The Oklahoma Sooners had a pretty smooth go of things against FAU, but will OU face more resistance from the UCLA Bruins? Here to help answer that question are various staff members from Bruins Nation — SB Nation’s UCLA site. We discuss the QB situation, the defense, Troy Aikman, Russell Westbrook, USC, and more!
Quarterback Wilton Speight suffered a back injury against Cincinnati, and is still listed as day-to-day. He’s slowly eased back into practice, but do you think there is any chance that we see him on Saturday?
Markybcool: If he is healthy enough, I could definitely see him playing. There’s not too many people on the UCLA roster that have played a game in a college football environment like UCLA is about to enter.
AnteatersandBruins: I hope not. We know this season isn’t going to be about winning a ton of games and going to a top tier bowl game, so I think we need to throw a young guy to the wolves and let him take his lumps. Speight didn’t look solid enough to earn a starting spot, in my opinion.
Joe Piechowski: I’ve said for a month that I thought this week’s starter would be different from last week’s starter. After Speight’s injury, that may prove to be the case whether we want it or not. If he’s healthy, I think Speight could start. If he’s not, I’d prefer to see Devon Modster get the start because he has some experience after filling in admirably for Josh Rosen last year. Last week, true freshman Dorian Thompson-Robinson looked unprepared to be playing, but Chip said he saw things that he liked. I just don’t understand how, if Chip says playing time is earned, Thompson-Robinson didn’t unearn it after his performance last week. Personally, I would have benched him after the fumble that resulted in the go-ahead safety.
Andrew_goodman3: Healthy or not, in his brief appearance against the Cincinnati Bearcats, he was unimpressive. I think we’ll see either Dorian Thompson-Robinson or Devon Modster under center on Saturday. At this point, it’s safe to assume that Devon Modster is UCLA’s best quarterback (for now).
Running back Soso Jamabo will still be out with a suspension, but what do the other three backs -- Joshua Kelley, Bolu Olorunfunmi and Kazmeir Allen -- bring to the table?
Markybcool: Kelly has been a player that UCLA coaches have had their eye on for a while. Kelly has experience and seems to be a patient runner that is able to make positive things happen. Bolu is another Bruin RB that has shown a good mix of running styles and became famous last year with his karate kick run against the Ducks. Allen, just seems to be one of those guys that you cannot wait to get the ball, because each time he does he can take it to the house. With that being said, these guys will all be held in check each week if the OL cannot get things together.
AnteatersandBruins: Kazmeir Allen brings a state championship in the 100 meter dash. He’s incredibly fast and once he gets into space, he’s gone. The only thing holding him back is an offensive line loaded with inexperienced guys. Josh Kelley is another young guy that will make a name for himself, but Allen is college ready now.
Joe Piechowski: Kazmeir Allen definitely brings speed to the table and that’s something Chip Kelly loves because you can’t coach speed. Josh Kelley has been impressive in practices dating back to last season when he sat out due to his transfer from UC Davis. Bolu Olorunfunmi has also shown some speed and power. But, none of these guys will do a lot without help from a questionable offensive line.
Andrew_goodman3: Allen brings blazing speed and elusiveness and fits in perfectly with a Chip Kelly offense. He isn’t the biggest guy, nor will he lower his shoulder to truck a defender, but boy does he have some serious wheels. Josh Kelley is a bit of a question mark, but grabbed headlines with his performance during the offseason, but he has yet to be unleashed yet. As for Bolu, I think his time as a featured back might be coming to an end. He was awful against Cincy, albeit the offensive line was mediocre, but I just don’t see how he fits in a fast, uptempo offense. The offense is much better suited with Kazmeir Allen as their starting running back.
While the current staff didn’t necessarily inherit an ideal personnel situation, there’s still plenty of talent on this defense. Who stands out on that side of the ball?
Markybcool: It’s clear that Jaelan Phillips is going to be a stud this year. His quickness and ability to move in space makes him a perfect fit for the new Bruins defense. Adarius Pickett is another player on the defense that is solid, and since he is a senior, he brings a lot of experience and leadership to the defensive side of the ball.
AnteatersandBruins: Jaelan Phillips and Darnay Holmes are my guys. Phillips is Anthony Barr reincarnated and is an absolute beast. Older guys offer the leadership and hold the unit together, but young guys like Phillips and Holmes bring the energy and skill we need.
Joe Piechowski: Believe it or not, it isn’t so much that they didn’t inherit a talented roster. This year, the team’s Blue Chip Ratio is 43.5%. So, while it isn’t National Championship caliber, it still isn’t bad. The problem is that there are some very glaring weak spots that a relatively high Blue Chip Ratio cannot account for, such as the offensive line which has been a work in progress for years.
That said, the defense was the bright spot last week. Defensive end Rick Wade managed to force a fumble that led to a touchdown. Outside linebackers Jaelan Phillips and Keisean Lucier-South both played well. Overall, the first quarter was good, but the defense stumbled a little in the second quarter and they certainly weren’t helped by a Speight interception that gave Cincinnati a short field which resulted in a touchdown.
New DC Jerry Azzinaro made good defensive adjustments at halftime and the team did not allow a touchdown in the second half until the Bearcats again had a short field, due to an errant fourth down and one pass by Dorian Thompson-Robinson who couldn’t throw an accurate pass to a wide open receiver.
If UCLA has a chance to win this game, it starts on the defensive side of the ball.
Speaking of the new staff, Chip Kelly was obviously seen as a home-run hire. How long do you think it will take him to get the program to the point that it’s competing for conference championships?
Markybcool: Year three is my measuring stick year for him. He definitely needs a chance to recruit players that he feels fit his plan for the Bruins. The 2018 Bruins have a class of Kelly recruits that his staff barely had a chance to recruit since Kelly was hired at the end of last season. So I believe if he is not competing for a Pac-12 Championship by year three it will be a huge disappointment.
AnteatersandBruins: I think we’ll be on an upward trajectory by the end of the season, but it’ll be another year or two before we see any kind of conference championship or top bowl.
Joe Piechowski: At this point, I think we just want to see progress each week. In week one, there was certainly some progression over last year. The defense was much improved. Penalties were down. But the offense seems to have regressed, especially when Thompson-Robinson was on the field until the final drive where he suddenly started hitting his receivers. I think Bruin fans just want to see steady progress from the team right now regardless of how long it may take.
Circling back to the QB position -- Dorian Thompson-Robinson seems to have plenty of upside, but the true freshman out of Bishop Gorman struggled at times against the Bearcats. Assuming that he’s the guy for the Bruins, what kind of player should OU fans expect to see on Saturday? Also, do you think we could potentially see Devon Modster or another QB?
Markybcool: I will continue to say that I would like to see Thompson-Robinson as the quarterback for the Bruins. I believe that a true Chip Kelly game plan can be best executed with Thompson-Robinson as quarterback. With that being said, I would not be surprised to see Modster this week, especially if Speight is not healthy. And I would be ok seeing Modster as well since his work last year as our starting QB was admirable.
AnteatersandBruins: I’m hoping we see Modster. He’s got the experience and mobility that we need to play respectably on Saturday. Thompson-Robinson is too green and throwing him in at Oklahoma is probably not the way to go.
Joe Piechowski: The problems with Thompson-Robinson are plenty right now. He’s a true freshman who opted to stay in high school rather than enroll early and get reps during Spring Practice. That put him behind the eight ball already. On top of that, he only had one year of varsity experience playing quarterback. So, if anyone would have benefitted from Spring Practice, it would be him. His play last Saturday was awful, which given the circumstances I mentioned shouldn’t be surprising.
After his performance last week, I think Thompson-Robinson has proven that he needs to redshirt this season. So, in my book, he can play in as many as three more games under the new rules. I’m hoping he doesn’t play this weekend.
As I said earlier, I think he unearned playing time with last week’s performance. So, I think Modster gets the start this week with Speight still day-to-day.
Play calling has been cited as a concern following the loss to Cincinnati, as was the lack of pace from the offense. What were some of the specific issues you observed on Saturday?
Markybcool: Offensive play calling was hampered by the inability to get any rhythm going. I will say that I was surprised with the play calling that occured while Thompson-Robinson was in the game. I would have expected him to have more of a chance to use his dual threat capabilities. However, it was the first game, and I know the offense that Chip wants to run is going to be implemented through a process, but I do feel not having a clear No. 1 QB could possibly hamper the ability for certain QB’s to gain continuity with certain personnel groupings.
AnteatersandBruins: The offense never really got into a good groove. You could really tell they were ironing out the wrinkles and getting used to the new system. I know a lot of fans just wanted to see the high flying, fast-paced offenses that Chip Kelly employed at Oregon, but over there he inherited a program from a head coach that was moving on to be the school Athletic Director. Chip was handed the keys to a porsche and just had to avoid crashing it. At UCLA, he’s got a decently running Camry but the transmission could fall out at any time.
Joe Piechowski: I came through the Rose Bowl tunnel shortly after kickoff with 14:20 left in the first quarter. Half-joking, I immediately asked “Did we score yet?” But, I wasn’t the only one saying that. I overheard another guy ask the same question.
I’m not sure what the issue was offensively, but UCLA had a hard time sustaining a drive until the last two minutes of the game. That’s a problem.
I’m not sure how to fix it. I don’t know if the issue result from a failure to sustain drives or what, but it’s clear that the offense needs to get better.
UCLA has plenty of famous alumni, but who would be included in your top three (and why)?
Markybcool: If we’re talking all sports, it’s hard to think of UCLA without think about Kareem Abdul Jabbar, the greatest UCLA basketball player ever. Bill Walton, the second best UCLA basketball player ever, and a true ambassador for UCLA. Lastly, Jackie Robinson, and his winning varsity letters in four sports: baseball, basketball, football, and track.
AnteatersandBruins: Well, you didn’t specify football alumni, so I’ll expand my answer outside of the easy Troy Aikman answer. John Williams, because hello, every great movie soundtrack ever. Ann Meyers Drysdale for her impact on the entire world of basketball, and finally, who could leave out Jackie Robinson. Such a groundbreaking and iconic individual.
Joe Piechowski: Three? You’re going to limit me to just three? That just doesn’t seem fair. There are so many Bruin student-athletes that would be qualified to make a list like that. But, it’s not just limited to sports. So, I’m going to name three people you may not know are UCLA grads. They may not make a list of my top three, but I find three UCLA grads you may not know are UCLA grads more interesting. First, former New York Yankees first baseman Chris Chambliss. After that, I’m including Jaleel White. Yup, Urkel went to UCLA. In fact, he lived across the hall from me right before I graduated. Finally, what would the Food Network be with Giada De Laurentiis? She’s also a Bruin.
What are some facts about UCLA that you think Oklahoma fans should know?
Markybcool: The race for the most NCAA Championships is real, with UCLA currently at 116 Championships combined between both Men’s and Women’s sports. And I agree with AnteatersandBruins, if you get a chance next year, visit UCLA and see what a beautiful and fun area Westwood is.
AnteatersandBruins: Since you’re visiting next year, make sure you take a look around downtown Westwood. Some iconic places from movies and great places to eat (Barney’s Beanery is awesome). In the Olympics, UCLA sends so many athletes they’d qualify as a country delegation.
Joe Piechowski: Well, here’s one a lot of folks may not know. Jackie Robinson’s number 42 has been retired across all UCLA teams, but, interestingly, Robinson did not wear it, at least, on the football or basketball teams. His football number was 28 and his basketball number was 18. I’ve been unable to find out what number he wore for the Bruin baseball team.
In their prime, who would win a cage match – Troy Aikman or Gary Beban?
Markybcool: Since I am not only a diehard UCLA Bruin, I am a diehard Dallas Cowboys fan, so I would go with Troy Aikman. Troy is a tough dude!
AnteatersandBruins: Please don’t make me answer this. But I think I’d go with Aikman.
Joe Piechowski: I can’t answer that because I’m not old enough to have seen Beban play. But, Troy Aikman certainly played a role in my decision to apply to UCLA and I wish UCLA’s Chancellor Gene Block understood how much UCLA’s sports teams play a role in the school being the most applied to university in the country.
Other than OJ, who is your least favorite Trojan of all time?
Markybcool: That might be the toughest question of all. Since I hate SC so much, it would be impossible for me to narrow that down to any one player. So any player that wears rust and yellow is my least favorite player.
AnteatersandBruins: Hands down Matt Barkley. Can’t stand him. I regularly watch Anthony Barr’s takedown of that guy on YouTube because the moment was so joyful.
Joe Piechowski: Does a coach count? If so, then I have to choose “Cheatey Petey” Carroll. If not, I’ll go with Mr. Unfinished Business, Matt Barkley. He was just such a smug dude.
When taking both collegiate and NBA careers into consideration, where would you rank Russell Westbrook amongst the all-time greatest Bruins on the hardwood?
Markybcool: Westbrook is my second favorite UCLA Bruin that I was able to see play. My first would be Reggie Miller. I love Westbrook, and I love how he always shows his love for UCLA.
AnteatersandBruins: He’s way up there. We watched him play in college but he really came into his own while in the NBA. I don’t think top 10, but definitely top 15.
Joe Piechowski: I didn’t get to see any of the Wooden era guys play. So, this is a tough question for me. If we only go back 30 years, I think he makes the Top 10, for sure, but all-time would be really, really tough to say.
What will UCLA have to do to keep this interesting? Do you think UCLA will beat the spread?
Markybcool: UCLA will have to get some turnovers and short fields to keep this close, and I will 100% say that the UCLA Bruins will cover the spread.
AnteatersandBruins: I think we can beat the spread--we need to get things together that fell apart last week, create space for running backs, give our quarterback time to throw, and settle in to the offense. I’m not sure how much difference a week can make, but I don’t think we’ll lose by over 30 points like the spread suggests. Closer to 21 or 24.
Joe Piechowski: The keys to this game for UCLA is defense, field position and the offense’s ability to move the ball. The only way UCLA has a chance to keep the game close is if the defense plays like it did in the second half against Cincinnati.
I was discussing this game a few weeks ago with Fox Sports’ Joel Klatt who will call the game with Gus Johnson. He thought this game was a very interesting matchup and seemed to be giving UCLA a shot because he had looked at a bunch of teams which had lost a Heisman Trophy winner and, typically, they seem to average between 8 to 9 wins the next season.
But, he thought FAU was going to give the Sooners a much harder time than they did.
My gut feeling is that the Bruins may not beat the spread. But, the improvement on defense is substantial and it could let UCLA beat the spread.