He plowed, he bulled, he plunged.
Joshua Kelley made the most of short-yardage situations Saturday night at the Rose Bowl. Actually, he made the most of every situation.
Whatever UCLA needed, the redshirt senior provided while helping the Bruins blitz No. 24 Arizona State in a 42-32 victory that was so lopsided it never felt like an upset.
Early spark? Kelley delivered it on his team’s opening drive by breaking a handful of tackles during a 24-yard run that gave the Bruins a first and goal at the five.
Goal-line opportunity? Kelley completed that drive when he lunged for a one-yard touchdown run.
Knockout blow? Kelley provided that as well, scurrying for a two-yard touchdown early in the third quarter that gave the Bruins a 35-7 lead on the way to their first home victory of the season before an appreciative crowd of 39,811.
Kelley repeatedly familiarized himself the end zone while scoring a career-high four touchdowns. He finished with 164 yards in 34 carries to help the Bruins (3-5 overall, 3-2 Pac-12 Conference) notch their most complete victory of the season on a day they scored more points than any other team against the Sun Devils (5-3, 2-3) in the Herm Edwards era.
UCLA’s defense registered another strong showing and quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson appeared to be on his way to another big game before departing with an apparent left leg injury early in the fourth quarter.
Thompson-Robinson was scrambling when he absorbed a hit and lost the ball. He remained down for a few minutes and had to be helped off the field, ending a day in which he completed 16 of 23 passes for 176 yards with two touchdowns.
Backup quarterback Austin Burton played the balance of the game for the Bruins, who rushed for 217 yards against a typically stout defense had previously allowed just 18 points per game this season.
UCLA’s second consecutive triumph allowed it to match last season’s victory total with four games remaining. Next up is another home game against Colorado, which has lost four consecutive games, including a pair of blowouts on the road.
After starting the season 0-5, the Bruins now trail USC by only one game in the Pac-12 South and control their destiny in the race for the division title.
UCLA’s offense has been humming for more than a month now, but its recent success has largely been triggered by a surge in defensive production. Cornerback Darnay Holmes earned a flying body bump with Thompson-Robinson early in the fourth quarter after stopping Sun Devils quarterback Jayden Daniels short on a fourth-down play.
Daniels completed 20 of 29 passes for 267 yards and three touchdowns, though the scores all came in catchup mode after UCLA had taken control of the game.
Bruins defensive lineman Odua Isibor made a big early play when he stripped the ball from running back Eno Benjamin on Arizona State’s first drive. UCLA safety Elisha Guidry recovered the fumble, giving UCLA the ball at the Sun Devils’ 42-yard line.
Kelley’s tackle-shedding run set up his first touchdown, but Arizona State countered with Daniels’ one-yard touchdown run that tied the score after recovering a Thompson-Robinson fumble.
UCLA regained the lead on Kelley’s five-yard touchdown run with 14 seconds left in the first quarter and took control late in the second quarter when he burst through the line for a 16-yard touchdown.
The Bruins put together an impressive drive in hurry-up mode after taking over at their own 35 with 1:03 left in the first half. Thompson-Robinson connected with Kyle Philips in the front corner of the end zone for a 20-yard touchdown that gave UCLA a 28-7 lead.
As the Bruins joyously bounded toward the tunnel leading to the locker room, fans in that section of the stadium provided a standing ovation. It was quite the contrast from the boos that serenaded UCLA earlier this month during a home loss to Oregon State.
Little about those Bruins seems to resonate anymore.