Few thought it would be close, and they were right. Oklahoma dominated from the opening minutes in route to a 48-14 blowout win over UCLA before 52,578 at the Rose Bowl Saturday night. The Sooners are now 3-0 on the season. The Bruins dropped to 0-3 for the second straight year of the Chip Kelly era. Considering half the crowd was in Oklahoma red, and seeing as how there is no other team on the schedule with this kind of pull, this will likely be the biggest home crowd of the season. The student section was empty with school not being in session yet. But it would be hard to imagine these first three games will be enough to compel them to come out in three weeks for the next home game.
UCLA; From Bad to Blowout
UCLA came out in the same soft zone defense that got torn apart by Cincinnati and San Diego State in previous weeks. It seemed obvious that a Heisman contender like Sooners quarterback Jalen Hurts would have an easy time tearing it apart. And he did. Hurts had 400 yards of total offense by halftime. By comparison, UCLA had 116. Hurts would finish with 439 yards of total offense by himself (of Oklahoma’s 611). The entire UCLA offense managed 311.
This is no longer about youth or watering bamboo or pulling up plants to check the roots. The youth has had plenty of snaps, plenty of practices, and plenty of training camp. The schemes and the talent do not match up to high level opponents. The Bruins are not competitive right now. There can be plenty of talk about good practices and re-focusing and working in the micro. But the Bruins had an elite team at home and could not compete for a sustained period of time.
The defensive line was manhandled by a physically superior Oklahoma offensive line. The linebackers were helpless in the scheme. Krys Barnes has had many good games for UCLA but putting him on Sooners receiver CeeDee Lamb in coverage is a mismatch every day of the week. Having the defensive backs sit back in soft coverage left the middle/underneath predictably wide open for Hurts, both in the air and on the ground.
Starting Quickly And Never Letting Up
On the first play of the game Hurts scampered for 52 yards through a UCLA defense that never laid a hand on him until the tackle. A few plays later, he had a huge hole up the middle and ran 30 yards for the touchdown. Most of the half was just that easy.
Later in the quarter, Oklahoma would get a 22-yard field goal from Calum Sutherland to boost the lead to 10-0. The lead ballooned to 17-0 in the first quarter. Hurts scrambled to his right and found Lamb in the middle of UCLA’s busted coverage, between Barnes and defensive back Stephan Blaylock.
The Bruins put together a scoring drive of their own in the second quarter. It featured what people thought they would be getting from quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson and Kelly this season. On fourth and one from the Oklahoma 15 yard line, and down 17 already, Kelly rolled the dice and went for the first down. Receiver turned running back Demetric Felton picked up two yards for the first down. On the next play, Thompson-Robinson threaded a pass between two defenders to Kyle Philips in the middle of the end zone for the Bruins lone score of the first half.
Oklahoma would add another Sutherland field goal, another Hurts touchdown pass, (this one to Charleston Rambo), and then a Lamb touchdown on a sweep from one yard out. The Sooners would go into the locker room with a dominant 34-7 first half performance.
The Bruins came out in the second half with one good drive. They had a mix of Joshua Kelley on the ground, Thompson-Robinson passes to Devin Asiasi and Chase Cota, some quarterback runs, and finally an eight-yard touchdown pass to Jaylen Erwin for a 34-14 deficit. Erwin would later leave the game with a shoulder injury.
That was it in terms of viable highlights for the Bruin faithful. Hurts found a wide-open Rambo in broken coverage for a 38-yard touchdown pass. The Sooners led 41-14 at the end of three. Hurts now has more touchdown passes (nine), than 111 FBS teams. The Sooners got a one-yard touchdown run from Rhamondre Stevenson in the fourth quarter to cap their scoring.
Signs Of Improvement?
Thompson-Robinson finished the game 15 of 26 for 201 yards with 2 interceptions and 2 touchdowns. He looked moderately better Saturday than he did the week before against San Diego State, and much better than in week one against Cincinnati. But it was the glaring inconsistency, both in his game and the offense overall that continued to plague the Bruins. Kelly addressed it after the game from the overall perspective. “We can’t be a streaky offense. We have to be a consistent offense.”
The Oklahoma defensive line made it a long night for Thompson-Robinson. He was sacked four times for a loss of 54 yards. Some of that was self-created, as when he was under pressure, he had a tendency to retreat trying to find time. But it turned five yards sacks into 10-15 yard sacks. He admitted after the game that offensive consistency was not there Saturday night. “At the end of the day, we all just have to try to continue to execute and build on good plays and try to stack stuff.”
The Bruins got their first 100-yard rushing game of the season, but it didn’t feel like the ground games from the end of the 2018 season. They gained a total of 110 yards, (compared to 302 for Oklahoma), but they were hard yards. Kelley averaged under three yards per carry, with 51 yards on 18 carries. Chip Kelly would not assess his running back’s health after the game. He reiterated that Kelley had missed much of camp with a knee injury. Felton, the wide receiver who became a running back in the absence of Martell Irby and Kazmeir Allen, had 65 yards on five carries.
Even with the expected loss, it had to be an unsettling night for the program. The school gave away free tickets to season ticket holders who endured the SDSU loss the week before. Add that to the tickets sold and the allocation was approximately 70,000. That means more than 17,000 tickets, including the freebies, went unused. The number of Oklahoma fans outnumbered the UCLA fans, even if just by a small margin. The Oklahoma offense looked familiar in terms of speed and dynamics….they looked like the offenses Chip Kelly used to run at Oregon. And at the end of it all, UCLA is 0-3…again.
Kelly talked about the losing. “Anytime you lose, it’s difficult. It’s not my cross, it’s everybody’s cross. When you see a bunch of guys who work really hard and they come out on the losing end of the score, that’s disappointment. You know, no one is going to feel sorry for us and we don’t feel sorry for ourselves. We don’t make excuses and we don’t let others make excuses for us. We have to continue to get better and grow as a team.”
Clearly, to use Kelly’s terms, much more watering of the bamboo is needed. The fans are losing their team they expected, and the team is losing its fan base. As one of my colleagues from ESPN put it as we talked at field level near the end of the game, “This wound up being nothing more than a tune-up game for Oklahoma to get ready for their conference schedule.” In what world has a program like UCLA turned into a tune-up game for so many other programs?