Wide receiver Logan Loya could be the solution the UCLA football team needs to address some of the special teams struggles it experienced in the season opener.
Loya appeared poised to become the Bruins’ starting punt returner throughout the offseason, but he missed the Week 1 meeting against Bowling Green.
“It was great. It’s where I want to be, making plays and making the most of my opportunities,” Loya said. “I was unavailable for precautionary reasons but I’m back and I feel better than ever.”
The job became available after special teams standout Kyle Philips decided to forgo his remaining eligibility and entered the NFL Draft. The Tennessee Titans drafted him as a receiver in the fifth round.
Receiver Jake Bobo was the primary punt return option in season opener, but he had mixed results.
Bobo took a hit on a punt return after calling for a fair catch in the first quarter and appeared slow to get up. The Duke transfer was able to walk to the sideline on his own and did return to the game, but he muffed another punt return later in the quarter, which was recovered by Bowling Green.
Loya made his season debut last weekend against Alabama State, providing a level of confidence that might have been missing.
“I was confident in my abilities and I think hopefully they have the trust in me to do so,” Loya said when asked whether he’s been told he will play that role again this week.
UCLA coach Chip Kelly has confidence in Loya’s ability and was happy with the results from his first outing.
“He’s a sure-handed kid, he just wasn’t available in game one,” Kelly said. “He does a good job back there. He’s athletic enough to make people miss. … It was good that we got an opportunity to get another guy back there and get some quality returns because you can’t have enough people back there.”
MAKING THE APPEAL
UCLA safety Kenny Churchwell will miss the first half against South Alabama (2-0) on Saturday after he was called for targeting and disqualified for the rest of that game.
UCLA (2-0) made an appeal on the call, but Kelly said the ruling was upheld by the NCAA.
“(Churchwell) has played a lot of football for us, he’s done a really nice job,” Kelly said. “Sometimes those plays occur. We always coach tackling every day in training and we don’t coach tackling with the head, we coach tackling with the shoulder leverage tackle. … We’ve just got to weather to storm while Kenny’s out in the first half.”
The UCLA defense recorded its third consecutive second-half shutout and has limited all three of those opponents to less than 20 points, dating to a 42-14 victory over Cal last November.
UCLA had two members of its defense nominated for Pac-12 Conference weekly awards this week.
Defensive lineman Grayson Murphy had a team-high six total tackles (five solo) in the victory. The North Texas transfer recorded one of the Bruins’ three sacks against Alabama State.
Murphy was nominated for the defensive player and defensive lineman of the week awards.
True freshman Jalen Woods came off the bench and recorded five tackles, including one for a loss, in his collegiate debut as the Bruins beat Alabama State.
Woods’ five tackles tied him for second among the Bruins’ leading tacklers. He was nominated for the Pac-12 freshman of the week award.
Linebacker Kain Medrano and tight end Michael Ezeike did not play against Alabama State.
Medrano remains unavailable as of Wednesday’s practice and Choe Bryant-Strother could be in line to make his second straight start.
Ezeike is available and could return to the lineup on Saturday.