What once looked like one of the marquee games of week three of the 2019 college football season between the Oklahoma Sooners and UCLA Bruins has already lost plenty of luster. While the Sooners wiped the floor with the Houston Cougars and FCS' South Dakota Coyotes in the first two weeks of the year, UCLA sputtered in losses to the Cincinnati Bearcats and San Diego State Aztecs.
If the Sooners were expecting an electric atmosphere at the Rose Bowl, think again. The apathy in Westwood for the football program apparently prompted the UCLA athletic department to send out four free seats at this week’s game to ticket holders who sat through the Bruins’ miserable 23-14 loss to the Aztecs.
An upset win over the No. 5 team in the country might go a long way towards getting more UCLA supporters back in the seats in Pasadena. The Sooners also have a few questions on both sides of the ball that need answers.
Oklahoma at UCLA
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 14 at 8 p.m. ET
Spread: Oklahoma -22.5
When Oklahoma Has the Ball
It appears as though OU head coach Lincoln Riley has leaned into the quarterback running game with Alabama transfer Jalen Hurts now behind center. The senior is leading OU in rushing through two games with 224 yards and three touchdowns on 23 carries. Adding him to the backfield with junior Trey Sermon and redshirt freshman Kennedy Brooks at running back has made the Sooners’ ground attack even more proficient than last season with speed merchant Kyler Murray at QB.
The Bruins will probably look to fill the running lanes available to the Sooners and force Hurts to win this matchup with his arm. From a statistical standpoint, Hurts is cooking in the passing game: He has completed 34 of his 41 attempts this year for 591 yards and six TDs. On the other hand, his efforts to throw downfield have produced hit-or-miss results. The Bruins also have superior athletes on defense relative to Houston and South Dakota, so they should test his passing skills more strenuously than OU’s recent competition.
All in all, UCLA won’t see a better collection of skill talent all season. If the defense has any success slowing down the Sooners, it would be a good sign heading into Pac-12 play.
When UCLA Has the Ball
Once hailed in football circles as an offensive genius, Chip Kelly has yet to light much of a fire under UCLA’s offense. The Bruins put 14 points on the board in both of their games this year and are averaging a measly 3.7 yards per offensive play. To make matters worse, they’ve already turned the ball over six times.
Cincinnati and San Diego State have solid defenses, however; it doesn’t come as a surprise that they held the Bruins in check. OU’s D is still proving itself under new coordinator Alex Grinch.
Notably, the Bruins have a good shot at pushing around OU’s undersized defenders with some of the double-tight sets that Kelly employs in the running game. RB Joshua Kelley returned to action last week after missing the season opener, and he can expect to see his carries in this game rise from 15 versus the Aztecs. The longer UCLA can hold the ball with its ground game, the less time it leaves for OU’s offense to do its damage.
Before you write off UCLA in this game, keep in mind that the Bruins pose an awkward matchup for OU. Their offense may not be explosive, but they possess the size up front and the skill in the backfield to cause serious problems for the Sooners. Moreover, Lincoln Riley is still learning what he has in Jalen Hurts, who falls short of QB predecessors Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray as a passer. A decent number of Sooners on both sides of the ball are also making their first road starts on Saturday — offensive linemen Adrian Ealy and Tyrese Robinson along with linebacker Jon-Michael Terry, to name a few.
Unlike years past, this OU team isn’t built to come from behind. The Bruins need a fast start to put the pressure on the visitors, so count on Chip Kelly throwing some new wrinkles at Alex Grinch and the Oklahoma defense. OU also can’t afford any early mistakes out of Hurts, especially not a turnover.
OU still has the better team in this matchup, and playing on the road hasn’t really fazed Riley’s teams during his brief tenure in Norman. The Bruins may make the Sooners work harder than expected for a win, though.
Prediction: Oklahoma 35, UCLA 27
— Written by Allen Kenney, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Kenney is founder and editor of BlatantHomerism.com and host of the Blatant Homerism Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @BlatantHomerism.