UCLA football had a chance to force overtime late in Saturday’s game against Arizona, but the Bruins wound up losing 20-17. Sophomore quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson injured his ankle late in the third quarter and the offense was unable to replicate its comeback effort from Pullman, Washington last week. There were pros and cons to the game for UCLA, like there are every week, and here are five of the biggest takeaways from the loss.
Burton is a serviceable replacement
Thompson-Robinson was far from replicating his 507-yard week four performance before he left the game in Tucson, Arizona, but he did make some plays over the course of the first three quarters.
He had a career-high 63 rushing yards, threaded the needle into double coverage several times and evaded the Wildcat pass rush with ease. But when Thompson-Robinson went down, redshirt sophomore quarterback Austin Burton had to take his place.
Burton hadn’t taken a single snap in his two-plus seasons in Westwood, so seeing his levelheaded play style was a pleasant surprise. He had a few key third down conversions and even laid one right into junior wide receiver Jaylen Erwin’s hands 40 yards downfield on his first career pass attempt.
Erwin dropped it, but that doesn’t take away how great of a throw it was.
Burton isn’t as mobile or dynamic as Thompson-Robinson, and he didn’t show the confidence to throw into tight windows late in Saturday’s game. But for a backup quarterback who had never played competitive collegiate football, Burton’s performance was promising enough.
UCLA is undoubtedly a better team with Thompson-Robinson under center, but Burton is a good replacement should the former four-star recruit be out next week against Oregon State.
There’s something up with Molson
In his first 36 games as UCLA’s starting kicker, senior JJ Molson was 43-of-60 on field goal attempts – good for a 71.7% success rate.
Following a potential game-tying miss from 39 yards out Saturday night, he’s 2-of-5 in 2019.
That’s a 40% clip, for those of you without calculators.
Even after missing five of his 19 attempts in 2018, Molson still entered this season as the Bruins’ go-to model of consistency. He had only missed one of his 112 career extra point attempts entering 2019.
But Molson dinged one off the left upright against San Diego State from 45 yards out and pushed a 36-yarder wide right in the fourth quarter against Oklahoma. In his defense, he is a perfect 16-of-16 on extra points, but that hasn’t exactly kept his season afloat.
When your team gets you 39 yards out for a game-tying field goal attempt in the final minute, the expectation is that you can hit it. The mental strain of being a kicker is more extreme than maybe any other position, so the reason for Molson’s struggles isn’t directly tied to his skill.
At this point, I think it’s clear that these misses are in Molson’s head and they seem to be taking a toll on his performance on the field.
Kelley wasn’t perfect, but he did break out
Redshirt senior running back Joshua Kelley said in his postgame press conference that he was, to paraphrase a bit, bad.
The stat sheet tells a different story – and he did break out a 36-yarder after Thompson-Robinson went down to set himself up for a quick touchdown – but he did have a point.
Kelley was stuffed on consecutive third and fourth down power runs when he tried going over the top for the first. The running back cited that as one of his major mistakes on the night, and it certainly cost the Bruins some long drives.
Almost half of Kelley’s carries went for two yards or fewer before Burton entered the game, leading to his 3.1 yards per carry in the first half.
But that one stutter-step late in the third helped him break out a chunk play and he finished the night with 136 yards from scrimmage. Kelley is finally warmed up – now he just needs to put it all together for a full game.
The defense continues to be a mixed bag
Last week, one of the five things was that junior cornerback Darnay Holmes had been getting burned early and often this season.
But Saturday against Arizona, Holmes was back to his shutdown ways and he was rarely ever targeted.
The rest of the defense, on the other hand, was all over the place.
When UCLA isn’t playing top-five, historic offenses like Oklahoma and Washington State, the defense is holding opponents to 22.3 points per game. In terms of pure scoring, that is perfectly good enough to win.
But the secondary made Arizona quarterback Grant Gunnell look like a veteran, allowing him to throw for 352 yards and a 140.6 passer rating on 44 attempts. Opposing receivers still had wide-open real estate on the sidelines, and the linebacking corps did little to stop the Wildcats’ 15-yard cross routes over the middle.
The rush defense held Arizona to under 100 yards, almost two-thirds of which came on three plays, so the Bruins remain a formidable defense on the ground.
As long as it is letting up 300-plus yards to first-time starters, however, UCLA’s defense will still remain a black spot.
It wasn’t Chip’s fault
The easiest thing to do when a team is 1-4 is call for the coach’s head.
It’s even easier when that coach is has been paid millions of dollars to start 4-13, so it isn’t surprising that fans are going after Chip Kelly again.
But solely looking at the game played in Tucson, Arizona on Saturday, I wouldn’t put that one all on Kelly.
Two key fourth down calls went Arizona’s way, despite some questionable replay evidence. Without those two Wildcat conversions, the score would have been 17-10 – not even taking into account the improved field position the Bruins would have had.
Erwin’s 40-yard drop in the fourth quarter resulted in an eventual punt. A catch would have given the Bruins a first down in field goal range, so there’s another score that could have gone UCLA’s way.
And then there’s Molson’s miss at the end.
So if a few calls, drops and mishaps had gone the Bruins’ way, UCLA could have won 27-10 with its starting quarterback out for the fourth quarter.
This one’s not on Kelly.