October 25, 2021

Zach Charbonnet and Brittain Brown keep UCLA grounded

View Original Notice ? Zach Charbonnet and Brittain Brown keep UCLA grounded

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Coach Chip Kelly and the UCLA offense have been the beneficiary of dependable running backs in each of the past three years.

Zach Charbonnet and Brittain Brown have followed the two-back system Kelly started in 2019 with Joshua Kelley and Demetric Felton.

Kelley and Felton shared the field Sunday afternoon, this time as professional players at SoFi Stadium. Kelley had two carries for 17 yards in the Chargers’ 47-42 victory over the Cleveland Browns. Felton had 17 yards on two punt returns for the Browns.

Charbonnet and Brown have shared the field all season for UCLA (4-2, 2-1 Pac-12), including last Saturday as the duo contributed to the 329 total rushing yards in the 34-16 victory over Arizona.

“I think we just keep this thing rolling,” said Brown, who has run for 442 yards, with a 6.3 per-carry average, and four touchdowns. “Me and Zach feed off each other. It’s good competition and we love competing against each other while we’re going against the other team.”

Brown rushed for a season-high 146 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries against the Wildcats. Charbonnet rushed for 117 yards, losing just two yards, on 21 carries.

Both players work within Kelly’s scheme and their similarities add consistency on offense.

“They’re tough, hard-nosed, physical runners,” Kelly said. “As a play caller, you don’t have to call one set of things for one guy and a different set for another guy. With both Brittain and Zach, our offensive mentality, our offensive identity doesn’t change.”

Kelly has embraced the opportunity of placing both running backs on the field alongside dual-threat quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson in certain formations.

“I think it presents multiple challenges (for opposing defenses),” said Charbonnet, who averages 6.4 yards per carry and has already amassed 566 yards and seven touchdowns. “I can get the ball, Dorian and Brittain can get the ball, so it’s really hard being able to keep up with where the ball is going.”

Kelly has also been impressed with how good the duo is catching passes from Thompson-Robinson out of the backfield, as they have combined for 15 receptions for 159 yards.

The Bruins’ ability to split the workload between the two players has helped keep them fresh and injury free after the first six games of the season.

Brown and Charbonnet had injuries to overcome at their prior school before joining UCLA through the transfer portal.

“I’d say I felt a lot fresher than most years,” Brown said. “I’ve stayed healthy. I’ve had a couple injuries in my career from back in the day. Fingers crossed, I’m not trying to jinx myself, but yeah, it’s definitely keeping our legs fresh.”

UCLA’s Brittain Brown scores on a 1-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter to give the Bruins a 31-20 lead over LSU on Sept. 4, 2021, at the Rose Bowl. (Photo by Will Lester, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin/SCNG)

Brown rushed for 1,126 and 10 touchdowns in the 25 games he played at Duke. His third season as a productive player was cut short after three games with a season-ending injury in 2019.

Charbonnet rushed for 726 yards and 11 touchdowns for Michigan in 2019 while dealing with a knee injury.

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh made the most of his depth at the position during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season. Charbonnet finished the season with 124 yards and one touchdown on 19 carries in five games.

Charbonnet has caught the attention of many coaches in the Pac-12 with his production this season, but some aren’t surprised after having recruited him at Oaks Christian High.

Washington coach Jimmy Lake watched a lot of film on Charbonnet during the recruiting process while scouting other players from the same high school. The Huskies (2-3, 1-1) were preparing to see Charbonnet in 2020 when Michigan was originally scheduled to play at Washington before the season was condensed.

“He’s a big-time football player (with) really good size and speed,” Lake said. “He’s a special football player and he will be a tough running back to bring down on Saturday.”

Kelly has evaluated film on the Huskies’ defense and what challenges the Bruins may face on the road Saturday.

“That’s a really good defense,” Kelly said. “They’re tough, they’re physical. I think they’re really well coached and we have our hands full with their defense in every facet.”

The Bruins are wary of the loud environment and the anticipation of rain in Seattle.

“We try to simulate it as much as we can in practice,” Kelly said. “Obviously we can’t simulate the rain. We did some wet ball drills and will continue those in practice. … The one thing we talk to our team about all the time is control what you can control.”

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