Freshman Dante Moore leads UCLA past Coastal Carolina
September 7, 2023
The UCLA Bruins football team, in their first football game ever against a team from South Carolina, overcame their own self-inflicted errors to defeat the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers, 27-13, before a crowd of 43,705 fans in the Rose Bowl on last Saturday night. The Bruins got a huge lift from their freshman quarterback, Dante Moore, who threw two touchdown passes to lead the Bruins to the win.
Quarterback Ethan Garbers started the game for the Bruins, and on the first offensive series of the game drove the Bruin offense 78 yards in seven plays, with the drive culminating in a Garbers 21-yard touchdown pass to tight end Carsen Ryan. On the drive, running back Carson Steele rushed for 41 yards and Garbers also completed a 16-yard pass to wide receiver Logan Loya.
The rest of the evening did not go as well for Garbers. With the Bruins leading 7-0, Garbers again drove the Bruin offense deep into Coastal Carolina territory, but on a third & six from the Coastal Carolina eight yard line, he threw an ill-advised pass in the middle of the defense that was intercepted in the end zone by Chanticleer safety Claytin Isbell.
From 2018 through 2022, the Bruins were led by quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson, who is now a rookie backup quarterback with the Cleveland Browns. Thompson-Robinson set the single season UCLA total touchdown record in 2022 with 39 and holds the career records for most total touchdowns with 116, most passing touchdowns with 88 and total offensive yardage with 12,522.
For head coach Chip Kelly, Thompson-Robinson has been his starting quarterback in all five seasons as head coach. Garbers was Thompson-Robinson's back-up the past two seasons and has some game experience. But Moore is a five-star recruit out of Detroit, Michigan, the No. 3 ranked high school quarterback in the country in 2022 and looks like a future star at quarterback.
Kelly had indicated that Moore would play in the game, and he entered the game with 6:23 remaining in the second quarter and the Bruins leading 7-3. Six plays and 61 yards later, the Bruins reached the end zone with Moore finding Steele along the sidelines for a 14-yard touchdown pass. One offensive series, one touchdown for Moore.
The highlight of the drive was a 39-yard reception to wide receiver J. Michael Sturdivant, a transfer from the Cal Bears. Kelly described the play as "an off-schedule play" with Moore rolling to his right, keeping his eyes up and throwing a strike to Sturdivant.
Kelly kept Moore on the sidelines until the third quarter, after another Garbers interception and with the Bruins lead cut to 14-13. It took Moore one play to get the Bruins in the end zone, connecting with Sturdivant on a 62-yard bomb. It was a beautiful deep pass that Sturdivant never had to break stride to catch. The Bruins led 21-13 and Coastal Carolina was stunned. The Bruins added two fourth quarter field goals to finish the scoring for the night. Moore did throw an interception in the fourth quarter.
Kelly was asked about the interceptions after the game. "Yeah, I think that Garbs [Ethan Garbers] wants the first one back," Kelly said. "But the other two interceptions were protection issues, and the quarterback is getting hit while he is throwing the ball. I don't fault the quarterback in that. We will look at the film and figure out where the breakdown was and how do we make sure that we handle that a little bit better."
The Bruins defense did a good of shutting the running game down, holding Coastal Carolina to 56 yards rushing and pressuring Chanticleer quarterback Grayson McCall, who has won the Player of the Year award in the Sun Belt Conference for the past three seasons. McCall was sacked four times, intercepted twice and also lost a fumble.
"I don't know if people know how good a quarterback Grayson McCall is," Kelly said. "You know, coming into this, he's the all-time leader in Division I football history, he had 78 touchdowns and eight interceptions in his career. And for us to come in here and pick him twice, I think that's really rare. He's a heck of a football player."
Coastal Carolina came into this game with a record of 31-7 over the past three seasons. This was a worthy opponent for the Bruins. On the offensive side, wide receiver Sam Pinckney hauled in nine receptions for 139 yards and a touchdown. He was giving the Bruin secondary fits all night. On the defensive side, Isbell had nine tackles and three interceptions in the game.
"You know, half the teams in the country lost today and half the teams in the country won today," Kelly said. "And we are fortunate to be on that side of it, so there is a lot that we've got to work on, but it's in a positive vein." Kelly added, "It was not pretty by any stretch of the imagination, but sometimes as a coach, you like it not pretty, then we can get their attention when we get to film tomorrow."
The Bruins are 1-0 after the victory. The Pac-12 conference through Week 1 is 13-0 and the quarterbacks in the league have thrown 37 touchdowns and just five interceptions. Three of those interceptions came from Bruins quarterbacks. The Pac-12 conference is loaded with quality quarterbacks and the Bruins will need to cut down on the interceptions if they want to be competitive in the conference.
The Bruins return to action this Saturday, September 9, 2023, for a road matchup with the San Diego State University Aztecs. It will be the first visit to the Aztecs' new stadium, called the Snapdragon Stadium. The game will start at 4:30 PM PST and will be televised nationally on CBS.
San Diego State is 2-0 for the season and has a strong defense that will present a challenge to the Bruins offense. Offensively, SDSU runs a lot of 12 personnel offense, with a running back, two tight ends, and two wide receivers. They are not explosive on offense, but they can run the ball and their tight ends are talented receivers. This should be a good road test for the Bruins.