UCLA faces another tough nonconference foe in San Diego St
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Chip Kelly has one of the youngest rosters among Football Bowl Subdivision teams. He also has one of the toughest nonconference schedules for a Power Five team.
After an Aug. 29 loss at Cincinnati, the Bruins host a San Diego State squad on Saturday that has four wins over Pac-12 teams since 2016. Kelly is still seeking his first nonconference win in his second season at UCLA. It also might be his best shot this season with No. 4 Oklahoma coming into the Rose Bowl on Sept. 14.
“I’d rather play games like this all the time than some cupcake to try to warm this thing up,” Kelly said. “Let’s go play the best and see what we can do.”
The Bruins played the eighth-toughest schedule in FBS last season as all three nonconference foes had 10 or more wins. This year’s slate could be just as difficult. Oklahoma goes without saying but some have predicted Cincinnati could be the Group of Five representative in a New Year’s Six bowl game, while the Aztecs have won 10 or more games three of the past four seasons.
San Diego State coach Rocky Long said last week’s performance by Mountain West teams gives him confidence. The conference had wins against four of the five power conferences.
“I guess our schedule has gotten a lot better than everybody seems to think it is,” Long said. “Four of the teams in our league beat Power Five teams in the first weekend of the season. I don’t consider us lower tier.”
Here are some things to watch as the Bruins face the Aztecs for the first time since 2009:
San Diego State allowed only 154 yards in its 6-0 victory against Weber State and was one of five teams to post a shutout last week. It has allowed 314 yards per game since 2014, which is fifth in FBS.
The Aztecs are led by senior Kyahva Tezino, who was the nation’s top-ranked inside linebacker, according to Pro Football Focus.
Kelly called Long a “defensive guru” and said his defense is tough to prepare for.
RUNNING BACK WOES
Both teams are dealing with injuries to their top running backs. UCLA’s Joshua Kelley (knee) has practiced the past two weeks but was held out of the opener. San Diego State’s Juwan Washington gained 55 yards last week but is questionable due to an ankle injury.
Demetric Felton will be the Bruins’ featured back if Kelley is unable to play. The junior had 71 yards rushing and caught a 75-yard touchdown against Cincinnati.
Jordan Byrd is expected to get additional carries for the Aztecs after gaining 50 yards on five carries against Weber State.
UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson had four turnovers in the 24-14 loss to Cincinnati, which resulted in 14 Bearcats points. Kelly defended the sophomore throughout the week and said one of the interceptions was due to a receiver running the wrong route.
Thompson-Robinson also needs to work on his accuracy after going 8 of 26 for 156 yards last week, which is the fourth time in nine starts he has completed less than half his passes. He will face an Aztecs defense that leads FBS with 88 interceptions since the start of the 2014 season.
San Diego State QB Ryan Agnew led the Mountain West in average yards per completion last season (14.4 yards) but was 16 of 30 for 108 yards against Weber State.
Long didn’t say much about his offense being held without a touchdown, other than attributing it to a bad game.
UCLA has a 21-0-1 record against San Diego State. In the past five meetings, the Bruins have had an average starting position on their own 38 compared to the Aztecs starting on their own 24. San Diego State is 1-54-1 since 1988 when it has 9 yards or worse average field position compared to its opponent.