After getting blown out by No. 5 Oklahoma (3-0) at the Rose Bowl by a score of 48-14, UCLA football (0-3) is still searching for answers — and its first win. Now, Chip Kelly will head into conference play winless for the second straight season with an offense that has scored only 14 points in each of its three games. Here are five takeaways from the Bruins’ final nonconference test, and what it could mean for them going forward.
1. The Bruin offense needs more consistency
Kelly said it in his post-game comments, but the numbers make it even clearer.
Other than its two scoring drives in the first and third quarters, no possession by UCLA hit the three-minute mark. The Bruins run an up-tempo system, but when a team isn’t scoring for its defense more than once a half, the next best thing is to give them rest.
Even on drives that would see one or two first downs for the Bruins, it generally came from chunk plays. Then the Bruins would see three straight plays snuffed out for little or no gain, and the offense would be forced to punt — which it did five times in the game.
It doesn’t help that UCLA faced an average to-go distance of 10 yards on the 15 times it snapped the ball on third down.
Something needs to change for UCLA’s every-down offense or it could see many more third-and-longs in the future.
2. It’s not about the mistakes for Dorian Thompson-Robinson, it’s about how bad they are
Going into Saturday’s game, every Bruin fan knew the Sooners were the better team.
If the Bruins want to compete with teams better than they are — which is most of their schedule — they need to cut down on costly mistakes.
After being pressured on nearly every look he got, sophomore quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson was sacked four times on Saturday. But the bigger problem is that he lost 54 yards on those sacks.
Bad timing on his mistakes also really hurt Thompson-Robinson. With 4:06 left in the second quarter and the Bruins down 27-7, he had the opportunity to pull UCLA within two scores before it received the ball to start the second half.
Instead, he threw a costly pick on third down, giving Oklahoma the ball on the UCLA 36. From there, the Sooners tacked on another touchdown, stretching the score to 34-7 and effectively ending any hope the Bruins had left.
3. The UCLA linebacking corps left a lot to be desired
Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts is a Heisman contender, and boy, did he show it on Saturday.
The dual-threat senior accounted for 439 total yards on the day, including 150 and a score on the ground. It was clear from the opening drive that UCLA had no answer for his speed, allowing Hurts four rushes for 99 yards on a drive that would set the tone for the day.
Not all of Hurts’ runs were designed, but they all had one thing in common – open space. After Hurts had cut around or through the line of scrimmage, many times he saw nothing but green grass in front of him, allowing him to break three runs of over 20 yards.
It can’t be expected of the UCLA linebackers to catch Hurts once he’s turned on the burners, but either they or the Bruins’ defensive scheme needs to be better prepared.
A matchup against Arizona’s Khalil Tate is just two weeks away, and if UCLA’s linebackers – and defense as a whole – don’t work on containing a mobile quarterback, the Bruin defense could be looking at another 30-plus point half.
4. The receivers and tight ends are doing their job
Thompson-Robinson wasn’t upright for much of the game yesterday, but when he was, he threw the ball well. He had open receivers to throw to for a lot of the night.
Redshirt junior tight end Devin Asiasi, junior wide receiver Jaylen Erwin and redshirt freshman wide receiver Kyle Philips all impressed yesterday with the separation they were able to get from the Sooners’ secondary, all making big impacts on the Bruin offense.
Asiasi had three catches for 20-plus yards — although none of them were on scoring drives — and although Erwin only hauled in two catches for 15 yards, he was open on all four of his targets and brought in one of the Bruins’ two touchdowns.
And then there was Philips, who had two catches for 20 yards and a touchdown. To clarify, a beautiful touchdown.
Based on the overall yardages, it’s easy to look at UCLA’s passing game as anything but prolific, but that wasn’t the fault of the Bruins’ wideouts and tight ends.
5. While the result may not have been positive, the Bruins brought a better effort this week
UCLA had a players-only meeting Sunday after its loss to San Diego State, and something definitely changed.
Although the Oklahoma game was a blowout at halftime, the Bruins came out with a tough resolve in the second half and made the game more competitive, only losing the second-half battle 14-7.
Even though the Cincinnati and San Diego State games were much closer on the scoreboard, it often felt like UCLA lacked energy late in games. Regardless of the result, the play execution and the strategy Saturday, the Bruins worked their tails off until there were all zeros on the clock.
And when the team hasn’t won a nonconference game since 2017 – including the program’s first ever loss to San Diego State – that kind of effort has to count for something.