Another Sun Belt shocker? What to watch for when UCLA faces South Alabama

UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson warms up before playing Alabama State.
UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson was pulled early against Alabama State but appears ready to go against South Alabama.
(Ashley Landis / Associated Press)

They have forced the dismissal of one coach while speeding the redemption of another.

They have silenced fans inside the college football mecca that is Notre Dame Stadium, as well as a crowd of nearly six figures inside Texas A&M’s Kyle Field.

No smaller conference has done bigger things over the last week than the Sun Belt, whose underfunded upstarts knocked off three Power Five conference counterparts, including two ranked in the top 10.


Georgia Southern stunned Nebraska in an outcome leading to Cornhuskers coach Scott Frost’s farewell, not to mention a much heartier welcome for USC castoff Clay Helton in Statesboro, Ga.

The nickname ‘Transfer U’ surfaced on the official UCLA football Twitter account and sparked an uproar from fans. Coach Chip Kelly said the tweet was a mistake.

Sept. 14, 2022

Marshall edged Notre Dame, leaving Fighting Irish coach Marcus Freeman’s future in doubt only three games after he replaced Brian Kelly.

Appalachian State inflicted some southern discomfort on Texas A&M in intensifying the heat on Aggies coach Jimbo Fisher.

Those shockers leave the Sun Belt in need of a statement-making encore.


Your turn, South Alabama?

The Jaguars (2-0), who have posted quiet victories over Nicholls State and Central Michigan, will try to become the headliners Saturday morning when they face UCLA (2-0) at the Rose Bowl.

The Bruins are 15½-point favorites against a program that has gone 1-10 against Power Five opponents, its only victory coming against Mississippi State in 2016. But UCLA coach Chip Kelly understands this won’t be the sort of anxiety-free afternoon his team enjoyed during season-opening victories over Bowling Green and Alabama State.

“This will be the best opponent we’ve played to date,” said Kelly, who is trying to go unbeaten in nonconference play for the first time with the Bruins.

Here are five things to watch as UCLA faces South Alabama at the Rose Bowl on Saturday at 11 a.m. PDT (Pac-12 Network):



From unavailable to available

UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson hands off to running back Zach Charbonnet.
UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson hands off to running back Zach Charbonnet before last week’s win over Alabama State.
(Ashley Landis / Associated Press)

UCLA’s offense figures to be at full force with the return of its top two components.

Quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson is expected to play after mysteriously coming off the field in the middle of a series, shortly after a tackle left him moving about somewhat awkwardly and grimacing. Thompson-Robinson said he wasn’t hurt, though it’s unclear whether he’s just being a gutty Bruin in saying he’s OK.

Regardless, he looked fine in practice this week and presumably will play against the Jaguars. Also expected to return is running back Zach Charbonnet, who was held out of UCLA’s 45-7 victory over Alabama State for unspecified reasons.

It took two years for UCLA’s Laiatu Latu to get a doctor’s permission to play after a neck injury. The comeback culminated in two sacks Saturday.

Sept. 14, 2022



Hoarding momentum

UCLA running back Christian Grubb (32) fights his way for a touchdown against Alabama State on Sept. 10.
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

UCLA is seeking its first six-game winning streak since it won the last two games of the 2013 season and the first four of 2014.

These Bruins have rolled to five consecutive victories over two seasons, averaging 47.6 points and winning by an average of 29.4 points. They have been especially dominant after halftime, outscoring opponents 128-16.

It could comfort UCLA fans to know that if the Bruins fall behind early, it may not mean much. During its winning streak, UCLA trailed Colorado, USC, California and Bowling Green before pulling away for easy victories.

BYU faces a tough test at Oregon and Penn State vs. Auburn provides an interesting Big Ten-SEC matchup. Here are eight Week 3 games worth watching.

Sept. 15, 2022


How about those Jaguars?

Like UCLA, South Alabama has thrived on both sides of the ball through two games.


The Jaguars held each of their opponents to under 200 yards of offense. They also scored a touchdown on four of their first six drives last weekend during a 38-24 road victory over Central Michigan.

South Alabama quarterback Carter Bradley threw for 249 of his 339 yards in the first half. He’ll face a UCLA defense that has given up just 12 points per game, leading the Pac-12, and ranks second in the conference by allowing 236 yards per game.


Getting louder

Will the Rose Bowl see a boost in attendance with better weather and students back on campus?
(Dylan Hernandez / Los Angeles Times)

UCLA averaged 30,435 fans for its first two home games, topping only Oregon State and Washington State among Pac-12 teams, but that number figures to rise Saturday.

Students are back.

The fall quarter starts Monday, meaning students can take a bus to the Rose Bowl before making their run to Target for dorm essentials. It should also help that the forecast calls for a nearly perfect day, with partly cloudy skies and a high of 82 degrees.


The Bruins will need a crowd of 39,130 to reach 100,000 for their three nonconference games.


See you soon

UCLA defensive back Kenny Churchwell III follows a play against Hawaii in August 2021.
(Kyusung Gong / Associated Press)

UCLA defensive back Kenny Churchwell III, who has a team-leading 10 tackles to go with a pass breakup, must sit out the first half after being called for targeting last weekend.

The Bruins appealed the call, Kelly said, but it was upheld. Churchwell is in the midst of a breakthrough season after having tallied just 13 tackles in 2021.