UCLA softened its nonconference schedule considerably this season, yet the Bruins still will be on guard Saturday afternoon at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., with a visit from Bowling Green in the season opener for both teams.
UCLA will be trying to replace a number of departed players, many of whom went on to the NFL, while Bowling Green returns nine starters on defense, as well as proven quarterback Matt McDonald.
"He's obviously the guy we've got to focus on and stop," UCLA coach Chip Kelly said of McDonald, a redshirt senior and native of nearby Newport Beach, who is entering his third season as the starter for the Falcons.
The Bruins will send an experienced starting quarterback onto the field on Saturday as well.
Dorian Thompson-Robinson is set to begin his fifth season with the Bruins. He threw 21 touchdown passes last season, the same number he had in 2019, but cut his interceptions from that campaign in half to six.
"I haven't changed anything going from fall camp to now game week cause the habits are gonna stay the same," Thompson-Robinson said. "That's the foundation I've laid before. And so now, just adding onto that and being able to stay consistent with it, I think has been the biggest part of this week so far."
Thompson-Robinson lost his three top receivers from last season, but has developed a solid working relationship with Jake Bobo, a redshirt-senior receiver who led Duke with 74 catches for 794 yards and a touchdown last season.
Bowling Green will be the first team from the Mid-American Conference to play in the Rose Bowl and it also is the first-ever matchup ever between the schools.
McDonald might feel at home, however. And he no doubt will be motivated.
Not only is McDonald a Southern California native, his father, Paul McDonald, was a USC quarterback in the 1970s. Facing UCLA gives the younger McDonald a chance to take on his father's rival.
"It's the grandaddy of them all. I'm excited," Matt McDonald said, according to Bowling Green's Sentinel-Tribune, repeating the Rose Bowl Game's tagline. "I've always dreamed of playing in that stadium. I took a little different route to get there, but nonetheless I'm excited to be playing in that stadium."
UCLA's passing defense gave up 260.3 passing yards per game last season, last in the Pac-12, and will need to be ready, Kelly said.
"It seems like he's a sharp, really well-coached kid," Kelly said of McDonald. "He also makes a lot of plays off-script, so when the rush gets home, he can stay alive."
--Field Level Media