History will be made by UCLA on Saturday: Five things to watch against Alabama State

UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson gestures after scoring a touchdown against Bowling Green.
UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson gestures after scoring a touchdown against Bowling Green on Sept. 3. The Bruins are big favorites heading into their matchup with Alabama State on Saturday.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

It’s going to be historic, it just might not be entertaining.

For the first time, UCLA (1-0) will face a team from the Football Championship Subdivision when Alabama State (2-0) visits the Rose Bowl on Saturday afternoon.

The Bruins checking the FCS box after more than a century of football will leave USC and Notre Dame as the only major college teams never to do so. The Trojans will be the lone holdout after next season, once the Fighting Irish play Tennessee State in September 2023.

UCLA is a 50½-point favorite over the Hornets, meaning anything less than a four-touchdown halftime lead could stir unease among Bruins fans.


Here are five things to watch when UCLA plays Alabama State at the Rose Bowl on Saturday at 2 p.m. PDT (Pac-12 Networks):

HBCU, we see you: This matchup is a result of Michigan backing out of games that had been scheduled against UCLA in 2022 and 2023.

With most possible replacement opponents’ schedules already filled, Bruins athletic director Martin Jarmond turned to two historically black universities: Alabama State on Saturday and North Carolina Central — his late mother Virginia’s alma mater — in 2023.

“Just for the culture, finally getting to get a school like that out on the West Coast is going to be a great opportunity for both teams,” UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson said. “And we’re just excited, man. We’re excited to give them the opportunity and we’re also excited to get the opportunity to play them.”

UCLA athletic director Martin Jarmond
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

One Bruins bummer is that they will be in the locker room when Alabama State’s Mighty Marching Hornets band performs at halftime.

“I really want to get to hear their band,” UCLA defensive tackle Gary Smith III said. “I love HBCU bands; they’re amazing.”


Dual threats at quarterback: Alabama State used two quarterbacks before Dematrius Davis injured his right shoulder during a 21-13 victory over Miles College last weekend, forcing Myles Crawley to play the rest of the game.

Crawley finished with 162 yards passing and will get the start against the Bruins if Davis, a transfer from Auburn, is unable to play. Hornets coach Eddie Robinson Jr. told reporters that Davis’ status would be a game-time decision.

Both quarterbacks present challenges, UCLA coach Chip Kelly said.

“Sometimes one guy’s more of a runner, the other guy’s more of a thrower,” Kelly said. “They’re both skilled, they’re both dual-threat kids that can hurt you.”

Second (half) wind: Though Kelly didn’t bring his famed blur offense with him from Oregon, his Bruins are starting to resemble his Ducks in one significant way — they’re dominating late in games.

UCLA football’s attendance woes continue under coach Chip Kelly. There are numerous factors that could contribute to the low turnout.

Sept. 8, 2022

During its four-game winning streak dating to last season, UCLA has outscored its opponents 114-16 in the second half while shutting out three of them — Colorado, California and Bowling Green — after halftime.

Kelly credited the way his players train and the conditioning program designed by Keith Belton, the director of football performance. Unlike the slew of Bowling Green players who suffered cramps Saturday, the Bruins remained relatively unscathed.

“To go out and do what they did, especially the amount of snaps they played in that heat,” Kelly said, “give our strength and conditioning staff credit for our conditioning. You didn’t see any of our guys go down cramp-wise, our guys fought through it.”

Wet … and wild? A week after withstanding a heat wave in their opener, the Bruins should enjoy significantly cooler temperatures.

The forecast calls for a high in the low 80s, though there’s also a chance of rain as the remnants of Tropical Storm Kay make their way up the West Coast.

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Sept. 8, 2022

Kelly said his team had squirted footballs with water in practice this week to prepare for the possibility of slippery conditions.

“It’s fun, though,” offensive lineman Atonio Mafi said. “Coach Kelly’s out there spraying the ball and then he stands over there and just sprays me in the face, just for fun.”

Clamping down: UCLA’s defense will try to sustain the momentum it generated in its debut under defensive coordinator Bill McGovern.

The Bruins limited Bowling Green to 162 yards of offense, the first time they had held an opponent under 200 yards since early in the 2020 season against California.

Maybe the best indication of the defense’s dominance was that Kelly said his top three players from the game — Smith, linebacker Darius Muasau and safety Stephan Blaylock — were all from that side of the ball.