A lot was made out of the Bruins' returning talent this offseason, considering they were bringing back nearly 93% of their contributions from last season.
As it turns out, it was a fresh face who carried the team to an early lead and one-sided win over the Rainbow Warriors.
UCLA football (1-0) came out of the gates strong against Hawaii (1-0) on Saturday, scoring four touchdowns in the first half en route to a 44-10 victory. Three of those four first-half scores came via Michigan transfer running back Zach Charbonnet, who racked up 106 yards on just six carries in his Bruin debut.
After converting on a field goal with a short field, UCLA scored touchdowns on each of its next four drives. Charbonnet got his team on the board with a 21-yard score, Brittain Brown took one in from 1 yard out and then Charbonnet scored from 47 and 21 yards on the following two drives.
Charbonnet broke four tackles on that 47-yarder, and he broke away for the defense long after it seemed like he would be stopped short of the first down marker. As he has proven in practice across his first few months with UCLA, Charbonnet had the physicality to overcome the defense and the smarts to burst upfield at the perfect time.
It was only a few minutes into the second quarter and the Bruins were up 31-3, the Rainbow Warriors were out of timeouts and Charbonnet had done all the damage he was going to do all day long. Brown, Ethan Fernea, and Keegan Jones split carries for the rest of the game and UCLA wound up winning the rushing yard battle 248-26.
The returning starters on the other side of the ball certainly gave Charbonnet, Brown and quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson plenty of chances to succeed, as did the Rainbow Warriors special teams unit.
Hawaii racked up just 51 total yards in the first quarter, got stopped on fourth down three times in the first half and had Bruins tormenting quarterback Chevan Cordeiro on nearly every play. Linebackers Caleb Johnson and Bo Calvert, as well as defensive end Mitchell Agude, swatted passes and knocked down Cordeiro on multiple occasions, but it was defensive lineman Datona Jackson who jumped and picked off a pass deep in Rainbow Warrior territory. In the waning minutes of the game, cornerback Jay Shaw got a pick of his own thanks to a deflection by safety DJ Warnell.
A botched punt kneel down and a shanked attempt later on were far from highlights for Hawaii punter Matthew Shipley, but his low for the game came on a blocked punt by linebacker Ale Kaho that tight end David Priebe picked up for a touchdown.
Aside from abusing the Hawaii offense and special teams and besting them 10-fold on the ground, UCLA got in one more lick through the air before putting it in park for most of the second half. Thompson-Robinson finished the first half 4-for-12 with 45 yards, but opened up the second with a 4-for-4 drive that ended in a 44-yard bomb to recevier/running back Kazmeir Allen.
In all facets of the game, the Bruins got the better of the Rainbow Warriors.
UCLA has now won its first season opener and first nonconference game of the Chip Kelly era. Next week, it will host No. 16 LSU with a chance to pull off an upset and improve to 2-0.
The Bruins have never been two games over .500 with Kelly at the helm.