New-look UCLA welcomes Coastal Carolina to the Rose Bowl at Pasadena, Calif., on Saturday for the 2023 season opener and first-ever meeting between the programs.
UCLA kicks off its final campaign as a member of the Pac-12 Conference, the league to which it has belonged since 1928.
The Bruins were 9-4 a season ago, with the nine wins the program’s most under head coach Chip Kelly, who is entering his sixth season with the Bruins. It was the program’s best record since going 10-3 in 2014.
Kelly is replacing a variety of key contributors to UCLA’s 2022 success, most notably quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson, who had been the starter since 2018. Last season, Thompson-Robinson passed for 3,169 yards with 27 touchdowns, while rushing for another 645 yards and 12 scores.
Ethan Garbers, who appeared in six games and went 27-of-36 passing for 294 last season, makes the start on Saturday. The eventual heir to Thompson-Robinson’s throne appears to be freshman Dante Moore, while Kent State transfer Collin Schlee also is on the roster. Playing time is expected to be shared Saturday.
“All three of them deserve to play. They’ve (all) played outstanding. It’s been a really good battle with those guys,” Kelly said. “But Ethan will take the first snap. Ethan has the most experience in our offense.”
Coastal Carolina arrives with an entrenched starter at quarterback, Grayson McCall. McCall, the only three-time Sun Belt Player of the Year honoree. McCall claimed his third honor last year after throwing for 2,700 yards with 24 touchdowns and just two interceptions.
McCall told reporters this week he heard from UCLA staffers after briefly entering his name into the transfer portal, though Kelly said on Monday conversations never went past the preliminary phase.
McCall leads a Chanticleers offense that averaged 29.1 points per game in 2022. Coastal Carolina will try to navigate UCLA linebacker/defensive lineman Laiatu Latu, whose 10.5 sacks last season were tied for seventh-most in the nation.
Saturday marks Coastal Carolina’s first game under head coach Tim Beck, who was hired to replace Jamey Chadwell, who left for the vacancy at Liberty.
“You realize what goes on behind the scenes,” said Beck, who most recently was offensive coordinator at North Carolina State. “But you don’t really realize it until you have to do it.”
—Field Level Media