UCLA of the Pac-12 will open its 2019 campaign on the road Thursday night, taking on host Cincinnati of the American Athletic Conference.
Looking For Better
The UCLA Bruins are coming off a 3-9 season in their first year under head coach Chip Kelly. Kelly was well known for his college football success at Oregon and a small stint in the NFL. Typically, it takes at least three or four years for a new college coach to see success, about the time their own recruits start becoming upperclassmen.
Last year, the Bruins were only able to muster up 24.6 points per game, while the defense gave up 36.6. One bright spot that will be returning this season is their running back Joshua Kelley, who rushed for 1,243 yards and 12 touchdowns.
The last time these two teams faced off, the Bearcats traveled to California and took down the Bruins to open the 2018 season, 26-17. In that game Cincinnati controlled the game, rushing for three touchdowns and 142 yards with their starting running back Michael Warren, who will be starting in this one as well. The 26 points scored on the Bruins in that game was the least a team scored on them all year.
UCLA now has the benefit of a full season under Kelly. Kelly was known for his high-powered offenses, which started to show near the end of last year as the Bruins put up at least 20 points in each of their last eight games.
They will also be returning their freshman quarterback from last year, Dorian Thompson-Robinson, who has been named the starter in this game. Thompson-Robinson had limited playing time last year but looks to make full use of Kelly’s offense this year with the help of Kelley at running back.
The Bearcats are coming off a successful 2018 season, where they finished 11-2. Their success last season may be swaying the odds in their favor more than they really should. This is going to be a close one to call because the first week is always a little bit of a tossup in closely matched teams, and UCLA looked like a different team at the end of last season compared to when the Bearcats played them in the beginning.
The player to watch for Cincinnati in this one is Warren. When these teams met last year, Warren had a great game on the ground, allowing the Bearcats to control the pace of the game and keep UCLA’s offense off the field.
Warren finished the season with 1,329 yards and 19 rushing touchdowns. As I said before, UCLA’s offense got going at the end of last season, so look for the Bearcats to control the ball and keep them sidelined.
As a team, the Bearcats scored 34.9 points per game while allowing just 17.2. They finished their season by winning their bowl game over Virginia Tech in a close one, 35-31.
What To Expect
These first week games, especially between two close teams, typically come down to which team is more prepared. UCLA looked much better by the end of last season, but the Bearcats were significantly better statistically speaking. I like UCLA to be better this year, but the Bearcats will still be too much for them to handle in this one. Give me the Bearcats to win in a close game.