The kid can play.
What was supposed to be a competition turned into a coronation Saturday evening, UCLA quarterback Dante Moore seizing the moment when given his first career start.
The freshman may never give the job back.
Looking poised and polished, Moore led the Bruins to a 35-10 victory over San Diego State at Snapdragon Stadium while making an airtight case to be named the permanent starter.
Trumpeting his arrival more loudly than the pregame F-35 fighter jet flyover, Moore completed 17 of 27 passes for 290 yards with three touchdowns against an opponent known for sturdy defense.
Earlier in the week, UCLA coach Chip Kelly said Moore would be one of three quarterbacks to play as the battle to find a top option stretched into a second week. By halftime, there was no reason to go with anyone else.
Well, except in the final minutes of a blowout.
Moore helped the Bruins (2-0) roll up 358 yards of offense in the first half while having the ball for only 10 minutes 12 seconds. After a couple of empty game-opening drives, Moore maximized almost every opportunity in helping his team build a 28-10 halftime lead.
With the Bruins extending that advantage thanks to Moore’s six-yard touchdown pass to Carsen Ryan late in the third quarter, Kelly finally went with backup quarterback Collin Schlee with 12:55 left in the game. Schlee showed his unusual blend of talents when he took off on a 23-yard run on his second play.
Most of the dazzling belonged to Moore. He fooled San Diego State’s safety late in the first quarter when he faked a handoff to T.J. Harden before pulling the ball back and firing a pass to wide receiver Josiah Norwood for an 81-yard touchdown.
After San Diego State (2-1) tied the score, UCLA’s hard-charging duo of running backs Carson Steele and Harden gave the Bruins some breathing room. As part of a rare, three-running back set also featuring Anthony Adkins and Colson Yankoff, Steele took a handoff and ran 13 yards for a touchdown on fourth and one.
On UCLA’s next drive, Harden converted a third and one when he sprinted 59 yards for a touchdown, putting the Bruins ahead 21-7. Moore made it 28-10 late in the second quarter when he connected with Logan Loya on a 24-yard touchdown.
Moore had one slipup midway through the third quarter when he had the ball stripped near the goal line. But UCLA’s defense held firm, linebacker Darius Muasau intercepting a pass that went off the hands of a San Diego State receiver.
It was the second of three turnover the Bruins forced — defensive back Alex Johnson also came up with two interceptions. Through two games, UCLA has generated six takeaways.
UCLA’s biggest challenge might have come from San Diego State students seated near the field who heckled the Bruins and chanted an obscenity at them during warmups as they high-stepped in and out of the end zone.
By halftime, those students having fallen silent, a new message was warranted: Welcome, Dante.
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