TV: ESPN (Streaming)
Radio: ESPN Honolulu 1420 AM/92.7 FM (Hawai’i), UCLA Sports Network 570 AM (UCLA), Westwood One (National)
The time for talk and prognostications has come to an end and its time for the focus of football return to the playing field as the 2021 season prepares to get underway.
UCLA takes on Hawai’i in one of seven games Saturday involving FBS or FCS teams. For the Bruins, it makes the earliest season opener in the history of the Bruin program. And it will be the first time since 2017 UCLA has opened the season at home.
The Bruins are 65-32-5 all-time in season openers and have won all three previous meetings against Hawai’i.
And UCLA will look to end a rather miserable streak against the Rainbow Warriors.
The Bruins defeated Hawai’i 56-23 at home during the 2017 season. Since that time UCLA has lost eight straight games against non-conference opponents.
Chip Kelly begins his fourth season as coach at UCLA. He is 10-21 with the Bruins
Todd Graham, the former coach at Arizona State, begins his second season at the helm of the Hawai’i. He guided the Rainbow Warriors to a 5-4 overall record in his first season with the team and a win over Houston in the 2020 New Mexico Bowl.
Graham was the first UH coach to post a winning record in his first season at the school since June Jones guided his 1999 Rainbow Warriors to a 9-4 record.
Kelly’s Oregon team defeated Graham and Arizona State 42-21 in Tempe in 2012 in the only previous meeting between the two head coaches.
HAWAI’I: Calvin Turner Jr. (5-11, 195, Sr., WR) an all-Mountain West Conference selection last season, returns as one of seven offensive starters returning for the Rainbow Warriors.
Turner caught 33 passes for 546 yards last season, an incredible 16.55 yards per catch, and ended the year with six touchdowns. He begins the 2021 as the nation’s leading returner in career all-purpose yards (4,359).
The UH defense will be led b Darius Muasau (6-1. 230, Jr., LB), a first-time all-conference selection last season after having a dominating season that saw him finish with 104 (68 solo) tackles, including 9.5 tackles for loss along with 4.5 sacks.
UCLA: The Bruins dropped the final two games of the abbreviated 2020 season and ended the year with a 3-4 overall record.
In those four losses UCLA committed 12 of its 13 turnovers on the season, including four turnovers in the loss to Colorado to opener the season and four times in a narrow 38-35 loss to Oregon later in the season. The Bruins also turned the ball over three times in a 48-47 double-overtime loss to Stanford in the season finale.
Chip Kelly’s Bruins will look to once again be salty at defending the run. Last season they allowed opponents an average of just 3.6 yards per carry and gave up just 135.7 per game – more than 170 yards per game better than the 287.4 allowed in 2017.
Dorian Thompson-Robinson (6-1, 205, Sr., QB) returns to lead the UCLA offense this season and will certainly move up the school’s career list in several statistical categories.
Last season he became the first Bruin to throw for more than 300 yards and rush for at least 100 yards in the same game as UCLA lost the 2020 season opener to Colorado 48-42 in Boulder. He was also a big reason the Bruins averaged 5.1 yards per rush last season, the highest mark at the school since running for 5.4 yards per carry in 1976.
Thompson-Robinson, who has 5,067 passing yards in his career in Westwood, needs just 231 yards to move past Troy Aikman (5,298) and into seventh place on the UCLA passing list. He also needs just three TD passes to move past Aikman (41) and Cory Paus (42) into sixth place on the all-time list at the school in that department.
UCLA led the PAC-12 with 18 touchdown passes last season and Greg Dulcich (6-4, 250, RS-Jr., TE) returns after having hauling in five touchdowns last season, while Chase Cota (6-3, 209, SR., WR) and Kyle Phillips (5-11, 191, RS-Jr., WR) also return after each catching two TD passes for the Bruins. Phillips led the Bruins with 38 receptions and has 104 catches in his career heading into the new season.
Caleb Johnson (6-1, 230, SR., LB) was among the nation’s leaders in sacks with 0.79 sacks per game last season and tallied a team-best 5.5 sacks on the season and was second on the squad with 7.9 tackles for loss. Mitchell Agude 6-4, 245, Sr., LB) led the team in that department with nine TFLs.
PREDICTION: UCLA 31, Hawai’i 14
A native of Bismarck, N.D., Ray is a graduate of North Dakota State University where he began studying athletic training and served as a student trainer for several Bison teams including swimming, wrestling and baseball and was a trainer at the 1979 NCAA national track and field championship meet at the University of Illinois. Ray later worked in the sports information office at NDSU. Following his graduation from NDSU he spent five years in the sports information office at Missouri Western State University and one year in the sports information at Georgia Tech. He has nearly 40 years of writing experience as a sports editor at several newspapers and has received numerous awards for his writing over the years. A noted sports historian, Ray is currently an assistant editor at Amateur Wrestling News.