True freshman running back Kazmeir Allen dashed for a 74-yard touchdown run on just his third touch as a Bruin and continued to sprint through the end zone. He still hasn’t stopped. The main problem for Allen and first-year head coach Chip Kelly against Cincinnati, however, was the rest of the young team’s inability to keep up.
Michigan graduate transfer Wilton Speight started the game but left with an injury midway through the second quarter. Kelly turned to true freshman Dorian Thompson-Robinson, who was unable to stay in rhythm against the Cincinnati defense. Inconsistency within the offense, two turnovers and an inability to stop Cincinnati running back Michael Warren (141 yards and three touchdowns) led to a 26-17 defeat.
“Just too many mistakes, to be honest with you,” Kelly said. He added, “We knew that going in, we were young. You’ve got a freshman center, a freshman running back, freshman receivers.” True freshman Chris Murray, who played offensive guard while becoming a top-10 recruit out of high school, began repping at center in fall camp and made the start on opening day for UCLA.
Wideouts Kyle Phillips (three receptions for 13 yards) and Chase Cota (one catch for 13 yards) also saw their first college football action versus Cincinnati. Allen, who won a track and field championship his senior year of high school in the 100 meters, finished with perhaps the best statistics of all the freshman Bruins. He gained 103 rushing yards on five attempts, including a 23-yard gain on his first rushing attempt.
Thompson-Robinson was told the last Wednesday he’d be the second string to Wilton Speight, but was instead relied upon down the stretch for UCLA. “I prepared like I was going to be the starter and didn’t know I was going to play,” he said.
He completed 15-of-25 passes for 117 yards but fumbled the ball deep in UCLA territory on a play late in the fourth quarter. After tight end Caleb Wilson protected the loose ball from Cincinnati defenders in the Bruins’ own end zone, the Bearcats stole momentum and a 19-17 lead with 9:45 remaining. Nonetheless, Thompson-Robinson showcased his athletic ability and ran the ball eight times for 19 yards.
Facing a fourth-and-one with under six minutes left on their own 36, UCLA turned the ball over on downs as a Thompson-Robinson pass fell incomplete. Cincinnati drove inside the 15 yard-line but faced a fourth down of their own. Warren gained the first down, but the Bruin defense took yet another stand.
Three plays later on fourth-and-two, UCLA was penalized with an illegal substitution penalty for having 12 players on the field. “That’s on the coaches,” Kelly said. He added, “We had called for a timeout before that. So, we called for a block and just did not communicate it right.”
Cincinnati originally sent kicker Cole Smith out for a 20-yard field goal attempt, but decided to ship the offense back out after UCLA’s mistake. Warren scored his third touchdown on the crucial fourth-and-one, giving Cincinnati a 26-17 edge and effectively securing a hard-earned road win with 1:44 remaining.
Bearcats’ senior starting quarterback Hayden Moore got off to a rough start and was benched with just under eight minutes left in the first quarter. He lost the ball to UCLA linebacker Keisean Lucier-South, leading to a Bolu Olorunfunmi touchdown run four plays later. Redshirt freshman Desmond Ridder took over, and flipped momentum throughout the second quarter.
Ridder completed nine of his first 11 passes, threw for 100 yards and scampered for 76. He put the Bearcats in position for their first touchdown, throwing an 18-yard dart down to the one. Warren scored one play later, and Cincinnati cut the early UCLA lead to 10-7. Later in the quarter, he took off for 32 yards and advanced the Bearcats to UCLA’s 16 yard-line. Smith converted on a 24-yard field goal a few plays after, and Cincinnati took a 17-10 lead into halftime.
To say the first quarter of Kelly’s era at UCLA was choppy would be an understatement, for both teams. Three penalties were called within the game’s first five minutes, including a targeting call that disqualified Cincinnati defender Michael Pitts. Kicker JJ Molson nailed a 47-yard field goal with 2:02 left in the quarter.
Early in the second, Speight threw a costly interception. Cincinnati set up shop inside UCLA’s 30 yard-line, and Warren scored his second touchdown of the afternoon seven plays later.
In addition to carving up UCLA’s run defense, Warren led Cincinnati in receiving with three catches for 29 yards. The Bearcats out-rushed UCLA by 50 yards (194-144) and capitalized on all four of their trips to the redzone.
The 74-yard Allen touchdown run, which occurred just minutes into the third quarter, was the third-longest run by a UCLA true freshman. Junior receiver Theo Howard led the Bruins with five catches for 52 yards, catching a pass for the 17th consecutive game.
Cincinnati snapped UCLA’s six-game home winning streak. The Bruins schedule won’t be getting any easier, especially with a trip to number seven Oklahoma next week. The Sooners demolished Lane Kiffin’s Florida Atlantic in week one, 63-14. Kelly and UCLA are welcoming the challenge, however, and have their approach set. “If you can’t get excited about going to play Oklahoma at Oklahoma, then you are in the wrong spot.” He added, “That’s why you came here. We knew coming in that you’d play a very difficult schedule.”