Its starting quarterback no longer in doubt, UCLA faced a different dilemma Saturday: How far down the depth chart would it have to go to end this game as mercifully as possible?
Starter Dante Moore threw for a 67-yard touchdown on his first pass and exited with 9½ minutes left in the second quarter.
Backup Collin Schlee ran for a 57-yard touchdown on his first play and was in the game for only four drives.
Third-stringer Ethan Garbers completed a 13-yard pass on his first play, helping the Bruins roll up a 45-point halftime lead.
Chase Griffin and Justyn Martin both got into the game not long afterward, meaning the Bruins had gone five deep at quarterback before the end of the third quarter. Martin might have momentarily wondered if UCLA might outdo his high school team, which once won a game 106-0.
UCLA coach Chip Kelly likes to say there’s no preseason games in college football, but this one sure felt like it. The No. 24 Bruins needed just 13 minutes to score 35 points, matching their previous season high for a game, on the way to a 59-7 trouncing of North Carolina Central at the Rose Bowl.
Some records were set along the way. UCLA scored its most points in a quarter going back to at least 1958 thanks to its 35-0 lead after the first quarter. That scoring binge earned fans free Fat Sal’s fries as part of a promotion that needlessly gave the Bruins three more quarters to get there.
The 35-point lead also matched a betting line that severely underestimated the Bruins (3-0), who went unbeaten in nonconference play for a second consecutive season. Things figure to get far more dramatic next weekend when UCLA opens Pac-12 play at No. 12 Utah, the two-time defending conference champions.
Getting more reps for that showdown might have been the only reason Moore came back in for one final drive in the second quarter after the true freshman had yielded two drives to Schlee. Moore’s final drive was his only one that didn’t end in a touchdown, running back T.J. Harden getting stuffed on third down before R.J. Lopez kicked a 24-yard field goal.
Moore was nearly flawless in his second career start, completing eight of 12 passes for 182 yards and two touchdowns. On his first play, Moore faked a handoff to running back Carson Steele and fired a 67-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Kam Brown on a crossing route.
UCLA went up 14-0 only 74 seconds into the game after edge rusher Laiatu Latu returned an interception 25 yards to the NCCU one-yard line and Steele bulldozed into the end zone on the next play. The crowd of 38,343 spent the rest of the game trying to entertain themselves besides an energetic halftime performance by the NCCU band.
UCLA outgained the Eagles, 614-245, in total yardage while averaging 11 yards per play against a severely outmanned Football Championship Subdivision opponent. The Bruins also forced two turnovers while holding NCCU scoreless until Chris Mosley plowed ahead for a one-yard touchdown with 6:08 left in the game.
Every Bruins quarterback who played produced a highlight. Schlee showed toughness while warding off tacklers and skirting the sideline on his 57-yard touchdown run. Garbers ran the offense efficiently, completing his only pass. Griffin ran for a gutsy nine yards on his first play. Martin hurdled one defender before getting waylaid.
In a sign of how lopsided the game was, Steele and Harden combined for 149 rushing yards … and were outgained by backups Anthony Adkins and Colson Yankoff, who totaled 157 yards. The Bruins used eight running backs in all, not counting the quarterbacks involved in running plays.
For almost everyone on the roster, it was a field day practically from the opening kickoff.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.