UCLA may have found future quarterback in LA Bowl victory

Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports
Ethan Garbers leads UCLA to its first bowl game win in nearly nine years with a 35-22 comeback win over Boise State at the LA Bowl.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. — Eight years, 11 months, and 14 days. That was the last time the UCLA Bruins won a Bowl game. But on Saturday, they ended the drought, winning the LA Bowl by beating the Boise State Broncos, 35-22.

The victory snapped a three-game Bowl losing streak, dating back to the 2015 Alamo Bowl when the Bruins beat the Kansas State Wildcats.

All it took was a change at quarterback. 

Collin Schlee started the game, becoming the third player to start at the position in 2023. He provided explosive moments, using his legs to pick up yards. However, there was a questionable moment for each bright spot, including underthrown passes that nearly cost the Bruins. They trailed 17-6 at half. 

Then, early in the second half, Ethan Garbers took over at quarterback when Schlee left the game due to injury in the second half. He did not start due to a right forearm injury, but once he entered the game, he dominated. 

Garbers had the Bruins’ offense clicking by involving receiver J. Michael Sturdivant. They scored touchdowns on his first three drives as he was a perfect eight-of-eight on them. 

Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

Garbers finished the LA Bowl with 152 yards and two touchdowns on 9-12 completions. Sturdivant ended with 142 yards and a touchdown. Garbers and Sturdivant put the exclamation point on the victory when they connected on a deep ball. It was a well-placed touchdown pass that gave the Bruins a 34-16 lead with 6:11 left.

“All the work we’ve put in for since he got here last January, that whole year of just in the summer, in the winter, in the spring working on working on those throws, at that point, it’s just muscle memory,” Garbers said. “We’ve done it so many times. Just called it, and we got the right look, and we executed.”

Garbers found Sturdivant on three passes over 39 yards as the Bruins punished the Broncos with big plays. Moments like these were somewhat common for Garbers throughout 2023 as he started multiple games for the Bruins. However, he battled multiple injuries, and five-star freshman, Dante Moore, had a few chances. Schlee occasionally mixed in as well in a quarterback room with little consistency. Each showed flashes of their talent, but none stuck, leading to a mediocre 7-5 record (8-5 after the Bowl win). 

Garbers may be their answer in 2024, though. His experience (he will be a senior in 2024) gives him an upper hand over many other quarterbacks. Plus, he has proven to be a reliable option, throwing 11 touchdowns to three interceptions in 2023. Injuries were his kryptonite in an otherwise solid season.

“Ethan’s won the team over a long time ago, and he’s been our starting quarterback,” said head coach Chip Kelley. “He knows that he’s the starting quarterback here. I’ve got great faith in him. What we saw today was what we saw against Stanford, is what we saw against USC.”

Garbers confirmed postgame he would be returning for his senior season. While he may not be a difference-maker in every game, like in the LA Bowl, he gets the job done with reliability. Garbers could help ease the transition to the Big Ten as the starter in 2024 before the Bruins move their next talent. 

“We’re excited about the opportunity to go to the Big Ten, but today, we will savor this victory and the performance of these guys,” Kelley said.