UCLA Football to Host Alabama State, Play HBCU School For First Time – Sports Illustrated

UCLA Football to Host Alabama State, Play HBCU School For First Time – Sports Illustrated

Roll the clocks back a few years, and the Bruins were scheduled to play the Wolverines in Ann Arbor on Saturday.
The home-and-home was booked in 2013, with UCLA football set to visit Michigan in 2022 before the Wolverines made the return trip to Pasadena in 2023. In 2019, however, Michigan backed out of the agreement in order to guarantee itself seven home games every year, immediately signing new deals with Hawaii and East Carolina to fill the holes in their schedule.
The Bruins, on the other hand, were left without dates to the dance for Week 2 of the 2022 season and Week 3 of the 2023 season.
In February 2021, just over 18 months out from the first vacant weekend, UCLA finally found its replacements – Alabama State and North Carolina Central.
They were unlike any schools the Bruins had ever faced, considering they had never gone against FCS teams on the gridiron before. UCLA and its fans had long celebrated that distinction, since they were one of just three schools that had exclusively played FBS programs during nonconference play – the others being Notre Dame and crosstown rival USC.
Athletic director Martin Jarmond was able to put a spin on the end of that streak, though, by making Alabama State and North Carolina Central the first-ever Historically Black Colleges and Universities to play at the Rose Bowl in regular season action.
Coach Chip Kelly stood behind Jarmond's solution, and said he was looking forward to the game Saturday.
"When we did get in the situation, there wasn't a lot to choose from," Kelly said. "But I thought it was a good idea and we're excited to see the turnout on Saturday."
The opportunity goes both ways, too, since UCLA will be playing an HBCU and hosting its historic, award-winning marching band for the first time ever.
While it is a landmark moment for a school like Alabama State to take the field at the Rose Bowl, quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson said he thinks it's just as much of an honor for the Bruins' to play the Hornets.
"Just for the culture, finally getting to get a school like that out on the West Coast is gonna be a great opportunity for both teams," Thompson-Robinson said. "We're excited to give them the opportunity and we're also excited to get the opportunity to play them."
Alabama State hasn't had a winning record since 2015, and whenever they have played a Power Five program in recent years, the final score hasn't typically gone their way.
Auburn beat the Hornets 62-0 in 2021, a season in which the Tigers finished 6-7. Alabama State lost to Florida State 49-12 in 2019, and the Seminoles also went on to end that year 6-7. A 2-10 Kentucky team beat them 48-14 in 2013, even though that matchup came in the middle of a stretch of six-straight winning seasons for the Hornets.
Despite all of that, running back Zach Charbonnet said it wasn't particularly difficult to treat this game like any other.
"Honestly, I don't really think it's that hard," Charbonnet said. "We're always gonna come with the same mentality no matter who we're playing, and I think that's something we're gonna keep doing every single week, no matter who we have in front of us."
Alabama State has opened up the 2022 season with a pair of wins, beating Howard in Week 0 before besting Miles at home the following Saturday.
Kelly spoke at length about the Hornets' consistent, well-coached 4-2-5 defense, as well as their dangerous spread offense run by two dynamic quarterbacks.
Dematrius Davis and Myles Crawley have split time under center the past two weeks, and Kelly praised their ability to both run and pass. Kelly even said his staff hadn't been able to lock down the rhyme or reason behind Alabama State's quarterback rotation strategy, and admitted it would be a challenge to slow them down regardless of the conference they play in.
"We respect all, we fear none," Kelly said. "We're putting a game plan together to beat them, and that's all we've ever talked about as a staff, that's it."
Switching gears on weather prep
The record-breaking heat from Week 1's victory over Bowling Green ate up many of the headlines, both going into the game and in its aftermath.
UCLA is set for a far different climate Saturday against Alabama State.
Instead of a high of 105 degrees, forecasts call for a high of 79 on Saturday. And instead of blazing sun, there is an 80% chance of rain in Pasadena. Offensive guard Atonio Mafi said he doesn't think he's played in a game in the rain since high school, and that the conditions will place extra pressure on Thompson-Robinson and centers Duke Clemens and Sam Marrazzo.
Kelly said he spent the past few practices wandering the field with a water bottle, occasionally squirting the ball when he saw fit.
"That's about as close as we can get to, here in Southern California, simulating the weather from that standpoint," Kelly said. "We always do that if we feel like we're gonna get rain, we do some wet ball drills with the punt returners and long snappers and the centers and the quarterbacks and their exchange."
Mafi was a fan of Kelly's wet ball strategy, and said the Bruins managed to have fun while preparing for the less-than-deal weather.
"It's fun that coach Kelly's out there spraying the ball," Mafi said. "And then he stands over there and just sprays me in the face, so it's all fun, but obviously it's still work."
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Sam Connon is the Publisher and Managing Editor at All Bruins, in association with the FanNation and Sports Illustrated networks.

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