OU football: Can UCLA-OU become an attractive game fit for the Rose Bowl?

UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson (7) drops back to pass during the second half against Cincinnati on Saturday in Pasadena, California, last season. (AP Photo / Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Editor’s note: This is the fifth installment in a series as The Transcript looks at all 12 Oklahoma football games for the 2019-20 season. Ranked from 1st (best) to 12th (worst), factors include difficulty, venue, entertainment value and anticipated margin. Last week: No. 9 Baylor. This week: No. 8 UCLA

Chip Kelly’s debut season at UCLA began with a thud and ended with promise.

After the Bruins lost their first five games by a combined 182-92 score — lopsided in part because of Oklahoma’s 49-21 victory — they beat rival Southern Cal and played Washington, Arizona State and Stanford all within a touchdown during the second half of the season.

Not enough time has passed to reach Kelly’s lofty standards for offense. UCLA ranked 74th in total offense last fall and mustered 24.6 points per game (No. 98 nationally).

But there’s hope for change with Dorian Thompson-Robinson a year better following his freshman season, and running back Joshua Kelley returning for what should be a productive final year in college.

OU-UCLA has a nice ring to it and Kelly vs. Lincoln Riley sounds even nicer. But the Bruins must play their part for this series to live up to reach its potential.

UCLA’s last 10-win season was in 2014.

• When: Game 3 | Saturday, Sept. 14 (7 p.m., FOX) | Rose Bowl Stadium; Pasadena, California

• Why it’s No. 8: You could make the case UCLA should be higher on OU’s list of most appealing games.

Both university brands are strong. A sunset will paint Rose Bowl Stadium orange and red in the fourth quarter; there’s arguably no better scene in sport regardless of the final result. Either team could pull away easily and the setting alone would still be the winner.

Without the pomp and circumstance of actual Rose Bowl game — OU fans likely remember from 2017 — traffic should be easier to navigate. Gone is mystique of the College Football Playoff, but the convenience factor is nice. Locale makes this game appealing as any.

But UCLA may still be in a rebuild mode. The Sooners will have had two games to get a new quarterback, likely Jalen Hurts, situated behind center. This game could look like last season.

Or it could be a tricky game for OU.

• Last time: OU led 21-7 by halftime in one of the defense’s most disruptive games all season. The Sooners sacked UCLA’s Thompson-Robinson five times.

The 49-21 victory was mostly remembered for the loss of running back Rodney Anderson. A dark-horse Heisman Trophy candidate before the season, he tore his ACL and didn’t play another down the rest of the season before declaring for the NFL Draft.

A look at the Bruins

• The skinny: UCLA’s defense struggled mightily last season, ranking second-to-last in the Pac-12 behind only Oregon State. The Bruins rarely applied much pressure up front and allowed 34.1 points per game, ranking 104th nationally.

In fairness, those numbers came against the nation’s No. 2 strength of schedule rating. But it still seems UCLA’s offense will shoulder the load.

Thompson-Robinson must continue making strides. He was a four-star recruit out of high school ranked as the No. 2 dual-threat QB nationally by 247sports. His 10 game-appearances as a freshman likely served him well, even though he completed less than 60 percent of his passes.

He finished the year with 1,311 passing yards, seven touchdowns and four interceptions.

• Best returning player: Joshua Kelley is a reliable running back. He ran for 1,243 yards and 12 touchdowns as a redshirt junior, appearing in all 11 games.

• Biggest departure: Caleb Wilson is a big loss from the receiving corps. The tight end, whose father Chris played for the Sooners, caught 60 passes for 965 yards and four TDs last season before declaring for the NFL Draft.

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