UCLA coach Chip Kelly joked after the Bruins’ season-opening loss that he would need to pack “some Powerade and Similac” for his exceedingly young team.
One item that’s apparently banned from the diaper bag is cupcakes.
Kelly said he preferred a difficult nonconference schedule to one that included games against lesser opponents. The Bruins (0-1) will host San Diego State (1-0), a Pac-12 Conference slayer in recent seasons, in their home opener Saturday at the Rose Bowl after starting the season on the road against Cincinnati, which won 11 games in 2018.
Next on UCLA’s schedule after the Aztecs is a home game against No. 4 Oklahoma.
“To me, it’s a great experience,” Kelly said after the Bruins’ 24-14 loss to Cincinnati. “I’d rather play games like this all the time than play some cupcake to try to warm this thing up. Let’s go play the best and see what we can do.”
Several other Pac-12 teams have preferred to ease their way into the season. Washington played Eastern Washington in its opener last week and California played UC Davis, leading to comfortable victories for the Huskies and Golden Bears over teams from the Football Championship Subdivision.
UCLA remains among the major-conference teams that have never played an FCS opponent in the modern era, and Kelly appears intent on keeping that fact intact.
The Bruins might have caught a break in that San Diego State does not seem to be as formidable as the Aztecs teams that defeated California in 2016, Stanford and Arizona State in 2017, and Arizona State in 2018. San Diego State squeezed out a 6-0 victory over Weber State last weekend after generating just 238 yards of offense and no touchdowns against the Wildcats, an FCS team.
Kelly won’t be able to tout the benefits of a tough nonconference schedule in 2020, when his team will open the season with games against New Mexico State, Hawaii and San Diego State. But more giants await the Bruins, who will face Louisiana State in 2021 and Michigan in 2022 and 2023.
Bust a move
A less-is-more approach is making a big difference for a slimmed-down Atonio Mafi.
The 357-pound defensive lineman recorded a career-high nine tackles against Cincinnati and might be on the verge of breaking a world record in the 40-yard dash.
“I mean, I’m running like a 4.1 maybe,” cracked the sophomore who arrived on campus at 411 pounds.
Mafi was part of a defensive front that was relatively stout against the Bearcats, allowing 175 yards rushing and just 3.6 yards per carry. Those numbers compare favorably with the 199.4 yards rushing per game and 4.6 yards per carry the Bruins yielded last season.
UCLA could still use plenty of improvement in its pass rush; the Bruins logged just two quarterback hurries and one sack in their opener.
“It’s just a big point of emphasis for our whole D-line just to work on our pass rush moves to get to the quarterback,” defensive lineman Tyler Manoa said. “It’ll help our defense out in so many ways.”
It might also prompt Mafi to break out the dance moves he unveiled on the practice field a few weeks ago after J.J. Molson made a 58-yard field goal.
“Just trying to bring juice and energy, and they played a great song,” Mafi said, referring to the music blaring over the loudspeakers, “so might as well dance a little bit before we get to the real work.”
Cornerback Darnay Holmes returned kickoffs during the portion of practice open to the media for the first time since suffering an ankle injury that sidelined him against Cincinnati. … Left tackle Alec Anderson got some practice repetitions at left guard, possibly foreshadowing a move to that position against San Diego State with Michael Alves still recovering from a back injury.