UCLA is making history to start the season, but not in a good way. They have now started 0-2 in back to back seasons for the first time since 1990. Their 23-14 loss to the San Diego State Aztecs last week was UCLA’s first and only loss to the program, going back 22 meetings all the way to 1922.
They’ve looked listless and lost to start the season, putting up just 14 points each week against suspect competition at best. Unfortunately, things don’t get any easier this week, as UCLA hosts the Oklahoma Sooners this Saturday, college football’s perennial scoring juggernaut.
In just two games, they’ve outscored their opponents 119-45, including a whopping 70 points dropped last week against South Dakota. UCLA will have to bring their A game if they have any hopes of competing in this one, but unfortunately, given what we’ve seen from these two teams so far, even that might not be enough to stop this from being a complete and utter blowout. Let’s take a look at the players to watch for the matchup this coming Saturday.
Five UCLA Players to Watch Against Oklahoma
1) Quarterback – Dorian Thompson-Robinson
Dorian Thompson-Robinson has simply not been good to start the season. His accuracy and decision making has been spotty, and he’s been turning the football over. There seems to be very little, if any, progression from the player we saw take the field last year as a true freshman.
DTR is in a tough spot for sure. He’s missing his number 1 receiver, Theo Howard, to start the season, and he’s playing with a ton of youth. Offensive line play has been atrocious to start the season, and Chip Kelly seems unsure what he wants to do offensively from an identity perspective.
Nonetheless, DTR simply has to play better if this team has any hope of winning games this year. It sounds cliche to say, but it all starts with the quarterback, and in this case, it’s true. UCLA showed last year that they were able to win games with competent quarterback play with Wilton Speight at the helm. Yes, the rest of the team played better late in the year when Speight started, and yes, he was far from great or even good, but the difference between him and DTR was severely noticeable. Speight was a vet and DTR is still severely inexperienced (he has very few starts even including his high school days), so you would hope that he’ll get better with experience. But that hasn’t been the case so far, and he’s shown close to nothing that justifies his high recruiting status.
I thought DTR was an issue last year, but most people were willing to give him the benefit of the doubt due to him being a true freshman and showing occasional flashes of potential like he did during the Cal and Washington games last year. But now into year 2, it seems like the player we saw for most of last year may be the player we’re going to get.
In my opinion, DTR’s biggest issue is that he plays too fast. He just simply doesn’t look comfortable back there with bodies around him–something that is inevitable when you’re playing tackle football. This causes him to rush his throws, which leads to off-sync mechanics, which in turn leads to inaccurate throws. You can have all the talent in the world, and we know DTR is a talented kid, but if you can’t be comfortable and calm in the pocket, then you simply can’t play quarterback effectively. And up to this point, DTR doesn’t look the part.
I expect this game against the Sooners to get out of hand quickly for UCLA, and as strange as it sounds, that may be a good thing for DTR. A couple of low pressure, garbage time drives against soft defenses may be what he needs to get some rhythm and confidence going. Let’s hope he is able to do so because UCLA’s season depends on it.
2) Running Back – Joshua Kelley
When UCLA turned the corner offensively late in the season last year–including during a 34-27 win over crosstown rival USC–the offense ran through Joshua Kelley, plain and simple. We haven’t seen that yet this year, and, no surprise, the offense has struggled because of it. Kelley didn’t play in week 1 due to injury, and although he did play last week, he still didn’t look entirely healthy. He’ll be someone to watch in this game to see not only if he’s getting snaps, but how effective he looks. If UCLA is going to turn things around offensively, it’s going to depend on Josh Kelley regaining his form from last year.
3) Running Back – Demetric Felton
Felton played a key role in the Week 1 loss at Cincinnati, turning a short catch into a long touchdown for the Bruins on third down. Chip Kelly has been leaning on him so far while Josh Kelley gets healthy, and although Felton’s running has been subpar, he’s shown potential catching the football. With an inexperienced receiving corps and a struggling quarterback, Felton holds the key to unlocking big plays for UCLA in the passing game, if used correctly (ie, in space).
4) Left Tackle – Sean Rhyan
The UCLA offensive line has been a mess this season, and Chip Kelly has been shuffling guys around week in and week out. In comes redshirt freshman Sean Rhyan, at the all-important left tackle position. His PFF pass-blocking grade (ranked from 0 to 100) was in single digits in week 1, and better but still not good at 43.5 in week 2. He’ll need to do a better job protecting DTR’s blindside. Let’s see if he can improve with another week of experience
5) Cornerback – Elijah Gates
He’ll likely be matched up in coverage with Cee-Dee Lamb. Good luck.
Attendance was so pitiful last week that UCLA gave out free tickets to this week’s game at the Rose Bowl. That may not matter, as we ultimately could be looking at another empty stadium by the end of this one, should things go as expected for the Sooners.