There’s a lot of history between these teams.
UCLA football (0-1) will face San Diego State (1-0) on Saturday at the Rose Bowl in its 2019 home opener. It will be the 23rd meeting of the Bruins and Aztecs, and UCLA has never lost over the course of the series. The most recent matchup was a decade ago, when the Bruins took home a 33-14 win in 2009.
UCLA is coming off a 24-14 week-one loss to Cincinnati, in which the Bearcats out-gained the Bruins 417 yards to 218. One of the issues UCLA ran into was turnovers, as sophomore quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson threw two interceptions and fumbled twice – once on the Cincinnati five-yard line.
“Obviously the main thing is ball security, you know with four turnovers and stuff, not giving away the ball,” Thompson-Robinson said. “We did a lot of great things … but obviously we did some bad things, including myself, and obviously those bad things outweighed the good, and that’s why we didn’t come out with the win.”
Coach Chip Kelly said San Diego State could present a challenge for UCLA because of its strong defense, especially against the run game. The Bruins accumulated just 62 rushing yards against Cincinnati without their star running back, redshirt senior Joshua Kelley, whose status for Saturday is still unknown.
Kelly attributes the Aztecs’ defensive prowess to San Diego State head coach Rocky Long’s time as a defensive coordinator, including a stint with the Bruins from 1996-1997 under then-head coach Bob Toledo.
“(Long) is one of the gurus of defense in college football, and they’ve played great defense since he’s been there and will continue to play great defense,” Kelly said. “It’s a defense that you don’t see; not a lot of people run it. There’s a lot of multiplicity to it. They blitz everybody and anybody from different angles and different spots and there aren’t really many holes.”
That defense was on display in San Diego State’s 6-0 victory over Weber State to start the season, as the Aztecs allowed 154 yards, five first-downs and only one play in their own territory all night.
Kelly also said the Bruin defense will be tested by the Aztecs’ running game, led by running back Juwan Washington, who averaged 111.0 rushing yards per game in 2018. While Washington is questionable for Saturday’s game after suffering an ankle injury against Weber State, there is a platoon of backups who can take his place.
“They’re going to establish a physicality in the run game, so we’ve got to be prepared for that,” Kelly said. “They’ve got a bunch of good running backs, not just the starter, but there’s a couple of backups who are really good players too and they rotate them all in.”
San Diego State has collected four victories against Pac-12 opponents since 2016, including one against then-No. 23 Arizona State in 2018.
But freshman offensive lineman Sean Rhyan said the UCLA team is not looking back at all at previous seasons – or even last week’s game – ahead of Saturday’s matchup at home.
“As long as everybody does their job and works as a team, I think it’ll be a good game,” Rhyan said. “As (Kelly) likes to say, he says, ‘Get better, not bitter.’ So that’s what we’re going to do: get better.”
Kickoff will be at 1:15 p.m. at the Rose Bowl on Saturday.