Austin Burton put his first pass right where it needed to be, only for Jaylen Erwin to drop it.
It was a symbolic start to Burton’s college debut.
The UCLA backup quarterback did everything he needed to do in relief of injured starter Dorian Thompson-Robinson but had nothing to show for it last weekend after the Bruins missed a field-goal try that would have tied the score against Arizona in the final minute.
Burton refused to pat himself on the back for playing well in defeat.
“Not really because I wanted to win,” Burton said Monday, two days after he completed five of nine passes for 48 yards. “I don’t even think we should get an opportunity to kick the field goal, I think we should have scored. You know, that’s my job, to lead them into the end zone.”
Burton could get a lot more chances Saturday evening when the Bruins (1-4 overall, 1-1 Pac-12 Conference) face Oregon State (1-3, 0-1) at the Rose Bowl. Burton, a redshirt sophomore, and freshman Chase Griffin were the only quarterbacks in red jerseys Monday, when Thompson-Robinson didn’t practice because of the leg injury that knocked him out of the game against the Wildcats late in the third quarter.
UCLA coach Chip Kelly said the injury appeared to be “nothing long-term,” but Burton said he was holding to his routine of always preparing to be the starter regardless of the circumstances. Kelly praised Burton for managing the game well in the final minutes and putting his team in position to win.
“For what he was asked to do in that situation for not having played a significant amount of snaps at all,” Kelly said, “I thought he did a really nice job.”
Burton had two chances to lead UCLA to a go-ahead score. The first ended when a third-down pass fell incomplete and the Bruins punted on fourth and six at the Wildcats 48. Burton said he wasn’t disappointed that Kelly wasn’t more aggressive in that situation.
“It’s the coach’s [decision],” Burton said, “and I will support them, whatever the decision is.”
Burton’s last chance at glory came when UCLA started a drive at its nine with 2 minutes 52 seconds left. He completed four of six passes, including a 21-yard connection with tight end Jordan Wilson, and the Bruins picked up four first downs before the failed field-goal try.
“Obviously, not the result we wanted,” Burton said, “but it was a lot of fun being out there.”
So, which is it?
Minutes after Demetric Felton Jr., one of the Bruins’ top playmakers, got only eight touches against Arizona, Kelly pinned his decreased involvement on running backs coach DeShaun Foster’s substitution pattern.
On Monday, Kelly said Felton’s falloff was largely because the Wildcats played zone defense.
“I think we exploited Washington State when they played man coverage on Felton, there were some big plays from that,” Kelly said, referring to the Bruins’ victory in which Felton caught two touchdown passes and finished with 263 all-purpose yards. “Arizona didn’t play a lot of man, they played a lot of zone and tried to keep him in front of them, so part of it is what’s dictated by play call.”
Even though running back Joshua Kelley had a big game with 127 yards rushing, couldn’t the Bruins have used Felton as a slot receiver to get him more involved?
“That’s not what he practices,” Kelly said of a redshirt junior who had spent his first three college years at receiver. “I mean, I could put him at defensive back but he doesn’t practice that either, so that’s kind of a silly question, to be honest with you.”
Felton had been positioned in the slot on his game-winning touchdown catch against Washington State.
J.J. Molson has missed three of five field-goal attempts this season, including one from 39 yards with 34 seconds left against Arizona that could have tied the score.
“I just pushed it,” Molson said.
Molson entered this season having made 43 of 60 (71.7%) field-goal tries, including a game winner in the final seconds against California in 2017, but said his struggles in 2019 were not related to switching his holder and snapper.
“I just gotta make my kicks, start doing my job,” said Molson, who pinpointed a mechanical flaw he was fixing.
Molson actually made the last-minute kick on his first attempt, but it didn’t count because the Wildcats had called timeout. His second try sailed wide right.
“You feel like death after a kick like that,” said Molson, adding that his teammates’ efforts to console him were futile. “I mean, people were patting me on the back but at the point, you’re just kinda in your own world.”
Kelly said there was no need to challenge the two controversial fourth-down ball spots that gave Arizona first downs because they were reviewed by officials during the game. “Officials tell me what’s going on in the booth, so you don’t have to challenge them,” Kelly said. “They said they looked at them.” … Receiver Theo Howard and safety Quentin Lake practiced, but their status for the game against Oregon State remained uncertain. Kelly said Howard was reinjured against Oklahoma, the only game in which he has played this season. … Linebacker Tyree Thompson, who underwent foot surgery in August, walked around the practice field in a jersey and helmet for the first time as he continued his recovery.