Five takeaways from UCLA’s season-opening victory over Coastal Carolina

UCLA running back Carson Steele, right, fends off Coastal Carolina safety Tobias Fletcher.
UCLA running back Carson Steele, right, fends off Coastal Carolina safety Tobias Fletcher during the first half of the Bruins’ 27-13 win Saturday at the Rose Bowl.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

That … wasn’t all that pleasing to watch.

Yes, UCLA pulled out its season opener against Coastal Carolina, and teams should be allowed their share of first-game foibles.

What’s concerning is that the Bruins didn’t look particularly crisp while experiencing far less turnover than, say, Pac-12 rival Colorado, which essentially changed its entire roster on the way to becoming the talk of the college football world with its opening victory over Texas Christian.

Deep and experienced, the Bruins looked like a mishmash of used parts. True freshman Dante Moore threw touchdowns on back-to-back passes but was needlessly minimized as part of a two-quarterback rotation. Eight penalties stirred painful reminders of sloppy seasons past. The defense gave up more big plays than it made.


UCLA coach Chip Kelly may continue his quarterback rotation, but Dante Moore proved he deserves the starting job by sparking a win over Coastal Carolina.

Sept. 3, 2023

“Sometimes as a coach,” UCLA coach Chip Kelly said afterward, “you like it not pretty — then we can get their attention when we get to film” Sunday.

In a nod to the need for improvement and a departure from seasons past, the Bruins practiced Sunday.

Here are five takeaways from UCLA’s 27-13 win over the Chanticleers:


Decisions, decisions

UCLA quarterback Ethan Garbers throws against Coastal Carolina on Saturday.
(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

It appears that UCLA’s quarterback battle will drag on at least another week.

Kelly said after the game that Collin Schlee would play against San Diego State next weekend after not getting into the season opener, meaning that presumably Ethan Garbers and Moore will continue to play as well.


Kelly disclosed that Schlee, who has been wearing a protective sleeve over his lower left leg, missed the start of fall training camp with an undisclosed injury. Asked about the sleeve early last month, Schlee said it was just a result of soreness.

Where do college football fans gather to watch games in Southern California? From Ohio State and Clemson to USC, use our guide to find your game-day spot.

Sept. 8, 2023

Kelly intimated that Schelee not playing against Coastal Carolina was the result of new clock rules that shorten games and said the plan had been for the Kent State transfer to play “situationally” against the Chanticleers.

Translation: Schlee was supposed to play in limited packages such as wildcat formations that would maximize his running ability.

Here’s the thing about continuing to go with multiple quarterbacks: UCLA faces two-time defending Pac-12 champion Utah in less than three weeks. The Bruins need to stop futzing with their quarterbacks and decide on someone ASAP to give them as much time in the offense as possible before the showdown against the Utes on Sept. 23.

Even Garbers, whose two interceptions and one touchdown were the inverse of Moore’s numbers, acknowledged the difficulties with the arrangement.


“It is a little tough to go in, then come out, then come back in,” Garbers said, “but, hey, that’s part of the job. When you have a room with a lot of good players, and they’re going to play a lot of other guys, it is what it is and you do what you do.”

Actually, there’s really no need to do this any longer. Just make a decision already.


As good as advertised

UCLA wide receiver J.Michael Sturdivant, right, catches a pass over Coastal Carolina cornerback Keonte Lusk.
UCLA wide receiver J.Michael Sturdivant, right, catches a pass over Coastal Carolina cornerback Keonte Lusk during the second half Saturday.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

J.Michael Sturdivant (yes, there’s no space between the period and Michael) showed he’s capable of becoming the Bruins’ next great receiver.

Blending speed with a natural ability to shed defensive backs, the California transfer caught five passes for 136 yards, logging his second career 100-yard game.

Sturdivant’s 62-yard touchdown catch from Moore on a broken play early in the fourth quarter proved pivotal in helping the Bruins pull away.


“It was just ‘Go,’” Sturdivant said of the play. “I ran it, the DB, he bailed at the snap, and I was like, ‘I’m going to keep running.’ I ran past him, Dante put a good ball on me and I got in the end zone.”

At this rate, it could be a common practice in the weeks to come.


The return of a thin blue line

UCLA quarterback Dante Moore prepares to take a snap against Coastal Carolina on Saturday.
(Kyusung Gong / Associated Press)

Kelly’s decision to start Bruno Fina at left tackle and Josh Carlin and left guard raised some eyebrows given they beat out veteran transfers Khadere Kounta and Josh Wiley, who had been starters at their previous schools.

The early returns weren’t encouraging. Two of the Bruins’ interceptions were a result of blitzes that weren’t picked up, forcing Garbers and Moore to essentially throw the ball up for grabs under pressure.

UCLA’s offensive line did give up just one sack and helped running backs T.J. Harden and Carson Steele average a combined 6.3 yards per carry, but their inability to hold up under the pressure of a pass rush that could be among the weakest the Bruins face this season is a concern.


A mixed bag

UCLA defensive lineman Gabriel Murphy sacks Coastal Carolina quarterback Grayson McCall on Saturday.
(Kyusung Gong / Associated Press)

UCLA’s defense showed some improvement … and some more of the same.

Coastal Carolina quarterback Grayson McCall continually picked on the Bruins’ cornerbacks for big plays on the way to throwing for 271 yards and a touchdown.

But McCall also had two passes intercepted — as many as he had all of last season while throwing 297 passes — and was sacked four times. UCLA edge rusher Laiatu Latu got off to a good start in his bid to lead the nation in sacks, piling up three in one game.

UCLA held Coastal Carolina to 56 yards rushing — and an average of 1.6 yards per carry — but will face a far stiffer test next weekend against San Diego State, which has averaged 228 yards per game on the ground during victories over Ohio and Idaho State.

Chip Kelly enters his sixth season at UCLA embracing a new perspective and culture in which players and former colleagues are finding it welcoming and fun.

Sept. 1, 2023


Something special?

One of the biggest mysteries coming into the opener was UCLA’s special teams.

The answers were emphatic. In a good way.

Will Powers averaged 48.5 yards per punt, booming one 57 yards, and kicker R.J. Lopez made both of his field goal attempts, from 31 and 47 yards.


UCLA held Coastal Carolina to a one-yard loss on its only punt return, and the Chanticleers returned just one kickoff for 15 yards.

UCLA’s Colson Yankoff was decent in his first game returning kickoffs even while bobbling one. His two returns went for 39 yards.