Five things to watch when UCLA faces Coastal Carolina in season opener

AUG. 31, 2023 5:30 AM PT
The Three Amigos. A modern triumvirate. A three-headed monster.
Call it whatever you want, but what’s been described as a friendly competition is about to take a dramatic turn. Starting Saturday night, UCLA’s top three quarterbacks no longer will battle it out exclusively in the comfort of closed practices.
A Rose Bowl crowd and a national television audience will evaluate the trio that’s trying to evolve into a solo act. Ethan Garbers, Dante Moore and Collin Schlee will all play against Coastal Carolina in the Bruins’ season opener,. What will coach Chip Kelly be looking for in his evaluation?
“Who’s gonna help us win the game,” Kelly said. “Very simple process, and I think all three of those guys can do that and that’s why all three of those guys will play.”
Here are five things to watch when the Bruins face the Chanticleers:
The quarterback quandary
Garbers will start based on having the most experience in Kelly’s system. Moore, a freshman, and Schlee, a transfer from Kent State, will come off the bench.
How will playing time be divided? Kelly said that decision would not be made until Saturday in the event that someone got hurt in practice.
The coach also would not divulge when — or if — he would abandon this approach in favor of playing one quarterback, barring injuries or blowout situations.
Garbers said he would focus on the basics needed to have a good showing.
“I need to get the ball to our receivers,” he said, “protect myself in the protection and make some good stuff in the run game and let the guys around me do the work.”
A new day for the defense?
UCLA will have its third defensive coordinator in as many seasons when D’Anton Lynn makes his Bruins debut Saturday.
His players have said this defense will swarm to the ball and force turnovers. It certainly has potential playmakers in edge rusher Laiatu Latu, a preseason All-American, in addition to twin edge rushers Grayson and Gabriel Murphy.
What will probably determine whether the Bruins make a massive leap in performance is improvement from the linebackers and the secondary, which have been weaknesses in recent seasons. Last season, UCLA gave up an average of 273 passing yards per game, ranking No. 116 nationally.
Kamari Ramsey, who won a starting safety job as a redshirt freshman alongside redshirt senior Kenny Churchwell III, must quickly become a steadying force on the back end of this reformulated defense.
An early test
UCLA’s defense won’t get to ease its way into a new era.
Coastal Carolina quarterback Grayson McCall holds school records after accounting for 95 touchdowns (78 passing) during his first four seasons, when he became the first player to be selected the Sun Belt Conference player of the year three consecutive times. The redshirt senior is both crafty and accurate, having completed 69.7% of his passes last season for 24 touchdowns with only two interceptions.
He’ll try to join the list of gritty quarterbacks to beat the Bruins at the Rose Bowl in recent seasons that includes Jayden de Laura, Caleb Williams, Jayden Daniels, Anthony Brown and Jake Haener.
Run for it
UCLA’s run game has been a force under Kelly since Josh Kelley became the starter against Colorado in the fourth game of the 2018 season.
Last season, the Bruins’ average of 237.2 rushing yards per game ranked sixth in the Football Bowl Subdivision and allowed the team to lead the Pac-12 for the first time since 1976. That was the primary reason UCLA assembled its highest-scoring offense (39.2 points per game) since 1998 and set a program record with 503.6 total yards per game.
The depth chart released this week listed the dreaded “OR” designation with T.J. Harden, Carson Steele and Colson Yankoff, but Harden and Steele are widely expected to get the bulk of the carries.
UCLA will give four complimentary tickets — two for the season opener and two for the home game against North Carolina Central on Sept. 16 — to fans who donate at least $10 toward relief efforts for the recent Hawaii wildfires by Saturday.
To get the free tickets, fans must display a receipt showing their donation at the Today’s Sales or Customer Service booth between Gates A and B outside the Rose Bowl before the end of the third quarter of the Coastal Carolina game.
The qualifying charitable organizations are the Salvation Army Hawaiian and Pacific Islands Division, American Red Cross in support of Hawaii wildfires relief, Hawaii Community Foundation’s Maui Strong Fund, Maui Food Bank or Chef Hui.
UCLA coaches and staff will wear “Maui Strong” T-shirts. The Bruins’ roster features seven players from Hawaii, including starting center Duke Clemens and starting linebacker Darius Muasau.

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