Maybe 2020 is not such an anomaly. Maybe it is not really an outlier. Some things are just the same as in 2019. Take UCLA football for instance. Defensive coordinator Jerry Azzianro’s defense is still inexplicably porous. Quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson still has flashes of brilliance mixed in with an inability to take care of the football. And head coach Chip Kelly still has not won a season opener in his UCLA tenure. After the Bruins got manhandled at Colorado Saturday, 48-42, UCLA’s 2020 looks like 2019.
Some teams said they had camp when the Pac 12 re-opened for play in August. Kelly said it was not really camp but just straight into practice mode. Call it what you want, but UCLA needed more because they were woefully unprepared for the season opener.
Colorado Newcomers Outplay UCLA Veterans
Colorado lost 75% of its offensive production from 2019, but they did not appear to miss anyone. After UCLA’s Kyle Philips fumbled a punt at his own 25-yard line, it took Colorado little time to take advantage. Jarek Broussard, making his college debut, ran right through the middle of the UCLA defense for a touchdown and a 7-0 lead. It was that easy much of the night for Broussard. He rushed for 187 yards and three touchdowns. Overall, Colorado’s ground attack ran through UCLA like a knife through hot butter. The Bruins gave up 278 yards rushing, and 539 overall.
UCLA had to start its next drive in a hole because Demetric Felton chose to try to run back the kick-off and was tackled at his own nine-yard line. Thompson-Robinson was intercepted at the 15-yard line by Carson Wells who returned it to the two-yard line. Broussard strolled into the end zone untouched for the touchdown and the 14-0 early lead.
The Hole Gets Deep
UCLA went three and out, making life so much easier for Colorado. But the Buffaloes got a little greedy in going for it on fourth and four at the UCLA 40-yard line and not getting it. The Bruins had a semblance of life. From the Colorado 28, Thompson-Robinson got a screen pace off to Felton out of the backfield. He ran through the Colorado defensive backs for the touchdown, and UCLA had gone 60 yards in six plays in just 1:30.
But the UCLA defense had no answer for the Colorado offense. Sam Noyer, a converted safety starting his first game at quarterback as a senior drove the Buffaloes right down field with ease. He had already hit his first nine of 10 passes in the first quarter. As he went into the second quarter, he ran a play action pass and found tight end Brady Russell completely alone for the 12-yard touchdown and the 21-7 lead.
Wracking Up Turnovers
Thompson-Robinson gave the ball right back. He botched the hand-off with Felton and fumbled the ball away at his own 47-yard line. The Buffaloes could not convert. But on UCLA’s next possession, Felton fumbled the ball again, this time at his own eight-yard line. Two Broussard runs later, Colorado was in the end zone again. They had scored three unanswered touchdowns for a 28-7 lead.
That lead would grow to an insurmountable 35-7 in the second quarter when Jaren Mangham ran it in from two yards out.
After his two earlier turnovers, we did see some of the flashes from Thompson-Robinson that have given UCLA fans hope for three years. While backpedaling to avoid the blitz, he found a wide-open tight end Mike Martinez. The two connected for a 52-yard touchdown to narrow the gap to 35-14 t the half.
Numbers Don’t Lie
It was clear though, despite that late UCLA touchdown, that Colorado was dominating. The Buffaloes had 284 yards of offense to 160 for the Bruins. Broussard had 117 yards rushing in the first half alone. UCLA had a grand total of 22 yards rushing. And of course, there were the four UCLA turnovers.
Kelly, after the game deflected, any extensive criticism of his defense. “I think we put our defense in some adverse situations in the first half and we dug too deep of a hole in the first half,” Kelly said. “We’ve got to do a better securing the football.”
Another Big Comeback?
UCLA did show life in the second half. It took just two plays and only :36 seconds to get on the board again. Thompson-Robinson completed 10-yard pass to Philips. On the next play, he found a hole over the left side of the line and burst through for a 65-yard touchdown run. It was now 35-21, Colorado. The Bruins blocked a 40-yard field goal attempt by Colorado’s James Stefanou, and put the offense in good field position.
Thompson-Robinson hit tight end Greg Dulcich for 41 yards to the Colorado 19. Two plays later, Felton ran it in from 15 yards out. The score 35-28. After being down by four touchdowns, visions of Texas A&M and Washington State comebacks were dancing in Bruins fans’ heads.
A roughing the passer penalty by Tyler Manoa put Colorado at the UCLA 14-yard line. Two Noyer runs and a Mangham run put the Buffaloes at the one-yard line. Noyer cruised in right up the middle for the touchdown. Colorado was back up 42-28. For whatever inroads UCLA made, the mountain was already pretty onerous. Add in penalties and other self-inflicted wounds and there was no way to complete the comeback.
Keegan Jones would get a 26-yard touchdown after catching a Thompson-Robinson pass in the flat. But Colorado added two field goals to go up 48-35. Thompson-Robinson threw a nine-yard touchdown pass to Martinez in the closing moments for the final score. More often than not, when you dig a four-touchdown hole, the epic comebacks are going to be a rarity.
Searching Far And Wide For The Bright Side
Kelly worked to the find the upside of the game. “Mounting the comeback that we did, there were a lot of positive things there. But it’s a matter of everything. You’ve got to look at the whole game. How do we clean up what happened to us in the first half and build on what happened to us in the second half,” Kelly said.
Thompson-Robinson finished the game 20 of 40 passing for 303 yards and four touchdowns. But he also had the interception and the fumble in the first half. The Bruins ran for 180 yards, but one-third of that was on one touchdown run by Thompson-Robinson. Take that away and they had no sustained running game. They would have 23 rushes for 115 yards. Taking out the one run, Felton was the leading rusher with 55 yards on only 10 carries.
In an abbreviated schedule, losing in week one pretty much guarantees the rest of the season is playing for a second or third tier bowl game. That would be a step-up from the previous two seasons of the Kelly era, but they are far from ready for even the less-than-prime-time bowls.