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UCLA Football: Cincinnati Post-Game Roundtable

The writers and editors of Bruins Nation discuss UCLA’s 26-17 defeat at the hands of the Cincinnati Bearcats.

NCAA Football: Cincinnati at UCLA Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
  1. Well…...that happened. What are your initial thoughts about the game?

orlandobruin: I think that we win the game if Speight does not go down. Cincinnati did not beat the Bruins as much as the Bruins beat themselves. Dorian Thompson-Robinson is not ready to start for the UCLA football team. The running game looks as bad as it has since Paul Perkins graduated. I am not sure if the defense has improved or if Cincinnati is just a mediocre team (it did look more aggressive in play calling). Kazmeir Allen looks like the fastest UCLA football player I have ever seen.

AnteatersandBruins: It just looked like they were putting things into practice that they may not have been ready for. Clearly, they’re running a new system on both sides of the ball and the wrinkles are still getting ironed out. Speight looked OK in the beginning, but that pick he threw was the beginning of the end. Dorian Thompson-Robinson has immense potential, but was definitely in over his head.

Markybcool: I was wholeheartedly disappointed with the game. I saw bright spots, and felt that our defense is obviously better than it was last year...I think, but I was disappointed in the flow of the offense, the game plan, and some of the play calls. I was curious why there were not more opportunities for the zone read with Dorian Thompson-Robinson, possible usage of the flash sweep, etc. With that being said, it is game one. I know not every play can be implemented.

Andrew_goodman3: It wasn’t the greatest debut for UCLA head coach Chip Kelly. However, the injury to starting QB Wilton Speight forced him to go to Dorian Thompson-Robinson way earlier than he would have liked to. Speight wasn’t playing that great before the injury, but he’s a better game manager than Thompson-Robinson is at this point (especially since Speight beat Cincinnati last season). Thompson-Robinson will be a stud, but he’s still a big work in progress. There were some bright spots, though. Running back Kazmeir Allen had his coming out party and defensively, Jaelan Phillips and Keisean Lucier-South looked great.

Dimitri Dorlis: I’ll get into the offense more in the next section, so I will say my initial thought was that this game really did highlight the sorry state Jim Mora had left the program in. A bad offensive line, bad inside linebackers, (mostly) poor running options, all run by either a grad transfer or true freshman with little experience at QB. There really was no attempt at building something sustainable and this game showed just how long this process may end up being.

Joe Piechowski: Let’s talk about the good part of this game. The Jim Mora era is over and no one should be calling for UCLA’s football coach to be fired. That said, there’s a lot of work to be done. Dorian Thompson-Robinson should play in three more games and sit for the rest to maintain his redshirt because he was awful. While Chip Kelly may have seen positive things from him, I don’t think any fan watching the game saw that.

2. The big question coming into the game revolves around what the offense would look like upon Chip Kelly’s return to college. Now that we’ve seen it in game action, what do you think?

orlandobruin: What I saw looked nothing like the Oregon teams of old. This is going to be a process and I think 99% of the fanbase understands this, even though, most predicted a win on Saturday and, in this era of “hot takes,” many are overreacting because the Bruins did not win.

AnteatersandBruins: As far as the offense as a whole, we got what I expected. A lot of issues that will be worked out down the road. It’s hard not to have a knee jerk reaction and expect them to look like the teams Chip Kelly coached under Marcus Mariota, but that just isn’t possible yet. I was, however, disappointed in how the quarterbacks looked. I really wanted to see Dorian Thompson-Robinson in action, but he really didn’t look ready. In hindsight, Modster should have gone in.

Markybcool: Like I said in my other comment, I was looking for a lot more movement and a lot better spacing that would allow players to make plays. That is why Speight is an interesting choice. He is limited, so the D knows that most likely it’s a handoff or a pass. That’s not to say that it cannot work, in my opinion it limits what Chip is accustomed to calling. Again, it is one game, and I realize that there are A LOT of things that Chip wants to do but maybe cannot do at this particular time. I will reiterate, I have unequivocal faith that Chip will guide this team in the right direction.

Andrew_goodman3: This looked like the polar opposite of what previous Chip Kelly offenses looked like. However, with a roster compiled of 71% underclassmen, things won’t come easy. Kelly is rebuilding this program from the ground up and it will be a steady process. With a roster this young, it’s hard to find any sort of consistency, especially in the first year with an almost entirely new coaching staff.

Dimitri Dorlis: If you were looking for red flags, this offensive system would be it. I think part of the problem UCLA fans had is that they expected, if not something as fast as the Oregon blur, at least something on that level, because it was an offensive system that has proven to work at the college level. Instead, we got something closer to the system that got Chip Kelly bounced out of the NFL. It really feels like an offense that was designed with Josh Rosen in mind, with its focus on precision passes and efficiency and this team just does not have the personnel to run it well at the moment. Though, considering how this style of offense has historically gone for Chip Kelly, I almost wonder if continuing to use it is tantamount to setting the team up for failure.

Joe Piechowski: I think that this offense has problems moving the ball. The team ran the ball 31 times, yet only gained 144 yards. If you subtract Kazmeir Allen’s 74-yard TD, they ran it 30 times for 70 yards. Yikes! The passing game wasn’t much better. Both QBs were 23 of 37 for 162 yards. If you combine it and leave out Allen’s big run, UCLA gained 232 on 67 plays. That’s not problematic. That’s on life support.

3. Wilton Speight struggled, then got injured. Dorian Thompson-Robinson was ineffective while in the game. What should be done with the QB position going forward?

orlandobruin: Devon Modster? I’m not getting paid $6 million this season to figure this out. That’s Chip’s job! Seriously, though, Thompson-Robinson is not ready. Remember Josh Rosen’s first game as a true freshman? At home versus a similar opponent (Virginia). 3 TDs and 350 yards passing. He was ready. Most true freshmen are not. If Speight is not hurt this week, he should start. Although he struggled, IMO, he really didn’t have a chance to get into rhythm. If Speight is not ready, then Modster should play. He played in some meaningful games last season.

AnteatersandBruins: Modster. I don’t even think Speight should start. He looked terrible. Poor guy walked off the field with a towel on his head. Thompson-Robinson is going to be great in the future, but playing against Oklahoma will do nothing for him.

Markybcool: In my postgame article, I said that Thompson-Robinson should start the rest of the season if Chip really believes he is the future. However, I understand Chip starting Speight, he gave a very clear and understandable rationale for starting him. With that being said, I agree with orlandobruin, Chip is getting the big money to figure this QB thing out. I can actually see this thing going in a lot of different directions and I trust Chip to make the right call.

Andrew_goodman3: I think Devon Modster should get a shot. I am not a Wilton Speight guy at all and Modster is a better fit than Speight is, in my opinion. Dorian Thompson-Robinson is only a true freshman and is still learning. I like the idea of potentially throwing him out there against Oklahoma, but I don’t believe he’s ready for the “moment” just yet. I bet Thompson-Robinson will be the starting QB by the end of the year, but there should be no rush to just throw him into the fire. I’d definitely roll with Modster or Thompson-Robinson for the rest of the season. The Speight experiment was fun while it lasted (not).

Dimitri Dorlis: This isn’t meant as a knock against him, but given what we saw from Thompson-Robinson on Saturday, I’m not sure how much of the field he should realistically see this year. All of the hype he has gotten from Bruin fans managed to gloss over the fact that he only had one year of starting QB experience at the varsity level, so he’s a bit further behind in his development compared to some of the other top QBs in that draft class. A year of redshirting and developing would do him wonders going forward.

Which leaves the question of who should take over at QB going forward. I personally lean towards Devon Modster, who appears to be one of those players who practices poorly but turns it on when the lights are brightest, because he has enough athleticism to threaten teams with a zone read, while possessing the arm strength to showcase an impressive deep ball that would better open the game up. Which is not to say Wilton Speight does not deserve another look. He was quite good at times for Michigan, but my fears are that the offensive line may get him killed if he continues to play.

Joe Piechowski: If Speight is healthy, he should play. If he’s not, then Modster needs to get the nod. Continuing to run out a true freshman who chose to not graduate early so he could play Spring Ball and who only had one year of varsity experience is a recipe for disaster. By all means let him play in three more games this season, but, at this point, after watching him play, he has unearned playing time.

4. The defense was something of a bright spot. What were your thoughts on their performance?

orlandobruin: As I said above, the defense did look like it was more aggressive than the past few seasons under Tom Bradley. That is a good thing. They were also put into some very difficult situations due to mistakes on offense. However, no one should mistake the Cincinnati offense as being something special. I don’t think that this game was a good litmus test of the defense’s ability going forward. Let’s see how they do next week in a hostile environment.

AnteatersandBruins: They looked good against a mediocre team, but Oklahoma is going to destroy us if we don’t step it up. I was proud of the work Keisean Lucier-South did in the game and we definitely have some young guys with a lot of potential. In past years, our inability to develop good players into great players killed us. I have confidence that Chip Kelly is the man for the job.

Markybcool: I was impressed with the movement, the stunts, and the plain and simple fact that they dropped 298 pound nose tackle Martin Andrus into coverage. I agree with everybody else in terms of the opponent. It’s not like we were playing a team with some of the best skill guys in the nation like Oklahoma.

Andrew_goodman3: The defense looked great against a pretty weak opponent, but, boy, will they have their work cut out for them this Saturday against Oklahoma. The defense looked completely different that Tom Bradley’s porous scheme and I really liked how defensive coordinator Jerry Azzinaro dialed up the pressure multiple times throughout the game. Some of the young guys really showed flashes of star potential and this could be the start of great defensive unit for years to come.

Dimitri Dorlis: Outside of inside linebacker, the Bruin defense is really set up to be something special in the coming years. Each level of the defense features underclassmen making big plays, from Martin Andrus, Atonio Mafi, and Marcus Moore up front, to Jaelan Phillips at OLB, to Darnay Holmes, Quentin Lake, and Elijah Gates in the secondary. They’ll make some mistakes along the way (including, I assume, this weekend against Oklahoma) but there’s enough of a base level of talent here that future recruiting classes can really supplement and make this unit special. The aggressive playcalling and different looks really suit the type and level of talent on the defense as well, which was a nice contrast to what we saw from the offense.

Joe Piechowski: Compared to the Mora/Bradley defenses, this year’s unit looks much improved. The offense left them in tough spots and, in fact, let the defense down, especially on the fourth and one call. The call was necessary, but the failure to execute on that play as well as the Speight interception resulted in some very short fields for Cincinnati while the Bruin offense started only to drives with field position better than their own 32-yard line. One was after the fumble caused by Rick Wade. The other was on their next drive when Cincinnati punted and the Bruins started on their own 45. UCLA’s best starting field position after that was their own 32-yard line after an early fourth quarter punt. So, one thing the defense needs to work on is getting the offense the ball with better field position.

5. The Extra Point - Sound off!

orlandobruin: For me, the most important thing this season is seeing tangible improvement. It was before my time at UCLA, but the Bruins won the Rose Bowl in ‘84 (‘83 season) with a 7-4-1 record. The Bruins started out 0-3-1, and then went 7-1 to finish the season. Although I do not think the Bruins will be seeing any New Year’s Day bowls this year, I would like to see a similar trajectory with respect to getting better (and winning) later in the season.

AnteatersandBruins: Kazmeir Allen is as advertised! Unfortunately, my kid wanted a pretzel. So, I was waiting in a horribly long line when he broke away for the 74-yard touchdown. J.J. Molson is still on point (we CANNOT allow ourselves to forget the importance of special teams) and the guy even had a tackle. We’re going to have to win the field position game on Saturday to have a prayer of walking away in one piece.

Markybcool: Again, I agree with orlandobruin. I just want this team to improve each week and play hard. I enjoy watching young players learn on the job. I would like it more if Chip had more of choice when it comes to playing the young guys, but he is playing the hand that he has been dealt. Let’s shock the world and beat Oklahoma on Saturday!

Andrew_goodman3: Although UCLA will probably lose by more than 20 points to Oklahoma, this will be a great learning experience for the guys. This will be one of the toughest road games UCLA has played in years and it’s a fantastic opportunity for the Bruins to learn what life on the road is like when you have to play a Top 10 team. I’m hoping for the best, but, by all means, expecting the worst. Go Bruins!

Dimitri Dorlis: I don’t want to echo everyone else on the process stuff, so I will say that what I saw from the offense did not fill me with the confidence I was hoping. The playcalling and system was vanilla and uninspired even before the team went to a true freshmen quarterback and that just seems like the opposite of everything Chip Kelly has espoused. Thing is, I’m not expecting a huge change in the next game and I really believe this is the offense we’re going to have for the year, which is very distressing considering the general inability to get anything going against Cincinnati.

Also, going for it on 4th down was good and I will not suffer any slander that says otherwise.

Joe Piechowski: I won’t slander Dimitri because he’s right. It was the right call. Since this is the Extra Point, I’m going to sound off on an off-the-field issue. Anyone who’s been out to a game since Geoff Strand “retired” has probably noticed that the stadium energy level seems to have changed. I finally found out why last week. It seems that, for some unknown reason, the Athletic Department decided to remove the on-field microphones with the exception of the “Fourth Quarter Pump Up”. So, the Yell Crew and Spirit Squad don’t have these necessary tools available to them to help pump up the crowd on a regular basis throughout the game.

I don’t know who is responsible for this or why this was done. But, one thing is abundantly clear: The Yell Crew and Spirit Squad need their microphones back to get the crowd excited. I’m tired of standing up EVERY THIRD DOWN and trying to scream my lungs out to get people to stand up, only to watch them sit on their freakin’ hands.

If you went to last week’s game and got an email requesting feedback, please fill the form out and ask them to bring back the microphones for the Yell Crew and Spirit Squad for the entire game. If you already filled out the form and it won’t let you fill it out again, please do it after the Fresno State game and keep doing it until they get those mikes back.

Go Bruins