Take a deep breath, Troy Aikman: Takeaways from UCLA's victory over South Alabama

·5 min read
PASADENA, CA - SEPTEMBER 17: UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson runs for a five-yard gain.
UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson runs for a short gain during the Bruins' 32-31 win over South Alabama on Saturday. The Bruins are 3-0 for the first time since 2015. (Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

It was a win riddled with angst, a great UCLA football alumnus questioning the team’s no-show fans and its ragged play while Twitter trolls took aim at a video of the Bruins wildly celebrating their one-point victory over a team from the Sun Belt Conference.

Troy Aikman and the mostly anonymous knights of the keyboard might want to exhale.

Yes, it was ugly. Yes, there’s a lengthy list of issues to resolve. Yes, some people are adjusting their projected win-loss totals for this team.

But maybe Chip Kelly once said it best: You are what your record says you are.

UCLA is 3-0 for the first time since 2015 after its 32-31 victory over South Alabama on Saturday at the Rose Bowl that came courtesy of Nicholas Barr-Mira’s 24-yard field goal as time expired. The Bruins will be heavily favored to notch another victory next weekend in their Pac-12 Conference opener given that Colorado (0-3) has been outscored 128-30 and appears destined to set all sorts of records for futility.

Any fretting can start in earnest when UCLA returns home to face surging Washington (3-0) on Sept. 30 at the Rose Bowl.

In the meantime, here are five takeaways after the Bruins completed nonconference play unbeaten for the first time under Kelly.

Cleanup on Aisles 5 and 6

Laiatu Latu leaps during a UCLA game.
UCLA linebacker Laiatu Latu pressures South Alabama quarterback Carter Bradley during the third quarter. (Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

They were the sort of blunders that prompted Aikman to take stock of the largely empty Rose Bowl and write that even a 30,000-seat stadium on the UCLA campus would be only half-filled if the Bruins played the way they did against the Jaguars.

Beyond the two turnovers, there were some baffling mistakes.

The defense refused to call a timeout while appearing confused how to line up before one play in which it surrendered a 47-yard run, players pointing at one another to get into position. The offense later burned a timeout before even running a play after taking a kickoff.

UCLA made a defensive stop only for a lineman to fall on a downed Jaguar and get called for a late hit, leading to a first down. There were also repeated handoff issues involving quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson and the running backs, including on the play in which Zach Charbonnet lost a fumble into the end zone.

“We shot ourselves a lot in the foot,” Thompson-Robinson said. “Obviously, it’s great to come out with the win, but we’ve got a lot of stuff to improve on.”

A familiar story

Carl Jones Jr. makes a tackle for UCLA.
UCLA linebacker Carl Jones Jr. tackles South Alabama quarterback Tanner McGee during the second half. (Ashley Landis / Associated Press)

Given the (lacking) quality of UCLA’s first two opponents, no definitive conclusions could be drawn about whether the Bruins’ defense had improved.

After Saturday, there were concerns about possible regression.

UCLA gave up 4.8 yards per carry, struggled to generate pressure on the quarterback and registered only one tackle for loss, when Carl Jones Jr. blew up a Jaguars’ fake field-goal attempt.

Defenders often looked confused about where they should be before the snap and the secondary reverted to the excessive cushions that were infamous under previous defensive coordinator Jerry Azzinaro.

The Bruins also failed to consistently generate key stops, allowing South Alabama to convert nine of 13 third downs.

UCLA fans were left to shudder imagining how things might go against USC quarterback Caleb Williams later in the season.

Bobo’s breakthrough

Jake Bobo runs during a UCLA game.
UCLA wide receiver Jake Bobo plays against Bowling Green on Sept. 3. (Kyusung Gong / Associated Press)

After two relatively quiet games, Jake Bobo showed he just might be a go-to guy.

The Duke transfer made several big catches, including a 34-yard reception to convert a third down in the second quarter when the Bruins were teetering. Bobo completed the drive by reaching up to snag a nine-yard touchdown pass, his first score as a Bruin.

He finished the game with a season-high five catches for 89 yards.

Tougher sledding?

Kalen DeBoer speaks at a news conference.
Washington coach Kalen DeBoer speaks during Pac-12 media day. (Damian Dovarganes / Associated Press)

Maybe the Pac-12 isn’t so terrible.

Before the season, UCLA figured to be clear underdogs against two conference foes — Utah and Oregon. (The USC game was probably a push given it was at the Rose Bowl and it remained unclear how improved the Trojans were under new coach Lincoln Riley.)

Now the Bruins could find themselves favored to lose as many as four games given USC’s early season dominance and Washington’s resurgence under new coach Kalen DeBoer.

UCLA’s game against the No. 18 Huskies later this month suddenly holds massive intrigue after they defeated No. 11 Michigan State over the weekend.

Injury alert

Zach Charbonnet warms up before a UCLA game.
UCLA running back Zach Charbonnet warms up before a game against Alabama State on Sept. 10. (Ashley Landis / Associated Press)

Among the key story lines in practice this week will be the dreaded injury watch.

Charbonnet appeared to be favoring his left leg while hopping around the locker room during video of the team’s postgame celebration. Fellow running back T.J. Harden did not dress for the game because of unspecified reasons.

Defensive linemen Gary Smith III and Martin Andrus Jr. departed with injuries in the third quarter. Andrus’ injury appeared to be more significant given that he could not place any weight on his left leg while coming off the field.

Tight end Michael Ezeike has not played since the season opener because of an unspecified injury even though he practiced last week.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.