Five things to watch in UCLA’s opener against Bowling Green

Here are five things to watch in UCLA’s season opener against Bowling Green at the Rose Bowl on Saturday:

Bye September blues?

UCLA running back Zach Charbonnet carries against LSU.

UCLA running back Zach Charbonnet takes on LSU in the first half on September 4, 2021 at the Rose Bowl.

(Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

It’s a new UCLA football season. Apply sunscreen, wipe out the cool box and dust off the folding chairs. There’s a common September trap that the Bruins would just as easily abandon. This is the disappointment they experienced before the first fall chill rolled over the Rose Bowl.

UCLA hasn’t completed an unbeaten non-conference schedule since 2015 (unless you count COVID-19-shortened 2020, when the Bruins played only Pac-12 opponents). This could be the year that changes. UCLA is a 24½-point favorite over the Falcons and will also be heavily favored against Alabama State and South Alabama.

Angry Alert

Tennessee running back Jabari Small dives over the goal line for a touchdown.

Tennessee running back Jabari Small (2) dives over the goal line for a touchdown when he is hit by Bowling Green linebacker Darren Anders (23) in the first half September 2, 2021 in Knoxville, Tennessee.

(Wade Payne/Associated Press)

UCLA coach Chip Kelly used video clips from Bowling Green’s 14-10 win over Minnesota last September to illustrate how the Falcons could beat a power-five opponent on the street.

Of course, Bowling Green finished the season 4-8, but according to ESPN’s Bill Connelly, it’s #1 nationally in 2022 as it’s returning 92% of its production. That includes nine starters on offense and defense — even with the recent loss of running back Terion Stewart, who will not play this season for unknown reasons.

Among those returners is linebacker Darren Anders, who was selected to the first team of the All-Mid-American Conference last season after leading the conference with 10.3 tackles per game.

Familiar territory

Bowling Green quarterback Matt McDonald passes to Akron.

Bowling Green quarterback Matt McDonald plays against Akron during a game on October 9, 2021 in Bowling Green, Ohio.

(Rick Osentoski/Associated Press)

Bowling Green senior quarterback Matt McDonald is fulfilling a legacy by playing at the Rose Bowl.

His father, Paul, was a USC quarterback who led the Trojans to back-to-back Rose Bowl game wins in 1979 and 1980. His brothers Michael, another USC quarterback, and Andrew, a New Mexico State quarterback, also played at the legendary stadium.

A native of Newport Beach, Matt grew up a die-hard USC fan. At Mater Dei High, he beat a young fellow named JT Daniels for the starting job before sustaining an injury that cost him the spot. McDonald transferred to Mission Viejo to complete his high school career and spent the next two seasons at Boston College.

“I’ve had dreams of playing at the Cardinal and Gold and beating the Bruins,” McDonald said, “but life is crazy, I just took a slightly different path, but I can still do it.” [play at the Rose Bowl]so it’s great.”

McDonald has played 115 passes since his last interception, which came on his first pass in the third quarter against Eastern Michigan last October.

What about Bill?

Bill McGovern watches on the sidelines.

Bill McGovern watches on the sidelines at an NFL game in Detroit in 2019.

(Paul Sancya/Associated Press)

UCLA’s offense has constantly buzzed under Kelly, but the Bruins are still looking for competent defense. That’s why Bill McGovern will be sitting in the press box on Saturday.

Outside of a season as defensive analyst at Nebraska, the Bruins’ new defensive coordinator has not coached at the collegiate level since he held the same post at Boston College in 2012. Kelly said he’s intrigued by the NFL defensive pass concepts McGovern can bring to the team after stints with the Philadelphia Eagles, New York Giants and Chicago Bears.

The first signs of whether this is a smart move should appear on Saturday.

hot stuff

A view of the Rose Bowl during a UCLA football game.

A view of the Rose Bowl during a UCLA football game.

(Thuc Nhi Nguyen / Los Angeles Times)

The forecast calls for a high of 104 degrees in the Rose Bowl, about 12 degrees warmer than the forecast temperature in Westwood. If the Bruins can’t get the on-campus stadium that many have desired, perhaps there is an alternative.

“We’re going to try to build a dome by Saturday,” Kelly joked.

The best plan beyond hydration and staying in the cool zone fog on the sidelines might be heavy substitutions. When the Bruins rotate liberally, they can keep everyone (relatively) cool.

“You have to play a lot of guys,” said Kelly, “and I think it’s an advantage for us that we have a lot of guys to play against.”

UCLA will try to help fans beat the heat by providing water refill stations; refrigerated buses with air conditioning; tents with misters and fans; and free samples of Liquid IV. Five things to watch in UCLA’s opener against Bowling Green

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