Dominant second half carries UCLA to 35-22 victory over Boise State in LA Bowl

The game is set to begin at 4:30 p.m. and will be televised by ABC.

City News Service
Sunday, December 17, 2023
LA Bowl: Dominant 2nd half carries UCLA to victory over Boise State
Ethan Garbers replaced an injured Collin Schlee early in the second half and threw for 152 yards and two touchdowns as UCLA scored touchdowns on four of its first five second-half possessions in a 35-22 victory over Boise State in Saturday's LA Bowl at SoFi Stadium.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. (CNS) -- Ethan Garbers replaced an injured Collin Schlee early in the second half and threw for 152 yards and two touchdowns as UCLA scored touchdowns on four of its first five second-half possessions in a 35-22 victory over Boise State in Saturday's LA Bowl at SoFi Stadium.

Garbers completed nine of 12 passes for two touchdowns and was selected as the offensive MVP. Bruins linebacker Darius Muasau was selected as the defensive MVP for making a team-high 11 tackles, including a game-high 2.5 for losses.

Schlee, a redshirt junior who began his college career at Kent State, completed 11 of 16 passes for 78 yards and one touchdown and ran for a career-high 127 yards on seven carries.

Garbers, a redshirt junior from Corona Del Mar High School, started the season opener and five of the six games heading into the LA Bowl, but suffered an arm injury in the 33-7 loss to California Nov. 25 in the regular season finale, with Schlee getting the start Saturday.

Garbers entered the game with 11 minutes, 33 seconds left in the third quarter and UCLA trailing 16-7 after Schlee was injured on a 44-yard run that gave UCLA a first-and-goal from the Broncos' 9-yard line.

Garbers threw a 5-yard touchdown pass to Kyle Ford on his third play to cut the deficit to 16-14.

Garbers completed all four of his passes for 62 yards as the Bruins drove 72 yards on nine plays on their next possession, culminated by T.J. Harden's 1-yard touchdown run that gave UCLA a 21-16 lead with 3:03 left in the third quarter. The score came three plays after Garbers' 39-yard pass to J. Michael Sturdivant advanced the ball to Boise State's 4-yard line.

Garbers began the Bruins' next drive by scrambling for 15 yards, then threw a 41-yard pass to Sturdivant. Harden culminated the three-play, 70-yard drive with a 14-yard touchdown run that put UCLA ahead 28-16 with 19 seconds to play in the third quarter.

Garbers threw a 40-yard touchdown pass to Sturdivant that gave the Bruins a 35-16 lead with 6:11 to play, one play after Alex Johnson intercepted a pass by C.J. Tiller and returned the ball 11 yards.

UCLA (8-5) drove to the Broncos' 1-yard line on its final possession, but coach Chip Kelly called for Garbers to kneel twice to run out the final 1:37 instead of trying to score again.

The Bruins outgained Boise State 510 yards to 332, led 18-15 in first downs but trailed 31:33-28:27 in time of possession.

The UCLA defense played without its best player and coordinator and allowed a season-high 215 rushing yards, including 126 in the first half, and scores on each of the first four possessions. The previous high was 133 yards in a 36-24 loss to Oregon State Oct. 14.

Defensive lineman Laiatu Latu, the Lombardi Award winner as college football's best lineman and the Pac-12's Pat Tillman Defensive Player of the Year, opted out of the game to focus on finishing school and preparing for the NFL draft.

D'Anton Lynn accepted USC's offer to be its defensive coordinator Dec. 1. In his one season as the Bruins' defensive coordinator, Lynn elevated UCLA's defense from ranking No. 87 in 2022 to finishing the 2023 regular season ranked No. 11 among Football Bowl Subdivision teams.

Jonah Dalmas kicked 33-, 23- and 33-yard field goals on the Broncos' first three possessions and George Holani ran 1-yard for a touchdown on the fourth, giving Boise State a 16-7 halftime lead.

Holani ran 66 yards with 5:08 remaining for the Broncos' only second-half points.

Tiller, a freshman who had played on two snaps without throwing a pass entering the game, completed 12 of 21 passes for 117 yards with one interception for Boise State (8-6). The Rancho Cucamonga High alum got the start in place of Talen Green, who announced Monday he would be transferring to Arkansas after starting 12 of the season's first 13 games.

Green was the offensive MVP of the Mountain West Championship, throwing for 226 yards and two touchdowns while running for 90 yards and another score in the 44-20 upset of UNLV in the Mountain West Championship Dec. 2 that advanced Boise State to the LA Bowl.

Maddux Madsen, the backup quarterback most of the season, suffered a season-ending knee injury Nov. 11.

Schlee threw a 5-yard pass to tight end Hudson Habermehl with 48 seconds remaining in the first quarter four the Bruins' only first-half score.

The bowl victory was UCLA's first since defeating Kansas State, 40-35, in the Alamo Bowl Jan. 2, 2015. The Bruins lost their next three bowl games after that, including last season's 37-35 loss to Pittsburgh in the Sun Bowl.

UCLA was also without quarterbacks coach Ryan Gunderson, who was hired as offensive coordinator at Oregon State, his alma mater, and tight ends coach Jeff Faris, who resigned to become coach of Austin Peay in his native Tennessee.

Ikaika Malloe, the outside linebackers and defensive line coach, called the defensive plays, defensive analysts Clancy Pendergast and Greg Burns were "on-field'' coaches and director of leadership Ken Niumatolo coached the quarterbacks in the preparation for the game.

Pendergast was USC's defensive coordinator in 2013 and from 2016-19, a position he also held with California, the Arizona Cardinals and Kansas City Chiefs.

Burns joined the UCLA coaching staff in 2021 as a defensive analyst after being a defensive backs coach at 11 colleges, including USC, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, since 1996.

Niumatolo was hired by UCLA in March to be an adviser to the football staff and players after being Navy's coach from 2007-22.

Retired star NFL tight end Rob Gronkowski was game's host, snag the national anthem, presided over the coin toss and presented the game's championship belt to the Bruins.

The game officially known as the Starco Brands LA Bowl Hosted By Gronk under a naming rights agreement announced Dec. 1 was known as the Jimmy Kimmel LA Bowl for its first two editions.

The announced crowd of 32,780 was the most in the bowl's three-year history, topping the 29,896 for Utah State's 24-13 victory over Oregon State in the inaugural 2021 game and 32,405 for Fresno State's 29-6 victory over Washington State in the 2022 game.

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