Things are not getting any easier for the Bruins on Saturday.
UCLA football (0-1) will travel to Norman, Okla., to take on No. 6 Oklahoma (1-0) after it dropped its first game of the season to Cincinnati last weekend at the Rose Bowl.
“I think it will be a good test for us,” said sophomore linebacker Jaelan Phillips. “I’m excited about it personally. I think there’s going to be a great energy in the stadium and I think that we’re going to step up to the plate.”
For Phillips and UCLA, however, Oklahoma owns one of the top collegiate football programs in the nation, and it wasted no time reminding everyone of that Saturday.
The Sooners obliterated a formidable opponent in Florida Atlantic – which finished 11-3 last season – in a 63-14 rout and posted 650 total yards of offense in the process.
Oklahoma’s starting quarterback Kyler Murray completed 9-of-11 pass attempts for 209 yards and a pair of touchdowns en route to the victory.
Following Wednesday’s practice, UCLA coach Chip Kelly said Murray is as good a dual-threat quarterback as there is in the country. Murray was also selected in the first round of this year’s MLB Draft by the Oakland Athletics.
“He can really move, but he also throws a ball very, very well,” Kelly said. “He’s not just a runner back there, he can beat you with his arm and he’s got a bunch of talent around him. He’s as good an athlete as we’ll face at the quarterback spot.”
UCLA is fresh off a loss in which it allowed 76 rushing yards to Cincinnati quarterback Desmond Ridder, a trend that must be reversed for the Bruins to have any chance at pulling off an upset this weekend.
While UCLA plans for Murray and the Sooners offense, the Bruins have yet to announce their own starting quarterback for Saturday’s contest.
Graduate transfer quarterback Wilton Speight started the season opener against Cincinnati but sustained a back injury in the second quarter that forced him to miss the remainder of the game. Kelly said Speight participated in some light throwing drills this week.
Freshman Dorian Thompson-Robinson came in to replace Speight following the injury and held his own. The young quarterback finished 15-of-25 through the air for 117 yards and suffered from a number of dropped passes off the hands of his receivers.
Earning the starting nod in Saturday’s game would be a massive test for Thompson-Robinson. Pac-12 schools rarely get to play in road games of this caliber, and for Thompson-Robinson, to do it as a freshman would be a special opportunity.
Thompson-Robinson was also one of 11 true freshman to see game action against the Bearcats in the opener. Kelly said he will continue to utilize his freshmen regardless of their inexperience.
“It’s going to be a year of firsts for a lot of these guys because none of them have played before,” Kelly said. “So they’ve played in one game. Now they get a chance to go on the road and play in one of the best environments in college football.”
Freshman center Christaphany Murray also saw action against Cincinnati, but unlike Thompson-Robinson, he started the game. Murray said his first collegiate game taught him the importance of starting fast.
“As a freshman in my first game, I was trying to come in and feel stuff out,” Murray said. “But there’s no time for feeling out, so first play I have to come out and smack.”
Kelly said that while the freshmen need to continue to play hard and show effort, he is not caught up in numbers and accolades. His message to the freshmen heading into Oklahoma is simple.
“Just go play,” Kelly said.