Dante Moore makes his points in UCLA's opener as quarterback battle drags on

UCLA quarterback Dante Moore gets set to pass during the second half of an NCAA.
UCLA quarterback Dante Moore looks to pass during a win over Coastal Carolina on Saturday night at the Rose Bowl. (Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

They played the same number of drives, not counting the one that finished with a kneel down at game’s end. Their completion percentages were almost identical. So was UCLA’s offensive production behind each quarterback.

Ethan Garbers’ five drives covered 31 plays and produced 210 yards against Coastal Carolina on Saturday night. Dante Moore’s five drives — plus the final drive to run out the clock — covered 31 plays and produced 212 yards.

There was one area in which Moore won in a runaway: points per drive. The Bruins scored 20 points when Moore was the quarterback, including 13 during the decisive fourth quarter of a 27-13 victory over the Chanticleers.

Read more: Five takeaways from UCLA's season-opening victory over Coastal Carolina

Those hoping that Chip Kelly might end the quarterback battle and name a permanent starter Monday were disappointed when the UCLA coach provided even less clarity than he did going into the season.

Kelly would not name a starting quarterback for the Bruins’ game against San Diego State (2-0) on Saturday afternoon at Snapdragon Stadium in San Diego or divulge his rotation other than to intimate that Garbers, Moore and Collin Schlee would all play against the Aztecs.

With two nonconference games to go before the Pac-12 opener at Utah on Sept. 23, is there a point that Kelly wants to name a permanent starter to give that quarterback as many game repetitions as possible?

“We want to win games,” Kelly said, “so that’s everything we do and our decisions are made on winning football games, so we’ll see how that expresses itself.”

The coach did give some insight when asked what he was looking for in his top quarterback going forward.

“It’s just who moves the team the best,” Kelly said, “and who gives us the best opportunity to win.”

UCLA quarterback Ethan Garbers throws against Coastal Carolina on Saturday.
UCLA quarterback Ethan Garbers throws against Coastal Carolina on Saturday. (Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

Moore appeared to fit that description after the true freshman completed seven of 12 passes (58.3%) for two touchdowns with one interception in his first college action. His touchdowns came on back-to-back passes spanning the second and fourth quarters, the latter of which provided some breathing room after the Chanticleers dominated the third quarter.

Garbers seemed to wilt a bit after effortlessly leading the Bruins to a touchdown on their opening drive and guiding them back into the red zone on their following possession. An interception in the back of the end zone started a string of ineffectiveness in which UCLA went interception-punt-interception-punt on Garbers’ final four drives.

Garbers completed 10 of 17 passes (58.8%) for one touchdown with two interceptions and acknowledged afterward that it was hard to find a rhythm going in and out of the game.

“There’s always a concern about that,” Kelly said Monday, “but our job is to win the football game, so gotta go with that.”

Read more: Commentary: Dante Moore drove UCLA to a win over Coastal Carolina and should be the Bruins' starter

Garbers and Moore each had one pass intercepted while facing heavy pressure from the Coastal Carolina pass rush that Kelly pinned on “a protection breakdown up front” from the offensive line.

“Just a missed block by one guy,” Kelly said, “so it wasn't a schematic thing, it was just maybe a technique thing that we just need to clean up.”

Schlee did not play as expected in the opener, with Kelly taking the blame afterward for failing to use the Kent State transfer “situationally” as planned. Asked Monday if he could tell reporters what those situations would have been, Kelly said, “No.”

In a rush

UCLA linebacker Darius Muasau and defensive lineman Jay Toia tackle Coastal Carolina quarterback Grayson McCall.
UCLA linebacker Darius Muasau (53) and defensive lineman Jay Toia (93) tackle Coastal Carolina quarterback Grayson McCall on Saturday. (Kyusung Gong / Associated Press)

Kelly said the Bruins’ four offsides penalties were largely a function of aggressiveness under new defensive coordinator D’Anton Lynn that also produced 10 tackles for loss and four sacks.

“There’s a fine line in the amount of offsides we had that was unacceptable,” Kelly said, “but you’d rather err on our guys being really aggressive and attacking than to just sit back. … But we’ve also got to be able to make sure that we can play with an edge but we don’t want to go over the edge.”

Kelly praised defensive lineman Jay Toia, saying it was “as good a game as he’s had since he’s been here” while also mentioning the contributions of edge rushers Carl Jones Jr., Laiatu Latu and Grayson and Gabriel Murphy. Latu finished with three sacks, Jones recovered a fumble to go with a tackle for loss and the Murphys combined for three tackles for loss.


The Bruins generated only 39 yards on two kickoff returns because of poor blocking, Kelly said. “We’ve got to do a better job up front,” Kelly said. “Didn’t matter who was returning kickoffs the other day, we didn’t get a chance to get anything started.” … In a departure from seasons past, the Bruins are now practicing on Sundays and taking Thursdays off. … Linebacker Ale Kaho was not spotted on the practice field for a second consecutive day. Linebacker JonJon Vaughns and wide receiver Titus Mokiao-Atimalala, who did not play on Saturday for unspecified reasons, both practiced Monday.

Get the best, most interesting and strangest stories of the day from the L.A. sports scene and beyond from our newsletter The Sports Report.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.