It was the kind of opening game that made a statement.
Bring on Alabama… State.
UCLA appeared to need another tuneup rather than a rally after a sloppy 45-17 win over Bowling Green on Saturday in the Rose Bowl. Even the Bruins’ 38 unanswered points couldn’t quite make up for the stink of a first half in which they committed one blunder after another.
Here are five takeaways from the game:
This was not the day of judgment
As bad as it may seem, you’d be smart to avoid any sweeping statements about the Bruins.
Yes, it was an ugly win, but first impressions of a team are often misleading. Remember last season? In two games, UCLA was a hot pick to make the College Football Playoff, and how did that happen?
UCLA coach Chip Kelly was wise to point out Saturday that teams evolve over a season and that hopefully this was the worst his team would play in 2022. More importantly, the Bruins easily pulled off the two upsets their. a touchdown and a turnover on downs after things had taken a scary turn in the first half.
“We dug a little hole to start,” Kelly said, “but I was really proud of the way our kids responded.”
How about this defense?
The scoreboard in no way reflected defensive coordinator Bill McGovern’s first game with the Bruins.
McGovern presided over a defense that actually gave up just seven points Saturday. Stay with us here.
Bowling Green’s first touchdown came on a blocked punt. He added a field goal after UCLA’s Jake Bobo threw a fumble, giving the Falcons the ball at the Bruins’ 11-yard line.
Bowling Green managed only one solid drive, going 73 yards for a touchdown that gave them a 17-7 lead early in the second quarter, thanks to a botched 22-yard tackle by Christian Sims.
After that, the Falcons didn’t score again. They finished the game with just 162 yards of offense against a defense that did some creative things, including using linebackers Carl Jones and Laiatu Latu along with edge rushers Grayson and Gabriel Murphy as a defensive line on some plays.
“It’s been really impressive to start the season,” Kelly said of his defense, “and hopefully we can build on that.”
Special teams were terrible
Anyone can throw a kick, as Bobo did after calling for a fair catch in the first quarter, but it took some effort for what happened the first time he ran down the field to return a punt.
The Bruins were forced to call a timeout after realizing Bobo wasn’t the only player wearing No. 9 as part of the punt return unit. Choe Bryant-Strother also wore the number, leading to the game being stopped so Bobo could slide into No. 87.
Kelly said the coaches were aware of the issue before the game, making it even more inexplicable.
There was also the blocking breakdown that allowed Bowling Green’s PaSean Wimberly to get direct access to punter Nicholas Barr-Mira. Wimberly sacked Barr-Mira before he could recover the punt and the Falcons took the ball for a touchdown.
Bar-Mira also missed two of his three field goal attempts in his first game back on scholarship.
Call him “Fridge” Mafia
Maybe the Bruins need to start planning some scoring plays for Atonio Mafi.
The 340-pound offensive lineman was certainly a force in the third quarter when he picked off a Dorian Thompson-Robinson fumble and went seven yards, handing the ball in triumph to set up the first down.
Mafi’s weight loss journey — he’s lost 71 pounds since arriving on campus before the 2018 season — has been one of the team’s most inspiring stories. He moved from the defensive line to the other side of the ball, becoming a force at guard.
Given his increased mobility to go with his ultimate strength, Muffy may warrant an expanded role. Give this man the ball.
Card protection was missing
Thompson-Robinson was on the run most of the afternoon, and had to throw the ball on third down instead of taking a sack to end the Bruins’ first drive.
On the first play of UCLA’s second drive, the Falcons dragged Thompson-Robinson for a sack and a two-yard loss. He also faced heavy pressure two plays later when he slipped a tackle, ran down the sideline and cut back down the field for a 68-yard touchdown run.
Thompson-Robinson said the Falcons dropping back deep in zone coverage gave him plenty of room to run. But the Falcons near the line of scrimmage gave him constant trouble because UCLA’s offensive line didn’t offer enough protection. Thompson-Robinson was only sacked twice, but that was mainly a function of his nimble feet.
Kelly pointed out his team gained more than 600 yards and said he’ll have to look at tape to address any specific issues surrounding a series that featured Raiqwon O’Neal and Garrett DiGiorgio making their starting tackle debuts full-time team.
No need to go to the tape. This line has some issues to deal with.
Bring on the state of Alabama.
This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.