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Utes wary of versatile UCLA quarterback who set a Bruins record in season-opening shootout

Which program has the advantage heading into Saturday’s showdown in the Rose Bowl? A Utes team that hasn’t played a game or a Bruins team that has?

Colorado defensive end Mustafa Johnson pursues UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson Saturday, Nov. 7, 2020, in Boulder, Colo. Colorado won 48-42. Thompson-Robinson, who became the first Bruin to throw for over 300 yards and rush for 100 in a single game in UCLA’s loss to the Buffs, could be a handful for the new-look Ute defense Saturday night in the Rose Bowl.
AP Photo/David Zalubowski

What UCLA showed in its season-opening 48-42 loss at Colorado was pretty much what it showed last season.

A prolific but sloppy offense and a colander-like defense.

Now the Bruins host Utah on Saturday (8:30 p.m., MST, Fox) at the Rose Bowl in the Utes’ season opener.

The good news last Saturday for UCLA — quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson became the first player in school history to record 300 passing yards (303) and 100 rushing yards (a career-high 109) in a game.

The bad news for the Bruins — they surrendered 525 yards and five rushing touchdowns. Colorado quarterback Sam Noyer threw for 257 yards and sophomore running back Jarek Broussard gained 187 rushing yards scored three TDs.

During the offseason, coach Chip Kelly hired Brian Norwood as defensive passing game coordinator, replacing Paul Rhoads.

But the results were very similar to last year. UCLA ranked 113th nationally, out of 130 teams, in total defense in 2019.

“There were a lot of points put up in the game — a high-scoring game. The quarterback is a tremendous athlete and he has skill all around him,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said while summing up UCLA’s opener. “Their slot receiver is very good. Defensively, they had a tough time stopping Colorado. They have athletes and we have our work cut out for us.”

In his first career start, Bruins tight end Greg Dulcich hauled in four passes for 126 yards, including a 52-yard touchdown, at Colorado. Running back Demetric Felton rushed 10 times for 57 yards and a touchdown and had seven receptions for 46 yards and a TD.

But UCLA coughed up four first-half turnovers, gifting the Buffaloes good field position. And they capitalized.

UCLA head coach Chip Kelly in the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 7, 2020, in Boulder, Colo. Colorado won 48-42.
AP Photo/David Zalubowski

“We put our defense in some adverse situations in the first half and we dug too deep a hole in the first half to be able to come back,” Kelly said.

In three seasons under Kelly, UCLA is plus-11 turnovers in victories and minus-22 turnovers in losses. The Bruins did not force a turnover at Colorado.

Meanwhile, the Utes, who haven’t played yet this season, are breaking in a new quarterback and must replace nine defensive starters from a year ago.

Which team could have the upper hand in this matchup?

“There are arguments on both sides. Typically, the old adage is you make your most improvement between game 1 and 2,” Whittingham said. “That’s on their side. As far as us, we have a full game tape to watch and study and analyze. They have nothing on us yet this year. So who knows? Advantages go both ways, depending on how you look at it.”

Defensive lineman Maxs Tupai believes the Utes have the edge.

“Nobody’s seen us play. They don’t know what we have to bring to the table,” he said. “I’m excited to play.”

“Their offense looks good. Their quarterback is pretty athletic,” said defensive tackle Viane Moala. “At least you have film to watch now instead of watching last year’s film.”

Defensive back Malone Mataele said he and his teammates have been working hard to prepare for UCLA.

“I see a lot in their offense. They have a lot of potential. They have a quarterback who’s very versatile and can do a lot of damage on his feet and with the ball in his hands, throwing,” he said. “Ultimately, it comes down to preparing, film study, mastering our technique. If we can master our techniques and have the right approach in each practice, we’ll be ready for anybody.”

There are some local ties on UCLA’s roster. The Bruins’ outside linebackers coach is Jason Kaufusi, a former Utah standout (2000-03). Freshman linebacker Ioholani Raass hails from Lehi and attended Skyridge High.

The Utes have won four consecutive games against UCLA.