PASADENA, Calif. — After an offseason of decisions for the UCLA Bruins, they may have left with more questions than answers in their 27-13 win over the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers.
Last year, the Bruins’ offense was one of the best in college football. They were eighth in points per game and fourth in yards per game in the country. However, in the offseason, quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson and running back Zach Charbonnet left Westwood as they were selected in the 2023 NFL Draft. Those two, among multiple others, had to be replaced as the team approached 2023.
The quarterback position was a particularly interesting race as three Bruins with contrasting backgrounds vied for the starting spot. The leading contenders were Ethan Garbers, a redshirt junior, Dante Moore, a freshman five-star recruit, and Collin Schlee, a transfer.
Head coach Chip Kelley ultimately chose the team veteran Garbers to open the game against the Chanticleers. He started the game well, leading a touchdown drive to open the game.
Garbers threw a 21-yard touchdown pass to tight end Carsen Ryan, giving the Bruins a 6-0 lead.
However, during the Bruins’ second drive, Garbers’ throw across his body was intercepted by Chanticleers defensive back Clayton Isbell in the endzone.
Moore replaced Garbers in the second quarter and flashed his five-star talent during his first drive. He made two third-down completions; One came as he rolled to his right before slinging downfield to California Golden Bears transfer wide receiver J. Michael Sturdivant. He completed the other when he found running back Carsen Steele for a 14-yard touchdown, giving the Bruins a 13-3 lead.
But then, Garbers replaced Moore for a couple of drives, where he threw an interception, and the Bruins punted.
Early in the fourth quarter, Moore returned to the game. And on his first play, he threw a well-placed deep pass to Sturdivant, who scored a 62-yard touchdown, giving the Bruins a 20-13 lead.
Just as Moore was starting to gain momentum, he made an error in the red zone as he threw an interception while facing pressure in the pocket. Luckily for him, defensive back John Humphrey picked up an interception of his own the following play, setting the Bruins up for a field goal and a 24-13 lead.
Moore finished with 143 passing yards on seven-for-12 passing. He also threw two touchdowns and an interception. Garbers ended with 121 yards on 10-of-17 passing with one touchdown and two interceptions.
Kelley has a tough decision to make at quarterback after Moore lit a spark for the Bruins while Garbers started the game.
The running back position was the other main area where the Bruins needed a replacement. And while filling the shoes of the Bruins’ 1,000-yard-plus rusher for two years was no easy task, they may have found their answer in Ball State Cardinals transfer, Carsen Steele.
Steele handled a majority of the Bruins’ carries and made good use of them. He was fierce with his rushes and often picked the correct lanes.
Steele ran for 76 yards on 13 carries and caught four passes for 20 yards and a touchdown.
The other Bruins running back with a large workload, T.J. Harden, was effective, too, though; he rushed for 76 yards on 11 carries. The two-man rushing attack worked well for the Bruins and could be employed moving forward.
At wide receiver, Sturdivant led the team’s efforts at wide receiver with five catches for 136 yards and a touchdown. USC Trojans transfer Kyle Ford also contributed with two receptions for 39 yards.
Defensively, the Bruins were operating under a fresh face as former Baltimore Ravens safeties coach D’Anton Lynn replaced former defensive coordinator Bill McGovern. The Bruins honored McGovern with a sticker on their helmet against the Chanticleers as he passed away in May.
The Chanticleers moved the ball well, but on multiple occasions, the Bruins held them to field goal attempts rather than touchdowns. However, the Bruins had six offside penalties, keeping multiple Chanticleers’ drives alive. Still, the Bruins’ solid pressure and a few big plays limited the Chanticleer’s offensive efforts to 13 points.
Defensive lineman Laiatu Latu led the Bruins’ defensive effort with three sacks. Linebacker Darius Muasau also contributed with a team-leading nine combined tackles.
One notable play came in the third quarter when defensive back Jaylin Davies intercepted quarterback Chanticleers Grayson McCall. The Chanticleers were gaining momentum and making a drive to potentially take the lead, but Davies shut it down.
Next, the Bruins play the San Diego State Aztecs, where they will have another chance to learn about their players in game-action as they head towards conference play.