Five takeaways from UCLA’s victory over Bowling Green

It was the kind of opening game that made a statement.

Bring on Alabama… state.

UCLA appeared to need another vote rather than a showdown after a sloppy 45-17 win over Bowling Green at Saturday’s Rose Bowl. Even the Bruins’ 38 unanswered points couldn’t completely mask the stench of a first half in which they made mistake after mistake.

Here are five takeaways from the game:

This wasn’t Judgment Day

UCLA wide receiver Kazmeir Allen runs the ball while Bowling Green safety Chris Bacon attempts a tackle.

UCLA wide receiver Kazmeir Allen (right) runs the ball while Bowling Green safety man Chris Bacon attempts a tackle in the second half at the Rose Bowl on Saturday.

(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

As bad as it looked, you’d be wise to refrain from making sweeping statements about the Bruins.

Yes, it was an ugly win, but first impressions of a team are often misleading. Do you remember last season? Two games later, UCLA was a trending choice to make the college football playoff, and how did that play out?

UCLA coach Chip Kelly was wise to point out Saturday that teams evolve over the course of a season and that the hope was this was the worst his team would play in 2022. Most importantly, the Bruins easily survived their two turnovers, a blocked punt, a touchdown and a turnover on downs after things took a scary turn in the first half.

“We dug a little hole in the beginning,” Kelly said, “but I was really proud of how our boys reacted.”

How about this defense?

UCLA defenseman Grayson Murphy fires quarterback Matt McDonald from Bowling Green.

UCLA defenseman Grayson Murphy (left) sacks Bowling Green quarterback Matt McDonald during the first half of Saturday at the Rose Bowl.

(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

The scoreboard in no way reflected defensive coordinator Bill McGovern’s first game against the Bruins.

McGovern presided over a defense that really only gave up seven points on Saturday. Stay here with us.

Bowling Green’s first touchdown came on a blocked punt. It added a field goal after UCLA’s Jake Bobo dropped a punt and gave the ball to the Falcons at the Bruins’ 11-yard line.

Bowling Green managed just one sustained scoring drive and went 73 yards for a touchdown that gave him a 17-7 lead early in the second quarter thanks to some shoddy tackles on Christian Sim’s 22-yard scoring catch.

After that, the Falcons failed to score. They finished the game with just 162 yards in offense against a defense that did some creative things, including using linebackers Carl Jones and Laiatu Latu alongside edge rushers Grayson and Gabriel Murphy as defensive lines on some plays.

“It was really impressive to start the season,” Kelly said of his defense, “and hopefully we can build on that.”

Special teams were terrible

Bowling Green's PaSean Wimberly blocks a kick from UCLA kicker Nicholas Barr-Mira.

Bowling Green’s PaSean Wimberly (bottom) blocks a kick from UCLA field kicker Nicholas Barr-Mira during the first half of Saturday at the Rose Bowl. Bowling Green linebacker Charles Rosser, right, ran in the blocked punt for a touchdown.

(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

Anyone can drop a punt like Bobo did after claiming a fair catch in the first quarter, but it was some time to do when he first ran onto the field to return a punt.

The Bruins were forced to take a time-out after realizing Bobo wasn’t the only player to wear the No. 9 as part of their punt return unit. Choe Bryant-Strother also wore the number, leading to a stoppage of the game to allow Bobo to slip at No. 87.

Kelly said the coaches were aware of the problem before the game, which makes it all the more inexplicable.

There was also the suspension that gave Bowling Green’s PaSean Wimberly direct access to punter Nicholas Barr-Mira. Wimberly hit Barr-Mira before he could lift the punt, and the Falcons recovered the ball for a touchdown.

Barr-Mira also missed two of his three field goal attempts in his first game after receiving a scholarship.

Call him ‘Fridge’ Mafi

UCLA offensive lineman Atonio Mafi splashes water on his head.

UCLA offensive lineman Atonio Mafi splashes water on his head during the second half against Bowling Green at Saturday’s Rose Bowl.

(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

Perhaps the Bruins need to start drafting some goal-line plays for Atonio Mafi.

The 340-pound offensive lineman was certainly a force in the third quarter, catching a fumble from Dorian Thompson-Robinson and rushing for seven yards, holding the ball out triumphantly with his hand to signal a first down.

Mafi’s weight-loss journey — he’s lost 71 pounds since arriving on campus ahead of the 2018 season — has been one of the team’s most inspirational stories. He moved from the defensive line to the other side of the ball and became a force in the guard.

Given his increased mobility that comes with his superior power, Mafi might justify an expanded role. Give that man the ball.

Passport protection was missing

UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson runs past Bowling Green defenseman Adrian Wilson.

UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson, right, runs past Bowling Green defenseman Adrian Wilson for a touchdown during the second half at the Rose Bowl Saturday.

(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

Thompson-Robinson was on the run for most of the afternoon, having to ditch the ball in third instead of taking a sack to end the Bruins’ first drive.

On the first game of UCLA’s second drive, the Falcons pulled down Thompson-Robinson for a sack and a two-yard loss. He was also under intense pressure two games later when he slipped a tackle, went around the touchline and clipped back across the field for a 68-yard touchdown run.

Thompson-Robinson said the Falcons, falling deep back into their zone coverage, gave him plenty of room to run. But the Falcons near the line of scrimmage gave him constant trouble because UCLA’s offensive line didn’t provide adequate protection. Thompson-Robinson was only sacked twice, but that was mostly due to his nimble feet.

Noting that his team gained more than 600 yards, Kelly said he needed to look at the tape to resolve specific issues related to a line that included Raiqwon O’Neal and Garrett DiGiorgio, who made their debut as the team’s full-time starting tackles celebrated.

There is no need to go to the tape. This line has some issues that need to be addressed.

Bring on the state of Alabama. Five takeaways from UCLA’s victory over Bowling Green

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