All Ball Sports

Devin Mcdonough gets help taking down Torrance running back Ryan Young.

Bruins back, Dodgers’ Giant problem, Lakers Rondo-bout

Sea Hawk quarterback Christian Hunt considers his options during last week’s game against Torrance. Photos by Ray Vidal

Ethan Maleman runs into traffic against Torrance defenders.

by Paul Teetor                                              

UCLA football: Time to Celebrate

All aboard the Bruins bandwagon.

Grab your seat because it will soon be full.

UCLA crushed No. 16 LSU 38-27 in a victory Saturday night that was not nearly as close as it sounds. A garbage LSU touchdown with four minutes left made the score respectable, but the truth is the game was never in doubt after the Bruins pulled ahead 38-20 in the third quarter.

And now Bruins fans have two weeks to celebrate the most significant win in Chip Kelly’s four years as head coach. The Bruins have next week off, and will play Fresno State on September 18.

Spoiler Alert: while Fresno State sounds like exactly the kind of cream puff a big-time, a Pac-12 team like UCLA needs to pad its record and extend its season-opening win streak to three games, it’s not.

On Saturday afternoon, Fresno State almost upset No. 11 Washington State, a Pac-12 team that scored a last-minute touchdown to pull out a 31-24 win.

But Bruins fans can worry about that little problem in two weeks. For the next 10 days they can celebrate this huge win.  First, for the 2-0 start it gives the Bruins. But even more important, for the way it was achieved: in the air and on the ground, a dual attack that has been missing for the first three years of Kelly’s tenure.

Unlike the last three years, when UCLA’s offense was totally dependent on talented-but-erratic quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson, they now have a legit running game to take the pressure off DTR.

In fact, they have a running back in Michigan transfer Zach Charbonnet who looks to be the kind of workhorse who can carry a team to glory. Big and strong and fast at 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds, Charbonnet starred at nearby Oaks Christian School, where he was heavily recruited by UCLA and was rated the third best running back in his high school class.

But he chose Michigan over UCLA, set a Wolverines freshman record by scoring 11 TD’s, and then had a sub-par sophomore season that was marred by all kinds of Covid-19 problems.

So he transferred to UCLA and has racked up more than 100 yards in each of his first two games to go along with four TD’s.

Now the Bruins are no longer totally reliant on DTR to pass and run the ball. In fact, the Bruins have a second running back in Brittain Brown who is almost as big, almost as strong and almost as fast as Charbonnet. He racked up 96 yards against a fast and tough LSU defense.

Two games into the season, they look like the best pair of LA-area college backs since Reggie Bush and LenDale White were running wild at USC, 15 years ago. 

Another sign the Bruins football program has finally turned the corner in Kelly’s fourth season: the Rose Bowl was rocking for the first time in more than three years with an announced crowd of 68, 123. And this time, the official number didn’t look a bit inflated, unlike last week when the announced crowd of 32,000 against Hawaii was questionable, at best.

Of course this time there were at least 20,000 rabid LSU fans who came all the way from Louisiana to cheer their Tigers on. And UCLA gave a lot of tickets away to youth groups and other charities to make sure there was a full house for the biggest game of the Kelly era.

But this will probably be the last time school officials need to do that. From now on, barring a complete collapse, the buzz is back for the Bruins. Just consider some of the post-game chatter coming from the UCLA players. 

DTR acknowledged all the tough times during his first 3 years, all the criticism of him and Kelly and his team, but said that is all in the past now.

“We didn’t listen to the noise, blocked all that out and played for each other tonight,” he said. “It’s been a long time coming.”

Linebacker Bo Calbert backed him up.

“It’s been just a really long time coming for this team,” he said.

“You know, I’ve been working hard for a couple of years now. It’s kind of emotional, like these guys have been fighting for this winning feeling every day.”

It was such a post-game love fest that even the normally taciturn Kelly joined the fun.

“I think the great thing about this group is that they love everything about football: they love training, they love practicing, they love playing.”

It’s probably true, the part about loving practice – as long as they keep winning.

The real test of that new spirit will come with their first loss, and there almost surely will be at least one or two losses once league play starts.

So while Bruins fans can celebrate for another 10 days, Kelly and his guys who love practice should keep practicing.

One victory – no matter how big, no matter how unexpected — does not make a season. 

Stay tuned.

 

Dodgers, Giants locked in war of attrition

Mark the date on your calendar: Wednesday, September 1.

That’s the day the Dodgers had first place all to themselves after 129 days of chasing the Giants

Unfortunately, their first-place status only lasted one day.  And now, after the three-game weekend showdown in the Bay area in which the Dodgers lost two out of three, they find themselves a game behind the Giants with 25 to go.

Even worse, Sunday’s 6-4 loss gave the Giants a 10-9 advantage in the season series, which will ensure that any playoff series between the two teams will start and end in San Francisco, which will also have the extra game, if needed.

As All Ball detailed last week, this closing stretch of 25 games will likely determine the Dodger’s fate in their quest to win a ninth straight Western Division title and defend their World Series title.

If they manage to pull ahead and win the division, they will be able to avoid the sudden-death wild-card game, in which the winner advances to the first round of the playoffs and the loser goes home for the winter. On paper, the Dodgers have the deeper pitching staff and better hitting than the Giants. But as we saw Friday night and again on Sunday the Dodgers players are human and can sometimes fall far below expectations – despite the team’s $260 million payroll.

Exhibit A: staff ace Walker Buehler is having a fantastic season. With a 13-2 record coming into Sunday’s game, he is the early favorite to win the National League Cy Young award.  But he pitched his worst game of the year and gave up all six runs in a 6-4 loss.

Exhibit B: former National League MVP Cody Bellinger is having a historically bad season and has become a near-automatic out when he steps to the plate. He is hitting .167, the second lowest average for any player in either league with 200 or more at bats.

It has gotten so bad that Manager Dave Roberts moved him down to the eighth or ninth spot in the batting order, and only allowed him to bat against lefties.

But that changed this weekend when A. J.  Pollock got hurt with a strained hamstring. That will force Bellinger back to everyday status. Unless he snaps out of his horrendous, season-long slump the Dodgers will have an uphill battle to catch and pass the Giants in the standings. 

 

Rondo is the New Kid on the Lakers

The Lakers touted it as great news: Rajon Rondo is coming back home where he won an NBA title more than a year ago.

They didn’t mention the elephant in the room: the Lakers age problem – they’re the oldest NBA team in the last 15 seasons.

Rondo said it best, a day after being bought out by the Memphis Grizzlies and then signing with the Lakers as a free agent.

“I went from being the oldest guy on my team to the fifth youngest guy on my team,” Rondo said. “I’m one of the Lakers’ young guys now.”

That’s the whole problem right there.

Rondo, 35, is coming back to the Lakers a year after he left them last summer, after helping lead them to an NBA title in the pandemic, Florida bubble year of 2020.

He was invaluable in those playoffs as a floor general, someone able to organize the offense and take on some of the ball-handling duties that typically fall on LeBron James.

But this is a very different Rondo coming back for this season. This will be his fifth team in the last 12 months – a remarkable fall for a major talent, a two-time NBA champion who helped lead the 2008 Boston Celtics to their 17th and last title.

After the Lakers failed to re-sign him last fall, Rondo signed a two-year deal with the Atlanta Hawks for $6 million. It was a curious signing, since the Hawks already had an elite point guard in 22-year-old superstar Trae Young and plenty of young guards to back him up. Rondo got only a few minutes per game, and quickly made his unhappiness obvious.

So mid-way through last season, the Hawks traded him to the Clippers, who welcomed him with open arms. The hope was that he could stabilize their second unit and organize the offense to take pressure off superstar Kawhi Leonard, who is more of a finisher than a shot creator for his teammates.

But Rondo has declined substantially from his prime, and the one asset that set him apart – his blinding quickness – is a thing of the past. Now his game is to walk the ball up, point out where he wants his teammates to go on the court, and then try to orchestrate a slick pass to a teammate or shoot the ball himself – even though he’s always been a below-average shooter.

Even worse, when things aren’t going his way, he starts to sulk and slack off on defense. And since suffocating defense is the other strength he brings to a team, the Clippers quickly grew disenchanted with him. Coach Ty Lue gave him another chance in the playoffs because they still needed a backup to starting point guard Reggie Jackson, a shoot-first player who had a great playoff run.

But the same problems soon emerged, and when Rondo turned the ball over four times in three minutes during a second-round game against the Utah Jazz, Lue benched him and he saw nothing but garbage-time minutes for the rest of the playoffs.

After the season the Clippers didn’t waste any time trading him to the Memphis Grizzlies for a bag of Dunkin’ Donuts and a draft pick to be named later – much later.

The Griz, an up-and-coming team with a super-talented young point guard in Ja Morant, soon realized that Rondo, a highly opinionated locker-room lawyer, was not the kind of influence they wanted for their young and impressionable players. So after trying to trade him but finding no market for the former All-Star, they bought out the one year remaining on his contract and watched happily as he signed with the Lakers.                

Now he’s two years older than he was in his previous stint with the Lakers, and even more set in his ways. But there is one reason for optimism that this could work: LeBron won’t put up with any nonsense, and is one of the few players in the league capable of telling Rondo to shut up.

But there still could be problems. The role of LeBron’s caddy, the point guard who could come in to handle the ball and organize the offense when LeBron is hurt or out for a rest, the role Rondo filled so capably two years ago, has already been penciled in for Russell Westbrook, acquired just last month in a trade with the Washington Wizards.

That leaves Rondo without a clearly defined role. But if the season starts and it’s not working out, he’ll be the first to say so.

At least there’s that.

 

Sea Hawks down, Mustangs, too

The Redondo Sea Hawks went to 0-2 last week after losing to Torrance for the first time in over a decade. The 13-3 score wasn’t as bad as their previous week’s 35-0 loss to Simi Valley. But it still leaves the team without a touchdown this season.

Mira Costa remained at 1-1 in preseason play after last week’s game against Mayfair was canceled for health protocol reasons. The Mustangs face Loyola on September 24, a traditional rivalry fueled by the fact that many of Loyola’s players line in Manhattan Beach

Contact: teetor.paul@gmail.com. Follow @paulteetor. ER

 

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