The San Diego State fans did not mind the blistering heat at the Rose Bowl. The couple thousand that made the trip north, along with the full band, were as a happy as a quarterback with all the room in the world to throw against a UCLA defense.
After a two-field goal performance in week one against Weber State, The Aztecs rolled in to Pasadena and beat the Bruins 23-14 before an announced crowd of 36,951. That is the lowest home attendance for a UCLA game in 25 years. It was also the first time in school history the Bruins lost to San Diego State.
The game propelled SDSU to 2-0. It dropped UCLA to 0-2 with highly ranked Oklahoma coming in Saturday.
The Bruins faithful though; well they were vocal with their displeasure. Starting quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson was booed repeatedly late in the first half as he failed to move the offense. As the assistant coaches came down from the boxes to make their way to the locker room at halftime, they were greeted with shouts of displeasure from the crowd lingering around the concession stands. And that was with UCLA only down 10-7 at the half.
If that were not enough, with UCLA down 17-14 in the third quarter, Martin Andrus, Sr., the father of UCLA reserve defensive lineman Martin Andrus, Jr., took to social media to vent his frustrations.
I know 1 thing you stupid UCLA fans made a mistake wishing Mora out of town smh
— Martin Andrus Sr (@MartinAndrus) September 7, 2019
The game started off well enough. Playing on a short field, after a 30-yard Kyle Philips punt return, the Bruins got a shot in the arm. Josh Kelley was back at running back and he immediately picked up five yards. Two Thompson-Robinson completions, a five-yard Kelley touchdown run, and the Bruins had the kind of offense that was reminiscent of late last season. That seven-point lead in the first three minutes of the game was also the high point of the day for them.
San Diego State would answer with a 75-yard, 14 play touchdown drive that consumed 7:13 of the clock and tied the game at 7-7.
The drive was tone setting for the entire game. San Diego State quarterback Ryan Agnew was only 16 of 30 for 180 yards with zero touchdowns against Weber State last week. But he found the going much easier versus UCLA. With the Bruins sitting in a soft zone, Agnew did not need to be big going downfield. There was tons of space in the underneath for 12, 13 yards a throw. He would finish the game 23 of 31 for 293 yards and the touchdown.
The run game for the Aztecs was negligible (80 yards on 47 carries), but it didn’t need to be significant when the Bruins pass defense was so easy to move the ball downfield against.
Conversely, Thompson-Robinson was typically either really good throwing or horribly off-target, with no in between. After being booed by the home crowd at the end of the second quarter, he had some moments of real quarterbacking in the third quarter. When he was on target, the passes were picturesque. When he was off, he was missing by a mile.
Down 17-7, Thompson-Robinson put together a 14 play, 75-yard touchdown drive that showed what fans have been expecting of him. He hit Demetric Felton for an 11-yard completion. He found Kyle Philips for another 24 yards. Then he found tight end Greg Dulcich in the middle of the end zone and hit with a pass that was dead on the money. UCLA was down 17-14, but with a sign of life.
The sign turned out to be a detour. The two teams traded inept drives, before SDSU came back with 31-yard Matt Araiza field goal and the 20-14 lead. The Aztecs would get one more field goal, a 25-yarder from Araiza, and burn nearly seven minutes of the fourth quarter clock for the 23-14 lead.
UCLA had another chance to get on the board and shrink the SDSU lead. But they could not convert on 4th and one at their own 32, when Kelley got stuffed for a loss. Sand Diego State took over and ran out the clock, much to the delight of the thousands of Aztec fans in that end of the stadium.
The team is 0-2 just as it was after two weeks last season. The improvements, if any, are not easily seen by the fans or most watching. The offense has a running attack when Kelley is available (15 carries for 53 yards and the touchdown Saturday). But he is still not getting the carries he saw last year. Thompson-Robinson is still inconsistent, to put it politely. His pass protection is equally not reliable, and he often holds the ball too long looking for the big play. The lack of a pass rush was an issue last week against Cincinnati, but not as much Saturday. Agnew’s drop backs and releases were mostly quick to take advantage of the cushion given by the UCLA secondary.
After the game Kelly said a loss is a loss regardless of the historic notes. “It doesn’t matter if you lost to them before or lost to them now. It hurts when you lose. We lost to them now and it hurts.”
As for the lack of fans at the game, and the vociferousness of their displeasure, Kelly said, “I see what they see. We made too many mistakes to win a football game tonight. We certainly understand that. It’s on us to make the corrections and to play better as a football team and to coach better as a coaching staff. I believe it will happen. I have faith in these guys.”
The startling thing is that some of Agnew’s success was completely predictable. That is not rhetoric. That was in the prep films. Defensive back Quentin Lake said during film study, they saw that Agnew tips his plays. “We knew when the quarterback was wiping his hands on his towel, it was a pass.” Lake said even with that knowledge, Agnew had plenty of room to work with. “In zone it’s hard because there is plenty of open areas, especially in a Cover Three.”
Lake said the defensive secondary needs to take this loss on themselves. “I would say his (Agnew’s) success came on poor defensive alignment. It was more on us. I didn’t really see him as a threat. Obviously on the back end we didn’t do so well. I am going to be accountable for this game and take responsibility for this game.” He said as a veteran leader he was going to take it upon himself to gather the unit and talk about preparation and being more consistent.
We asked Thompson-Robinson about the vibe of the team, with being 0-2 again and seemingly having lost large portions of the fan base. “Obviously guys are frustrated, but I think we still come together as a unit, come together as a family. I have said this before, I love all my guys, and we all have each other’s backs.”
Kelley said he felt better about being able to play. But he would not commit to how many carries he can handle. “I think for the most part the coaches are being really smart with me and what I can do at this point. I think the training staff and coaches, it’s really up to them. As a competitor, of course you want to be out there.”
This Bruins team is much more like the one that started last season, and much less like the one that finished the year. Chip Kelley likes to teach his players the theme of “So what, what’s next?” It’s a way to not wallow in the past but look ahead. The problem is what is next is playoff contender Oklahoma and Heisman candidate quarterback Jalen Hurts. If a serviceable quarterback like Agnew can move the ball up and down the field against the UCLA defense, the prospects of Hurts, who carved up Houston last week for 332 yards and three touchdowns should leave a lot of UCLA fans wide awake this week.