The inaugural UCLA football spring game of the Chip Kelly era is in the books as the white team defeated the blue team 16-10 on Saturday afternoon.
The Bruins only played two quarters, with both teams getting about 40 snaps each. Each squad had two quarterbacks who alternated possessions. Here are five observations from the game, which had a little bit of everything.
1. Austin Burton, game MVP
The best quarterback on the field hasn’t played a single down for the Bruins. But Burton, a redshirt freshman, was responsible for two touchdowns and completed six of eight passes for 110 yards.
Burton found freshman wide receiver Chase Cota for a touchdown on a third-and-goal play on the white team’s first drive, and ran for a 1-yard touchdown on a read-option play later in the game.
The Newton, Massachusetts, native could have led scoring drives on his first three drives, but rising redshirt junior kicker Andrew Strauch missed a 38-yard field goal. That possession started with a 52-yard pass from Burton to rising redshirt sophomore receiver Damian Alloway down the right sideline, which elicited “Oohs” from the crowd at Drake Stadium.
2. Sloppy start
Rising redshirt sophomore Devon Modster, the early leader in the starting quarterback competition, threw an interception on the third play of the game for the blue team. He stared down his receiver in the middle of the field, and rising junior linebacker Krys Barnes stepped in front of the pass for an interception.
To make matters worse, the offense was called for an illegal block penalty on Barnes’ return, giving the white team an even shorter field to work with.
“The pick was exciting for sure, wish I would’ve scored,” Barnes said. “It’s fun being out there, being able to showcase all of our talents, show what we’ve worked on the past month.”
Two plays later, rising sophomore defensive back Shea Pitts flew in for a late hit while Burton was sliding to the ground. The referees called a targeting penalty and an automatic ejection, but because of limited depth for each team, Pitts stayed in the game.
That play, however, will be highlighted on the film review.
“It’s a good teaching situation for (Pitts), and then (also) for the rest of our guys on defense because we have an opportunity to show it to them,” Kelly said. “Quarterbacks have not been live, so you’ve got to anticipate that they’re going to hook slide.”
3. Turnover troubles
UCLA finished among the bottom-20 teams last season with a -9 turnover margin, and there was a similar lack of ball security Saturday.
Rising sophomore Jackson Gibbs and rising redshirt sophomore Matt Lynch both threw interceptions.
On Gibbs’ pass, his receiver never turned around to locate the ball and rising sophomore defensive back Mo Osling III picked it off. Lynch’s interception came when he was rolling toward the right sideline and threw the ball right to rising sophomore defensive back Elijah Gates.
Rising sophomore center Sam Marrazzo sailed two snaps over Burton’s head, one of which was recovered for a 3-yard loss and the other recovered by the defense.
Even special teams – with just a long snapper, punter and a punt returner – weren’t immune to the sloppiness.
Rising junior long snapper Johnny Den Bleyker airmailed a snap that bounced out of the end zone for a safety.
“Everything went according to plan except for the safety,” Kelly said, adding that Saturday’s format was No. 7 out of 30 he could have potentially used. “With just three people on the field, we thought we could get out on punt if we could just snap it, punt it, catch it. But we learn new things every day.”
4. Mixed offensive line performance
Besides quarterback, UCLA’s offensive line is the position group under the most scrutiny this upcoming season after having to replace three starters.
Its performance during the spring game wasn’t spectacular on the stat sheet – the offenses only had three rushes for more than 10 yards, and two were quarterback keepers on the read option.
The defensive line also recorded several sacks and forced the quarterbacks to scramble out of the pocket a handful of times, but the offensive line overall went even in the trenches, a win considering the relative inexperience at the position.
“The transition since the first week to when we’ve been here in this last week, it’s been great,” said rising redshirt junior left tackle Andre James. “We kind of cut down on the tempo (during the game), but I liked it, it was good, we got some good work in.”
The offensive line gave each quarterback time to toss up multiple passes 20 yards or more downfield, highlighted by Alloway’s 52-yard grab and a 22-yard touchdown catch by rising junior receiver Theo Howard over rising sophomore defensive back Darnay Holmes.
“It’s been a process,” Howard said about the downfield passing attack. “We started with short stuff and then it kind of opened up with long balls, but I definitely think it’s going to be out there and it’s going to be ready for the season.”
5. Personnel update
Only two Bruins suffered injuries, and neither seems serious.
Rising redshirt junior defensive lineman Keisean-Lucier South and rising sophomore defensive lineman Moses Robinson-Carr were slow to get up, but they both eventually jogged off the field on their own.
Both players were walking without a limp after the game, so now, the focus shifts to getting ready for training camp later this year.
“Just watching film or going over technical things that (the coaches) think we have to work on,” said rising redshirt senior safety Adarius Pickett. “And in the weight room, staying and working hard in there with the strength staff and just working hard in general in the classroom, making sure everyone’s eligible for the season.”