If all goes well, UCLA’s turnabout in the stands will mirror its resurgence on the field.
After routing Hawaii, 44-10, in their season opener before an announced crowd of 32,982 at the Rose Bowl, the Bruins are hoping to follow one of their smallest attendance figures with one of the largest in recent seasons when No. 16 Louisiana State arrives Saturday.
Athletic department officials have done seemingly everything short of offering free limousine service to the game in their efforts to fill the stadium. Complimentary tickets have been distributed to UCLA students, high school students in Southern California, youth football and other youth sports teams as well as active military members and veterans.
The response among high school students — who could also purchase up to eight additional tickets at $30 each — was so robust that they reached their allotment of tickets within 48 hours, forcing UCLA to cease the offer. Youth football and other youth sports teams also quickly gobbled up their chunk of tickets.
Additionally, the school is selling tickets for $30 to young alumni, inviting them to sit in the Den student section, as it tries to reinvigorate a fan base that has largely ignored the team in recent years. UCLA’s average attendance of 43,849 in 2019 before the pandemic struck was the lowest at the Rose Bowl since the team made the historic venue its home stadium for the 1982 season.
The announced crowd for the game against Hawaii was the second smallest in the history of a stadium that officially seats 80,000 for UCLA home games. It’s easy to envision the team more than doubling its attendance from the season opener this week thanks in large part to a throng of LSU fans expected to number around 20,000, barring travel difficulties caused by Hurricane Ida.
The Tigers flew to Houston on Saturday night ahead of the storm making landfall in Louisiana. They’re expected to practice three days in Houston before flying to Los Angeles.
Big crowds have been rare at the Rose Bowl in recent seasons. The decline started after the Bruins averaged a school-record 76,650 during the 2014 season, including 82,431 for their 38-20 victory over USC. UCLA has not topped 70,000 fans at the Rose Bowl since drawing 71,137 against USC in 2016.
That could change Saturday.
Patience, my friend
Josiah Norwood arrived at UCLA before the 2018 season as a walk-on quarterback. He didn’t appear in any games that year before transitioning to receiver. He played in two games in 2019 without making a catch before not seeing any game action in 2020.
On Saturday, all of that waiting to do something ended.
Norwood made two catches for 17 yards, including a 12-yard catch early in the third quarter in which he stayed on his feet after being hit by one defender and spun around by another.
“Josiah Norwood is a kid who’s been working his tail off and has shown up a ton in practice,” coach Chip Kelly said, “and got a chance to make some catches in some clutch situations and made some plays.”
Converted defensive lineman Atonio Mafi earned his first career start at right guard against Hawaii as part of a six-player rotation of offensive linemen that also included Duke Clemens at backup guard.
Jon Gaines II made his first career start at center with Sam Marrazzo sidelined by an unspecified injury.
UCLA’s starting defense comprised exclusively seniors and graduate transfers, but a few true freshmen appeared in reserve roles. Cornerback Devin Kirkwood was the biggest contributor, making three tackles while combining with a teammate on one tackle for loss.
True freshman wide receiver Keontez Lewis and defensive linemen Jay Toia and Tiaoalii Savea also made their Bruin debuts.
Senior running back Ethan Fernea ran for 11 yards in four carries before departing with an apparent lower leg injury late in the third quarter.… Sophomore Luke Akers established a career best with a 66-yard punt in the second quarter.… UCLA is a 3½-point underdog against LSU in the latest betting lines, down from the 4½-point opening line and four points last week.