’s impressive to see Vaughn out there making plays and running to the ball, laying solid hits and breaking up passes on the regular. He’s an outfielder and home run hitter half the year, after all, and any time a student-athlete breaks out as a legitimate contributor in two sports in this modern landscape is something to admire.
With Kain Medrano still out, Damian Sellers not currently with the team, Jordan Genmark Heath graduating in the offseason and Caleb Johnson transferring to Miami in the spring, the Bruins needed a breakout performer at linebacker.
Darius Muasau, who finished Saturday with 10 tackles, was always going to be the leader over the middle. Vaughns is showing that he can be a reliable option at the Will linebacker spot, with his latest performance standing out as additional proof of his rising stock.
Special Teams Player of the Game: K/P Nicholas Barr-Mira
It wasn’t too long ago that Barr-Mira was the biggest scapegoat on the team.
Even looking beyond his 1-for-3 performance in the season opener, Barr-Mira had a disastrous 9-for-17 stretch in the middle of the 2021 season that also featured a pair of missed extra points. Special teams was one of the biggest question marks on the team through one week of the 2022 campaign, and Barr-Mira was the poster child of those concerns.
Just two weeks later, Barr-Mira has put all of that behind him.
Barr-Mira drilled kicks from 38, 49, 28 and 24 yards out Saturday against South Alabama, with the last one standing as the game-winner. In a game where the offense kept sputtering out in Jaguar territory, Barr-Mira’s consistency and efficiency was incredibly important, and he came through when it mattered most.
On top of that, Barr-Mira attempted one punt, which went 46 yards and was downed inside the 10.
Without Barr-Mira, the Bruins don’t beat the Jaguars, it’s as simple as that.
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