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Scouting report: UCLA vs. Alabama State

By Sam Settleman

Sept. 9, 2022 1:40 p.m.

UCLA football (1-0) will host Alabama State (2-0) at the Rose Bowl on Saturday. The Hornets enter the contest as 50.5-point underdogs against the Bruins and have gone 0-11 against FBS teams since 1980. Here is this week’s scouting report from Sports Editor Sam Settleman – who is counting down the days until Pac-12 play.

Alabama State’s offense
Offensive scheme: Spread
Run-pass percentage: 40.7% pass, 59.3% run
Strength: Versatility
Weakness: Turnovers
X-factor: QB Dematrius Davis

The Hornets certainly won’t be getting into a shootout with the Bruins, but at least they have a quarterback who should be good for a couple flashy plays.

After suffering a minor injury early in Alabama State’s second game of the season, Dematrius Davis is expected to return as the leader of the Hornets’ offense Saturday. The former four-star recruit transferred from Auburn after one year with the Tigers, where he was the third-string quarterback and didn’t see the field.

While he’s relatively undersized for his position at 5 feet, 11 inches, Davis looks the part of the highly-touted recruit he was coming out of high school. The quarterback won two state titles and went 51-3 in his high school days, leading him to be the No. 4-ranked dual-threat recruit by ESPN.

Davis had a modest showing on the stat sheet in Alabama State’s season-opening win against Howard, but displayed some of his talent — both with his arm and his legs.

The freshman quarterback completed nearly 70% of his passes in his collegiate debut, including some impressive throws from both in the pocket and on the run.

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In addition to Davis’ versatility, the Hornets run a lot of different looks on offense. They utilize a heavy dose of pre-snap motion along with a multitude of formations.

But the statistical profile of this team a season ago shows an offense that is far from being able to do damage in the FBS – despite some impressive individual talent. Alabama State ranked well below average in the Southwestern Athletic Conference in 2021, finishing ninth in scoring offense and 11th in total offense.

Their run game is nothing impressive and their receivers are prone to drops, but perhaps the Hornets’ biggest downfall is their turnovers. Alabama State had six of them – including five fumbles – in its win over Miles.

After opening up a 21-0 lead over the Golden Bears in the first quarter, the Hornets proceeded to go punt, fumble, punt, punt, fumble, fumble, fumble, interception, punt, punt, fumble on their next 11 drives. Tack on the fact that three of those punts were three-and-outs and that’s about as bad as it gets for an offense.

Davis may make a few eye-popping plays, but don’t expect much more out of Alabama State’s offense Saturday.

Alabama State’s defense
Defensive scheme: Nickel 4-2-5
Strength: Blitzing
Weakness: Rushing defense
X-factor: DB Adrian Maddox

Alabama State was slightly better on defense than offense last year, and that seems to be holding true in 2022.

The Hornets ranked sixth in the SWAC in scoring defense with 28.2 points allowed per game a season ago, but have given up just 13 points to each of their first two opponents this season – largely thanks to their pass defense. In its wins over Howard and Miles, Alabama State allowed an average of just 123.5 yards through the air and limited opposing quarterbacks to a combined 47% completion percentage.

Those marks can largely be credited to an impressive variety of blitzes. However, the Hornets do have some talented defenders, including freshman defensive back Adrian Maddox. The true freshman already has an interception and fumble recovery to his name and came inches away from a second pick against Howard.

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Alabama State’s ability to bring heat is what might cause UCLA some trouble early in the game. Redshirt senior quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson admitted after the blue and gold’s season-opening win over Bowling Green that it took some time to figure out what the Falcons were doing on defense.

The Hornets might be able to benefit from that element of surprise, as they tend to run heavy pressure out of their base nickel 4-2-5 defense. They’ll routinely send six-plus defenders at the quarterback to get a free rusher, but they can also generate pressure from nickel blitzes.

With the Hornets already racking up seven sacks on the year and the Bruins possessing a revamped offensive line, don’t be surprised if Thompson-Robinson gets taken down a couple times.

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When it comes to rushing defense, however, it’s a different story for the Hornets. A mix of poor tackling and a lack of size across the board make Alabama State very porous against the run.

With rain in the forecast for Pasadena on Saturday, expect UCLA to go to the ground early and often. Senior running back Zach Charbonnet might not need much more than 10 carries to reach 100 yards, while redshirt junior running back Keegan Jones should get a chance to see significant reps as he steps into the RB2 role.

The Bruins might not score 50 that way, but their offense should dominate the Hornets’ defense nonetheless.

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Sam Settleman | Sports editor
Settleman is currently the Sports editor on the football, men's basketball and gymnastics beats. He was previously an assistant editor on the gymnastics, women's soccer, women's golf, men's water polo and women's water polo beats and a contributor on the gymnastics and women's water polo beats.
Settleman is currently the Sports editor on the football, men's basketball and gymnastics beats. He was previously an assistant editor on the gymnastics, women's soccer, women's golf, men's water polo and women's water polo beats and a contributor on the gymnastics and women's water polo beats.
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