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UCLA football prepares for surprises in first-ever matchup with LSU

UCLA football senior quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson will match up against an LSU defense that allowed 323 passing yards per game a year ago. The fourth-year quarterback is coming off of a 10-for-20, 130-yard performance in the Bruins’ season opener. (Tanmay Shankar/Daily Bruin senior staff)

Football


No. 16 LSU
Saturday, 5:30 p.m.

Rose Bowl
Fox

By Jon Christon

Sept. 4, 2021 4:26 p.m.

The 2019 champs are coming to Westwood.

UCLA football (1-0) will face No. 16 LSU on Saturday at the Rose Bowl. The Tigers, who have yet to play a game in 2021, are coming off a year in which they went 5-5 after going a perfect 15-0 en route to the national championship in 2019.

Coach Chip Kelly said the matchup is the biggest contest of the season for the Bruins – as is every other game on their schedule.

“We’re going all out – this is our Super Bowl (and) it’s (LSU’s) Super Bowl because it’s the next game on the list,” Kelly said. “To put more weight on one game than you do another game, then shame on you. … Every game we play is the most important game we play, so every week is the Super Bowl.”

The matchup marks the first-ever meeting between the two programs and the first time UCLA has faced off against an SEC opponent since 2017 when it beat Texas A&M in its first game of the season.

Not only does UCLA lack experience playing against LSU, but Kelly said the Tigers overhauling their offensive and defensive schemes from a year ago makes them even harder to scout. After its first season in more than 20 years with a .500 record or worse, LSU changed both offensive and defensive coordinators.

Kelly also said without any recent film or knowledge of the new LSU game plan, his team will have to be able to adapt to whatever is thrown at them.

“Once you get two or three games in, each team’s identity kind of shows itself, and you get an idea of what they’re going to do,” Kelly said. “We got to be agile, especially early in the game. … If it’s not (what we practiced), then we got to make adjustments on our own. “

Regardless of who is standing on the LSU sidelines, senior quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson said UCLA will be ready to follow through with its game plan.

“They got new coordinators on both sides of the ball, so we’re not going to know really what to expect,” Thompson-Robinson said “We’re always prepared for anything that they throw at us. We’re going to execute on our side of the ball and do what we do.”

Thompson-Robinson is coming off a game in which he completed 10 of his 20 passes for only 130 yards, but this week’s matchup features a defense from LSU that ranked dead last in the FBS in passing yards allowed per game last season, allowing nearly 325 yards per contest.

However, even with their struggles stopping the pass, the Tigers tied for the SEC lead with 13 interceptions last year and boast a pair of All-American cornerbacks in Derek Stingley Jr. and Eli Ricks.

For a quarterback that has thrown 20 interceptions so far in his college career, Thompson-Robinson said the duo of Ricks and Stingley – the latter of which he described as a “ball hawk” – will present a formidable challenge to the Bruins’ passing game.

“We got our work cut out for us,” Thompson-Robinson said. “(Stingley) and Ricks on the other side, it’s probably going to be the best secondary we play all year.”

On the offensive side of the ball, LSU was tasked with replacing Heisman-winning quarterback Joe Burrow last year, who threw for 5,671 yards and 60 touchdowns while leading the top offense in the country in multiple categories in 2019.

Current starter Max Johnson was part of a committee of quarterbacks last year that succeeded Burrow, starting the final two games of the campaign and throwing for 1,069 yards and eight touchdowns across six total games. Johnson also ran for nearly 120 yards and two touchdowns.

Redshirt senior defensive lineman Datona Jackson said UCLA will rush the quarterback early and often to get the ball out of his hands.

“​​I’ve noticed that he’s going to be a dual threat,” Jackson said. “We’re going to put a lot of pressure on him to make him force decisions. We got to execute our game plan and make him play our type of play style.”

Jackson added that the Bruins have no margin of error given the quality of their opponent.

“We got to execute our game plan to the best of our abilities,” Jackson said. “We’re going up against a former national championship-winning team.”

Kickoff is set for 5:30 p.m. in Pasadena.

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Jon Christon | Sports editor
Christon is currently the Sports editor and a reporter on the men's basketball and football beats. He was previously an assistant Sports editor on the women's basketball, softball, men's tennis and women's tennis beats and a reporter on the women's basketball and softball beats.
Christon is currently the Sports editor and a reporter on the men's basketball and football beats. He was previously an assistant Sports editor on the women's basketball, softball, men's tennis and women's tennis beats and a reporter on the women's basketball and softball beats.
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