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UCLA Football: Cincinnati Post-Game Roundtable

The writers and editors of Bruins Nation discuss UCLA’s 24-14 loss to the Cincinnati Bearcats.

NCAA Football: UCLA at Cincinnati Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports
  1. Let’s start out easy. Well, relatively easy. What are your general thoughts about the game?

AnteatersandBruins: I was incredibly disappointed at the lack of progress from last year to this year. The first five minutes gave me a glimmer of hope, then after DTR’s fumble because no one hit him, the tide of the game turned and we were back to 2018 game one. He looked scared and lost. The secondary seemed improved, and the defense showed a bit of progress, but I believe they were gassed because we couldn’t keep our offense on the field long enough. Same old story. I know. Starters were out, but sheesh.

Shayan Saalabi: It was sloppy. What might be worse, though, is that subpar performances like these have almost become expected from the Bruins.

orlandobruin: If you are going to lock down practice, greatly curtail access to information by the media and fans, thereby depriving fans of part of their fandom, you better put a product on the field that fans can be happy about. The combination of Coach Kelly’s obfuscation, and that is a generous term, and the quarterbacking we saw on Thursday night does not give Bruin fans any kind of optimism for this season.

Mark Schipper: It was mostly ugly, though it started well until Dorian Thompson-Robinson fumbled the ball without being hit on what appeared to be a sure touchdown drive to open the game. That turned out to be an ill omen portending the rest of the game, particularly for DTR who turned the ball over four times. A nightmare game for him. I saw a lot of banal play calling and poor execution offensively where the Bruins were, to be fair, bereft of several key starters. Defensively, where UCLA was also missing tremendous firepower, the Bruins got gashed again too many times, but I saw some plays being made, too. I went from looking forward to Game 2 to being prepared to watch with a wary eye. But it’s far from over.

Joe Piechowski: Suffice it to say that I’m not a happy camper. Chip Kelly needs to give another quarterback a chance to play.

Dimitri Dorlis: Let me first take this opportunity to plug a little something-something, but beyond that, I think there were positives. There were negatives. And, most of all, there were plenty of signs that this rebuild may take way longer than anticipated, perhaps longer than Chip Kelly reasonably has time to deliver on.

2. Dorian Thompson-Robinson was….not good in this game. How did you feel about his performance, and how did you feel about Chip Kelly’s handling of the quarterback position in this game?

AnteatersandBruins: Ugh. If you ask me, the handling goes back to last season when it looked like they did nothing to keep Devon Modster. That may have prevented some of this mess from happening. DTR does not look like a Division I quarterback, despite his high school performance.

Shayan Saalabi: DTR struggled, but the Bruins are so thin at the QB position that a switch there might only trigger panic mode. We just don’t know enough about Austin Burton or Chase Griffin. Another miserable outing from DTR against SDSU might force Chip Kelly’s hand, though.

orlandobruin: Thompson-Robinson’s performance was awful. He should have been benched. If a mid-game benching is too damaging to his psyche (i.e., he metaphorically curls up into a ball instead of fighting hard, with renewed vigor, for his job), he doesn’t have what it takes to lead this program. Is Coach Kelly afraid of another Lavar Ball situation with Dorian’s dad?

Mark Schipper: I actually tweeted during the game that DTR looked so out of it I wondered if he’d had a personal issue we didn’t hear about: Sick family member, breakup with a girlfriend, deep personal problem of another kind, etc. I also thought it would be a great game to bench him to give him a chance to either snap out of it or let him watch someone else run the offense, but, of course, that’s not an option, who would UCLA play? I think DTR is a good football player, possibly more than that, but there were some very troubling signs against Cincinnati. He appears to have an easily affected attitude and trouble pulling himself out of a funk. That is very bad for a quarterback. I’m going to watch him closely going forward. I’m uneasy about the spot but not despondent.

Joe Piechowski: I think the fact that he played only one year at quarterback in high school is showing. The question is: Can UCLA afford to wait for him to become a serviceable FBS quarterback?

Dimitri Dorlis: I’m on the fence regarding benching DTR during that game. Let’s get one thing straight: that was easily his worst performance in a Bruin uniform. But he also had enough better performances last year that I have to assume he can play better going forward. And if not, Chip Kelly is going to have to prove his coaching ability in a hurry.

3. The offense looked dominant on the first drive of the game and, then, looked anything but that for the rest. Was this all due to the missing starters, scheme issues, all DTR, or a combination?

AnteatersandBruins: I think it was a combination of starters being out and DTR losing confidence after his first fumble. Cincy’s defense got in his head and that was the end.

Shayan Saalabi: That first drive was almost comically analogous to my experience watching the UCLA Bruins these past few seasons. Bits and pieces of what looks like progress before someone makes an absolutely inexplicable error, erasing any positive.

orlandobruin: It was a total loss of confidence by Thompson-Robinson after the first fumble. Missing key starters didn’t help but, as I stated in the postgame comments, Thompson-Robinson had no swagger, did not appear to have authority in the huddle, and had terrible body language. He missed routine, 10-15 yard throws to open receivers. This isn’t an arm strength issue or, I don’t think, an issue with his mechanics. Say what you will about Baker Mayfield, the crotch-grabbing incident a few years back and his general cockiness, but I’ll take that over a lack of confidence in my QB any day of the week.

Mark Schippper: I think the first thing to remember is that Cincinnati is a good football team that brought everyone back from, what, an 11-2 team last year? They are tough and I believe the AAC is 5-0 against the Pac-12 in the last few years. This was a tough opener for this young team, particularly with all the starters and game breakers out and no one more than the mighty Joshua Kelley, the Bruins’ breakaway back. But, in terms of what happened after that beautiful opening drive, which ended when DTR performed a Keystone Cops-esque self-fumble without being touched, I don’t know. DTR appeared to go into a deep, embarrassed funk and could not forgive himself or move onto the next play. He was in a trance all night and played the worst game I’ve ever seen him play. His offensive line was inconsistent and he had no running game to rely on. But DTR did nothing to get the ball to playmakers. I’d call the whole show a wash and am interested to see if they can get the boiler cranked up against San Diego State.

Dimitri Dorlis: DTR is covered, but let’s not let the scheme choices off the hook. Chip Kelly decided to complicate the offense more, which is his right, but considering how good the offense got last year by simplifying the looks and become less predictable in what plays are being run out of them, it’s a rather baffling step to take. Especially since Kelly should have at least had an inkling that he’d be missing so many components of the offense, because if he didn’t, then that’s really not a good look.

Joe Piechowski: When your quarterback completes just five of his last 22 pass attempts, you’re just not going to win the game. Period.

4. The defense was definitely better in some aspects than they were last year, especially against the run. How would you rate their performance?

AnteatersandBruins: Like I said before, they were gassed because the time of possession was totally lopsided. At least, it really felt like it. UCLA has been through this before. When you have a decent defense that could be up to the task, but they can’t perform at their best if they’re on the field for 45 minutes. I did, however, see improvement, notably in the secondary.

Shayan Saalabi: I have no major bones to pick with the Bruins defensively. They gave the offense a chance to pull ahead early, but the offense couldn’t do, well, anything.

orlandobruin: I give them a “B.” As AnteatersandBruins pointed out, the time of possession was 38 plus minutes to 21 plus minutes. That’s a lot of time on the field. UCLA got robbed on the “scoop and score” in the final minutes due to a way-too-early whistle. I would like to see a better pass rush and I would like to see a better approach on third and long in passing situations. The Bearcats easily converted several of those to wide open receivers.

Mark Schipper: The defense was ok but not great. They did look far more organized schematically than last year and I was beyond relieved to see that. There was clearly a plan in place and players playing roles within a scheme. There were a few gashings that were hard to watch but it never got out of control. They played pretty well overall and, in fact, I firmly believe they were robbed on that beautiful scoop-and-score fumble in the fourth quarter that could have been the spark for a wild UCLA comeback. It’s a developing story on this side of the ball and I’m interested to see where it goes this week.

Dimitri Dorlis: It’s basically the same as last year. There’s no one on the team who can consistently generate a pass rush and that’s what kills the defense repeatedly. The run defense, particularly on inside runs, is much improved, but there’s a distinct lack of athleticism that hurts them to the outside. I also get the impression that this game would have been much more of a blowout had a few guys not made outstanding individual plays to force some turnovers.

Joe Piechowski: The defense played well enough to give the team a chance to win. Could it have been better? Sure, but no one is saying the team lost this game due to a poor performance by the defense. At least this week, that’s enough.

5. Any expectations for this season went out the window with the performance against Cincinnati. So, let’s use this first roundtable to readjust. What are you expecting to see from UCLA going forward?

AnteatersandBruins: I’m hoping the parking attendants will be improved from last year. Maybe even park cars in an organized fashion in Lot H since so many of us are there every weekend. But seriously, I’m just relying on good tailgating at this point. Everything else is gravy.

Shayan Saalabi: With San Diego State, Oklahoma, and Washington State all lined up next on the Bruins’ schedule, an 0-4 start is a serious possibility. Is that enough to throw Chip Kelly on the hot seat?

orlandobruin: Competent, game management-style QB play out of Austin Burton versus San Diego State.

Mark Schipper: I have not reset my expectations at all. I expected a five or six win season which included at least one, if not two, upsets along the way and that still can happen. Going forward, I want to see every unit get better than they were the week before. I want to see a lot of enthusiasm and passion from the guys on the field and players who care about making plays and winning. I want to see DTR continue to grow up and lead this football team, particularly when UCLA gets its full roster healthy and back on the field.

Dimitri Dorlis: So, while UCLA did not look good in that first game, the rest of the Pac-12 didn’t exactly cover itself in glory. Arizona lost a bad game to Hawaii, Oregon State still looks like a work in progress, UC Berkeley and Stanford struggled, and Southern Cal just lost its starting quarterback for the year. And that’s leaving out how bad San Diego State looked in a 6-0 win over Weber State. So, bowl eligibility is still possible. The offense just has to improve and in a hurry.

Joe Piechowski: You know, when I predicted six wins a few weeks ago that was my optimistic viewpoint. I’ve been extremely concerned that the team could be looking at another 3-9 season. I think it’s still a little early to accept that idea, though, but after last week, I’m now concerned that we could be looking at a second losing season under Chip Kelly even if the team ends up winning four or five games.

6. The Extra Point - Sound off!

AnteatersandBruins: Hello, Wade Lees! What a gem of a punter. Love this dude.

Shayan Saalabi: Chip Kelly is 5-25 in his last 30 games as head coach, a streak of mediocrity that stretches back to 2015, when he was coaching the Philadelphia Eagles. Then, Chip Kelly was football’s most-coveted mind. Now, he’s anything but. Bad losses, bottom-of-the-barrel recruiting classes, and spotty personnel picks are racking up on his resume. Chip Kelly might need to get out of his own way before anything improves.

orlandobruin: Hooray women’s soccer! Football we can all be proud of. On the same might that UCLA’s football team was losing, UCLA women’s soccer was beating the #1 Florida State Seminoles, the defending national champs! You gotta love the Bruins’ 4-0 start.

Mark Schipper: So much football left to be played this fall, I encourage every Bruin fan to watch the games with an analytical eye and keep their composure in the maelstrom of turbulence and stress and passionate feelings that comprise a college football season. Week 1 is the beginning of the beginning and what we saw was far from the finished product. Hold fast. See it through.

Dimitri Dorlis: If you all thought Rose Bowl attendance was bad last year, wait till you see the crowd this Saturday. The loss didn’t help rebuild confidence in the program, San Diego State will probably bring some fans but not like Oklahoma will in a few weeks and it’s a 1:15 PM start time. I’m honestly excited to see UCLA try to say that 50,000 people were at the Rose Bowl with a straight face.

Joe Piechowski: Well, UCLA stopped announcing attendance at games a few years ago. So, that’s how they get away with the attendance figure with a straight face. Personally, I’m guessing there will be only about 42,000 this weekend. The upside, of course, is that there will be plenty of available parking and I’ve never been to a bad tailgate. Bad football games? Sure, those are a dime a dozen, but never a bad tailgate. I think the bigger question is that, if the offense looks like it did last week, will the boo birds appear before halftime?

Go Bruins!