Gameday predictions: UCLA vs. San Diego State
Redshirt senior running back Joshua Kelley did not play in UCLA football’s season-opener against Cincinnati. Kelley was listed as the starter in this week’s depth chart, but his return has not been confirmed. (Axel Lopez/Daily Bruin senior staff)
Prediction: UCLA 34, San Diego State 23
There is a great LaVar Ball quote that accurately describes the Bruins’ history with the Aztecs.
“Undefeated. Never lost!”
UCLA football is 21-0-1 all-time against San Diego State and I don’t see that undefeated streak ending in Pasadena this weekend. Last week’s mess in Cincinnati was discouraging, but if redshirt senior running back Joshua Kelley, senior wide receiver Theo Howard and junior cornerback Darnay Holmes all make their returns from injury, coach Chip Kelly will have a completely different team at his disposal.
To state the insanely obvious, sophomore quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson needs to put his four-turnover performance behind him and protect the ball if the Bruins want to get back to .500.
San Diego State’s defense shut out Weber State on Saturday, holding its opponent to 154 total yards of offense and 1.8 yards per carry. Those numbers come with a grain of salt, however, since the WIldcats aren’t exactly a powerhouse program.
The Aztecs’ two best defenders from last year – linebacker Kyahva Tezino and safety Tariq Thompson – are both back and the unit as a whole held opponents to 103.8 rushing yards per game in 2018. San Diego State’s defense isn’t quite as strong as Cincinnati’s, but UCLA won’t be able to get by with redshirt junior wide receiver Demetric Felton carrying the ball 23 times again – Kelley’s return is paramount for a win.
SDSU’s defense has allowed 311 passing yards per game in its last 11 Pac-12 matchups, setting Thompson-Robinson up for a solid bounce-back game. The Bruin defense should also be happy to see that the Wildcats held the Aztecs to just six points and 238 yards in week one, and I think it’s widely accepted that UCLA has a superior defense to Weber State.
San Diego State is probably more equipped than ever to take down UCLA, but I just don’t see it happening. So much is on the line for the Bruins this week, so I think Kelly, Thompson-Robinson and Kelley – if healthy – will come out guns blazing and prove that the offense is still a unit to be reckoned with.
Football beat reporter
Prediction: UCLA 31, San Diego State 14
Can we all agree to sweep last week’s loss to Cincinnati under the rug?
UCLA trotted out a team that was missing key pieces all over the place on both sides of the ball, and therefore, I refuse to take much stock in what happened in Ohio.
I expect the Bruins to look sharper this weekend against San Diego State because the nerves should be gone at this point, plus the team will be back at the Rose Bowl.
The Aztecs are also not the opponent that Cincinnati is. San Diego State managed just a 7-6 overall record in 2018, going 4-4 in Mountain West play. Granted, the Aztecs did knock off Arizona State last season, but that’s nothing to write home about.
UCLA has never lost to San Diego State in 22 meetings, and I don’t expect to see that change, regardless of whether the Bruins are back at full strength. However, all eyes should be on Thompson-Robinson this weekend.
Thompson-Robinson needs a bounce-back performance before UCLA welcomes in Oklahoma next week, and I am confident that he will deliver what Kelly is looking for.
Assistant Sports editor
Prediction: UCLA 13, San Diego State 10
UCLA is undefeated against San Diego State, but don’t think for a second that Saturday’s game will be a walk in the park for the Bruins.
Whether Kelley returns from injury will obviously be the key question for the Bruins’ offense. But assuming he does return, his effectiveness may only go as far as Thompson-Robinson’s success in the air game.
If Kelley returns, he will undoubtedly be the workhorse for the Bruins. But if SDSU learns early that Thompson-Robinson poses no threat through the air, expect to see the box stacked with the Aztecs teeing off on the Bruins’ run game.
And if the Aztecs do end up facing the run often, they may be able to stop it. SDSU’s defense ranked fourth in the nation in rushing yards allowed per game in 2018. Of course, the strength of the Aztecs’ schedule has to be taken into consideration, but they faced three ranked opponents, including a win over then-No. 23 Arizona State.
The Aztecs offense, on the other hand, doesn’t look pretty either. SDSU managed just six points in their win over Weber State last week and looked similarly lost when trying to move the ball through the air.
It’s going to be bad news for SDSU’s offense if they play the same way in Pasadena on Saturday night. With the possibility of Holmes returning to the secondary for the Bruins, UCLA’s defense can only get stronger – much stronger than Weber State, at least.
I think the overall narrative of the game will be a lot of stagnant offense. I’m just not convinced that these two teams will light up the scoreboard after their performances in week one.
Even if the Bruins do squeak out a win, it won’t be anything revolutionary and probably won’t leave Bruin fans feeling any better about their squad.