UCLA expects more improvement before starting Pac-12 play
LOS ANGELES (AP) — UCLA’s focus on incremental gains to build sustainable success under coach Chip Kelly seems to finally be paying off, having won four straight games by at least 24 points dating back to last season.
The Bruins (1-0) are likely to continue that streak Saturday when they host Alabama State, the first time the program will play a historically Black university and a team from outside the Football Bowl Subdivision.
But the expected large margin of victory won’t be UCLA’s main focus.
“We just want to improve,” Kelly said. “The biggest improvement most teams make is from Week 1 to Week 2, you know, so we have a lot of things we have to clean up from last Saturday.”
Coming off a 45-17 win over Bowling Green in the season opener, quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson identified several areas where the offense can get better. The fifth-year starter threw for 298 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 87 yards and two more scores, but he also was picked off once, sacked twice and had a turnover on downs in the first quarter.
“We got to get the protection and stuff figured out,” Thompson-Robinson said. “I got to do a better job with my reads, getting the ball out faster. … Once you get the live bullets flying, you finally get to see what guys need to really work on now.”
Thompson-Robinson was largely pleased with how the revamped passing game performed without wide receiver Kyle Philips and tight end Greg Dulcich, both of whom were 2022 NFL draft picks.
Converted running back Kazmeir Allen led the group with 10 catches for 85 yards and a score, while former walk-on quarterback Josiah Norwood caught his first touchdown among five receptions for 63 yards.
Thompson-Robinson was most impressed by the work the receivers did in helping UCLA pile up 269 yards and three touchdowns on the ground.
“We didn’t show much offensively in terms of scheme-wise, throwing a lot of quick passes, trying to get the ball in guys’ hands as quick as possible,” Thompson-Robinson said. “But I think they did a really good job blocking downfield. I think that’s what you see on a lot of the ‘X’ (explosive) plays and the big long touchdown runs was from just those guys putting in extra effort to go down the field and block.”
Norwood understands that his group will ultimately be measured by how they replace the 101 receptions for 1,464 yards and 15 touchdowns that Philips and Dulcich combined for last season.
“The first thing put up on the board is their receptions, saying these are gone, so everyone that’s here, we all have a chance to go get some receptions, all have a chance to go help our team out,” Norwood said. “And I think we’ve done that. I mean, I think our receiver room is very deep. A lot of great athletes in there and a lot of guys that want to see other people succeed.”
UCLA has one of the least challenging nonconference schedules in the nation, with games against the Hornets (2-0) and South Alabama coming up. That means there should be plenty of opportunities for UCLA to develop before starting Pac-12 play.
“As I told the guys after the game, I hope Saturday is the worst game we played all year,” Kelly said. “And that means we’re progressing every game and we continue to build, so you don’t want to be the same at the end of the year that you were at the beginning of the year. You want to hope there’s improvement every time.”
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