Football finds focus, stays optimistic as it preps to face No. 5 Oklahoma at home
Sophomore quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson made his first career start for UCLA football against Oklahoma last year on the road. This weekend, the Bruins will take on the No. 5 Sooners at the Rose Bowl. (Axel Lopez/Daily Bruin senior staff)
No. 5 Oklahoma
Saturday, 5 p.m.
The Rose Bowl
September 12, 2019 3:45 pm
The Bruins are 0-2 heading into week three to face the No. 5 team in the country.
UCLA football (0-2) dropped its opening two games, including its first loss to San Diego State in 23 matchups last weekend. The Bruins’ next chance for their first win of the season will come against No. 5 Oklahoma (2-0) on Saturday at the Rose Bowl.
“When it’s Oklahoma coming in, I don’t care if they’re ranked five, 15 or 25 – it’s Oklahoma, so our kids are really excited,” said coach Chip Kelly. “Our guys had a great experience when they went to Oklahoma last year because it was a great venue to play in, a great team (and) they got to play against a Heisman trophy winner.”
The Bruins faced the Sooners in September 2018, losing 49-21 on the road. Despite the loss, the game was a breakthrough for then-freshman quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson, who threw for 254 yards off 16 completions in his first career start.
Thompson-Robinson said being at the Rose Bowl and feeling more sure of his place as a starter have given him more confidence going into this year’s game against Oklahoma.
“You’re always more comfortable playing in your home environment, so with that being said, I’m a lot more comfortable this year than last year – especially just being in this offense, being around these guys,” Thompson-Robinson said.
The Bruins held a players-only meeting Sunday – their only off day of the week – to let more voices be heard in a conversation about the team’s attitude after the 0-2 start. Thompson-Robinson said after the discussion, the whole team has been more focused in practice this week.
“Compared to previous weeks where we started out slow on Monday and Tuesday, this week we’ve been pretty sharp on those days,” Thompson-Robinson said. “Having an 0-2 start and having guys kind of hanging their heads down, … you can definitely see a change in attitude coming out here on the practice field.”
Even with a positive outlook, UCLA will have its work cut out for it this weekend against its highest-ranked opponent of the season.
Offensively, the Sooners have totaled 119 points in their first two games behind quarterback Jalen Hurts, who leads the team in both passing yards and rushing yards, with 591 and 223, respectively. The Oklahoma defense has evolved since last year under new defensive coordinator Alex Grinch, who previously coached at Ohio State and Washington State.
“They have a very good all-around defense,” said sophomore offensive linemen Christaphany Murray. “They roam to the ball and they play like a pack.”
UCLA has struggled with ball security this season, giving up four turnovers against Cincinnati week one and two to San Diego State the next week.
Kelly said the Bruins watched film of the turnovers to understand each based on the situation, but have put past mistakes behind them in order to look forward to Saturday.
“That’s the great thing about youth, is they don’t have very long mindsets,” Kelly said. “The older you get, maybe you dwell on things a little bit more. They understand that it’s onto the next opponent and that’s the mentality you have to have in this game.”
The game will kickoff at 5 p.m. on Saturday, and Thompson-Robinson said UCLA is ready.
“I’d say (the team is) really confident,” Thompson-Robinson said. “We came to UCLA to play games like this so we’re excited to get the No. 5 team in the country coming in. We respect those guys and what they do, so we live for times like this.”