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Despite loss to Arizona, backup quarterback Austin Burton shows promise

Senior kicker JJ Molson is 2-of-5 on field goal attempts in 2019 after missing a 39-yard attempt late in the fourth quarter against Arizona. Molson was 14-of-19 on field goals in 2018. (Liz Ketcham/Photo editor)

By Sam Connon

September 30, 2019 11:53 pm

The Bruins nearly forced overtime against the Wildcats on Saturday, but senior JJ Molson’s 39-yard attempt sailed wide right.

And the 22-year-old kicker said he didn’t take the miss lightly.

“I think that was the first one in my career where, you know, I had the game riding (on me) and then I didn’t succeed, so it was definitely tough,” Molson said Monday. “You feel like death after a kick like that.”

UCLA football (1-4, 1-1 Pac-12) dropped to .500 in conference play after Saturday’s 20-17 loss to Arizona, while a win would have given the Bruins sole possession of first place in the Pac-12 South. Sophomore quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson wasn’t able to lead UCLA to its second straight comeback victory, as he left with a leg injury in the third quarter, leaving redshirt sophomore quarterback Austin Burton in charge with the game on the line.

The Bruins punted on Burton’s first full drive at the helm, but he led a 70-yard drive in the final minutes to put Molson in position to tie the game. Despite Molson’s miss, Burton said he was more upset with himself for not scoring a touchdown to take the lead instead.

“(I’m) not really (happy) because I wanted to win,” Burton said. “I don’t even think I should get an opportunity to kick the field goal, I think we should have scored. You know, that’s my job, to lead them into the end zone.”

Molson said he took full responsibility for the result after practice Monday, citing his shoulder not dropping and his kicking foot hitting the ground before the ball as the main reasons why the kick went wide. The coaching staff swapped the long snapper and holder prior to the Washington State game – with freshman long snapper Jack Landherr IV and graduate transfer punter Wade Lees taking over – but Molson said the changes had no effect on his miss.

The Bruins’ quarterback swap, on the other hand, was due to injury rather than coach Chip Kelly’s choice. Burton was 5-of-9 with 48 yards in his first collegiate appearance – something Kelly said impressed him.

“(Burton) controlled (the game) the way we wanted it controlled and gave us an opportunity to tie the game and go into overtime,” Kelly said. “For what he was asked to do in that situation for not having played a significant amount of snaps at all, I thought he did a really nice job.”

Kelly said Thompson-Robinson’s injury wasn’t serious or long-term, but the dual-threat passer did not practice Monday. As a result, Burton said he was practicing this week with the starting job on his mind.

Redshirt sophomore quarterback Austin Burton had not taken a snap for UCLA football in his two-plus seasons with the team prior to its game against Arizona on Saturday. Burton went 5-of-9 passing on the night. (Liz Ketcham/Photo editor)
Redshirt sophomore quarterback Austin Burton had not taken a snap for UCLA football in his two-plus seasons with the team prior to its game against Arizona on Saturday. Burton went 5-of-9 passing on the night. (Liz Ketcham/Photo editor)

“I’m always preparing to be the starter, you know, whether it’s week one, week now – whatever it is,” Burton said. “You’ve always got to be prepared, as the backup, to be the starter.”

While Thompson-Robinson was absent from the practice field, junior safety Quentin Lake, senior receiver Theo Howard and redshirt junior defensive end Osa Odighizuwa all participated Monday. Redshirt senior linebacker Tyree Thompson, who had leg surgery during fall camp, was dressed and wore a helmet, but did not participate in team drills.

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Sam Connon | Sports senior staff
Connon is currently a Sports senior staff writer for the football and men's basketball beats. He was the Sports editor for the 2019-2020 academic year, an assistant Sports editor on the baseball, men's soccer, cross country, men's golf and women's golf beats from 2018-2019 and a reporter on the baseball and women's basketball beats from 2017-2018. Connon also contributes movie reviews for Arts & Entertainment and co-hosts Daily Bruin Sports' weekly podcast, "Out of Bounds." Connon is a rising fourth-year Communication student from Winchester, Massachusetts.
Connon is currently a Sports senior staff writer for the football and men's basketball beats. He was the Sports editor for the 2019-2020 academic year, an assistant Sports editor on the baseball, men's soccer, cross country, men's golf and women's golf beats from 2018-2019 and a reporter on the baseball and women's basketball beats from 2017-2018. Connon also contributes movie reviews for Arts & Entertainment and co-hosts Daily Bruin Sports' weekly podcast, "Out of Bounds." Connon is a rising fourth-year Communication student from Winchester, Massachusetts.
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