Flurry of early turnovers and mistakes doom UCLA in loss to Colorado
It was the latest start in UCLA football history, a season twice delayed culminating in the game’s first kickoff sailing through cool November air.
Somehow, it felt like a repeat of everything that came before it under coach Chip Kelly.
There were the turnovers. The huge early deficit. The defense getting smushed.
The Bruins’ bid to reverse their plunging fortunes hit a new low Saturday evening at Folsom Field. In a game it was widely expected to win, UCLA was outclassed by Colorado during a 48-42 loss in the debut of Karl Dorrell, the Buffaloes coach whose final act in the same post with the Bruins was walking stonefaced up the Coliseum tunnel after a 2007 setback against USC.
Those might have qualified as the good old days compared to what happened Saturday.
Four turnovers in the first 1 1/2 quarters sent UCLA, which entered the game as a 5 1/2-point favorite, spiraling toward a 28-point deficit.
President Trump claimed he played a role in resurrecting the Big Ten football season, but it did little to help the conference or his re-election chances.
“You’re not going to win games when you have four turnovers in the first half,” said Kelly, who added one final blunder during a Zoom call with reporters when he started speaking while on mute.
It would have been unimaginable had the Bruins not experienced similar messes in recent seasons. Anyone remember the quick 21 points UCLA spotted Oregon State in 2019 or the 32-point hole against Washington State?
Sticky situations have become routine under Kelly, who has started 0-5 in 2018, 0-3 in 2019 and now 0-1 in 2020. His 7-18 record in three seasons has yielded a negligible return on investment, particularly given he’s making $4.3 million this season.
In spite of all their many issues, the Bruins momentarily looked as if they might write a better ending to this latest sad chapter.
An inert offense started gaining some momentum. UCLA scored 21 consecutive points and countered a Colorado touchdown late in the third quarter when redshirt freshman running back Keegan Jones caught a screen pass and ran 26 yards into the end zone.
UCLA was suddenly within 42-35, generating some drama for the 554 family members of both teams permitted to attend the game amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
It wouldn’t last.
The Buffaloes tacked on two field goals and got two fourth-down stops, stuffing UCLA running back Brittain Brown for no gain and benefiting from a shaky throw from quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson that fell incomplete.
Those failures relegated Thompson-Robinson’s nine-yard touchdown pass to tight end Michael Martinez with 11/2 minutes left to little more than statistical padding. With its lead cut to 48-42, Colorado recovered the ensuing onside kick and that was that.
Thompson-Robinson’s mechanics appeared wonky for much of the game, the junior often throwing off his back foot while facing heavy pressure. He completed 20 of 40 passes for 303 yards with four touchdowns and one interception.
UCLA ran a new defensive scheme against the Colorado, but the Bruins still gave up 525 total yards and six touchdowns in a 48-42 loss to Colorado.
“Some of the throws off the back foot are necessary because he can’t step through,” Kelly said of his quarterback. “They got a rush and they got a pretty good third-down package and a blitz package that they run and bring people from different angles and people at them so that’s understandable.”
The turnovers were the story in the early going. Thompson-Robinson, who said he did not commit a turnover in all of training camp, lost a fumble and had a pass intercepted. Kyle Philips fumbled a punt return. Running back Demetric Felton Jr. bobbled a carry.
Thompson-Robinson said sloppiness has been a theme in college football during a season coming after an extended layoff and shortened training camps.
“You see it around the country,” he said, “guys are making mistakes early on, and even later in the season too.”
The Buffaloes scored 21 points off the miscues, building a 35-7 lead late in the second quarter against a UCLA defense that also looked like versions from seasons past. UCLA played without one defensive player who tested positive for COVID-19 earlier in the week but appeared far more shorthanded while giving up 525 yards and forcing zero turnovers.
Colorado quarterback Sam Noyer, a converted safety making his first career start, faced little pressure while completing 20 of 31 passes for 257 yards and one touchdown. Running back Jarek Broussard was equally prolific in his college debut, topping 100 yards before halftime on his way to 187 yards.
The cancellation of two Pac-12 games endangered at least two weekends’ worth of games and revealed the challenges of staging a season amid a pandemic.
“I think we made him look better than he was,” Bruins linebacker Bo Calvert said.
UCLA wasn’t as productive in its running game outside of Thompson-Robinson’s 109 yards in nine carries, turning its lonely eyes to the departed Josh Kelley. Felton, making his first start since the 2019 season opener, managed 57 yards and a touchdown in 10 carries, a healthy 5.7 yards per carry but not much of a workload given the Bruins spent most of the game in comeback mode.
Felton lingered uneasily on the sideline in the final minutes, having to leave the game after suffering an unspecified injury.
Kelly said Colorado didn’t offer any surprises in its first game under Dorrell, running the same offense and defense it did a year ago under predecessor Mel Tucker. UCLA also looked a lot like it did in years past, even if its coach disputed that notion.
“I don’t think anything about 2020 feels familiar,” Kelly said.
It did Saturday.
USC recovers an onside kick late in the fourth quarter before Drake London scores on a 21-yard touchdown pass from Kedon Slovis to defeat Arizona State.
Go beyond the scoreboard
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