Coming into week one, few games were more highly anticipated than Chip Kelly‘s debut with the UCLA Bruins, a game that ultimately marked Kelly’s long-awaited return to college football. When we last saw Kelly in the college ranks, he took the league by storm with his high speed, up-tempo offensive attack–a strategy that ultimately propelled his Oregon Ducks to the National Championship Game in 2009.
After four wildly successful years at Oregon, Kelly decided to try his hand at the NFL, which led to mixed results. And now, six years after Kelly left the Ducks, we finally get to see him roaming the sidelines at the college level once again.
But a lot has changed since those Oregon days. The high speed, no huddle, option offense that Kelly became famous for at Oregon is no longer so revolutionary or novel. In fact, in many ways, it has become the standard base offense run at the college level.
This led many to wonder… what would Kelly’s new offense look like? What, if any, new tricks did he have up his sleeve? How would he fare in an environment that has largely become accustomed to his preferred style of offense? These were the questions that were tugging at the college football world coming into this game.
Unfortunately, things did not go too well for UCLA’s 2018 home debut. The game revealed a very young and inexperienced team that simply struggled to execute and be on the same page.
UCLA fell 26-17 to the Cincinnati Bearcats, and while they were very much in it until the end, this could very well have been the easiest opponent UCLA will face all year. The schedule does not do them any favors and if UCLA continues to struggle the way they did, this could be a very long year.
Many were surprised to hear Kelly announce former Michigan Wolverines quarterback and grad transfer Wilton Speight as the starting quarterback. More of a traditional pocket passer, Speight really didn’t seem to fit the Kelly quarterback profile. But while it’s certainly possible that Kelly has adjusted his offense to function with pocket passers (as he did in the NFL), it’s most likely that Kelly simply needed an experienced body at the position.
After Speight left the game to injury in the 2nd quarter, UCLA struggled to move the ball. The replacement quarterback, rookie Dorian Thompson-Robinson, was clearly overwhelmed. The timing in the passing game just simply wasn’t there.
As for the offense as a whole, Kelly ran a pretty vanilla scheme. The majority of snaps came out of shotgun or pistol, alternating between two and three wide receivers. A pre-snap motion was not used. Most passes were quick, short throws, and runs generally consisted of inside zone plays.
We occasionally saw the sweep with pull blockers (a Kelly favorite), but Kelly was likely hesitant to call it with the struggles the offensive line was having. The Bruins certainly ran no-huddle tempo as their base offense, but it didn’t really feel like an effort to go as fast as possible as we’ve seen with Kelly in the past.
It’s clear that before Kelly can get too creative from a schematic or tempo standpoint, the offense just needs to be able to execute basic concepts. Right now, they are not at that point.
Soso Jamabo – Running Back
Game Stats: N/A (Did Not Play)
Game Day Grade: N/A
Current Draft Stock: Undrafted
Jamabo is in the midst of serving a two-game suspension by UCLA for conduct violations. Kazmeir Allen did have a 74-yard touchdown in this game, but with his small stature, he’s unlikely to become a lead back. Other than that play, UCLA struggled to run the ball in this game. Jamabo’s job should be safe, but you only get so many opportunities. When Jamabo gets back, he better start making the most of them, as he has underwhelmed in his career thus far, and he’s running out of time.
Caleb Wilson – Tight End
Game Stats: 4 Rec, 36 Yards
Game Day Grade: C-
Draft Stock: 5th Round
Wilson was on a monster pace last year before getting injured and entered the season as Pro Football Focus’s highest ranked tight end. Having said that, it’s fair to wonder if he can replicate that production without getting balls from former UCLA quarterback (and current Arizona Cardinals quarterback) Josh Rosen, who was one of the best and most prolific passers in college football.
Wilson had a quiet day with four receptions, two of which came during garbage time. He was pretty well covered during a few of his targets, and during the 3rd quarter, he dropped a pass on 4th down after pushing off the defender. This ultimately led to a turnover on downs. Overall, he did not see that many targets.
It’s worth noting that the passing game as a whole was pretty nonexistent as Dorian Thompson threw for just 117 yards through the air. Nonetheless, as one of the few reliable veterans on this roster, Wilson will have to make more of an impact moving forward. Seeing as how Kelly loves the quick passing game, I was a bit surprised that Wilson wasn’t targeted more.
Andre James – Offensive Line
Game Day Grade: C-
Draft Stock: 4th Round
The offensive line as a whole really struggled. We saw our fair share of false starts, as the cohesion of the line simply wasn’t there. This is likely in part due to Kelly’s new up-tempo offense, which tends to rely on a short, non-rhythmic cadence quickly after the team gets set. Because the cadence is so short, the timing is generally somewhat built into the play, so the line has to be on the same page in anticipating it.
The cadence becomes more of a confirmation of the snap rather than an alert for it. Most teams that run a no-huddle spread offense have, in recent years, switched to a “clap” cadence in order to simplify this snapping process. Kelly did not do that today.
The Bearcat defense clearly knew that the line was inexperienced and not in sync, and they did their best to confuse them. They would frequently crowd the line of scrimmage with blitzing defenders, mixing in stunts and corner blitzes to further confuse the line. This generally worked. When the Bearcats weren’t getting free rushers in the backfield, they were penetrating the line awfully quickly.
As for James, he did a nice job sealing the edge on a few outside running plays. But as the Bruins had to throw the football later in the game, his play wasn’t up to par, and he more than once let the Bearcats defensive linemen past him. He wasn’t the worst of the line, but that really isn’t saying much.
Jaelen Phillips – EDGE
Game Stats: 9 Tackles, 1 Tackle for Loss, 1 Sack
Game Day Grade: B+
Draft Stock: 2nd Round
The defense as a whole was gashed running up the middle. Michael Warren II ran for 3 touchdowns and 142 yards on 35 carries (4.1 yards per carry). While the Bearcat O was only 5/18 on 3rd downs, they were 3/4 on 4th down, showing that UCLA’s short yardage run defense needs work. They were clearly worn down by the end of the game.
Phillips, however, generally played well. They seemed to run mostly away from him. They also would leave him as the unblocked defender on zone read plays in order to neutralize him. When this happened, he stayed disciplined and mostly forced the ball to be handed off. He also got his fair share of pressures, including on 3rd down, where the Bruins frequently only rushed three in longer yardage situations. Phillips was effective getting pressure in these situations.
It’s also worth mentioning that the Bruin offense did nothing in the second half. Their defense defended the pass well and was able to keep UCLA in the game.
Adarius Pickett – Safety
Game Stats: 15 Tackles
Game Day Grade: B
Draft Stock: 3rd Round
Pickett moved around at safety, playing on both sides of the field. He may have had the quietest 15 tackle game I’ve ever seen. He generally didn’t stand out in either a good way or a bad way. There was a pass completion early in the 2nd quarter that he was out of position for after biting on the play action fake, but other than that, it was an unexciting day for Pickett.
The majority of his work came cleaning up runs late after the front seven was penetrated. However, those runs could have very well gone for more were he not there. Though Pickett had the occasional miss here and there, his tackling fundamentals are, for the most part, pretty sound.
The schedule really doesn’t do UCLA any favors, and at this point, this year could really just be about staying afloat for Kelly before he’s able to recruit and develop the players he wants. The good news is that the Bruins didn’t look awful, didn’t make any mistakes that really stand out, and were in this game up until the very end. The bad news is that it was their easiest game of the year and a game many people expected them to win.
Kelly has to work with what he’s got, and right now, that isn’t much. The Bruins have to start by being in sync and being able to execute basic plays. They’re awfully young, and Week 1 showed that they really aren’t ready for the big time just yet.
Thompson-Robinson was a highly touted dual-threat recruit at the quarterback position, but the timing just wasn’t there. Especially with this offensive line in its current state, Speight is still UCLA’s best bet. Unfortunately, we don’t yet know when he’ll be ready to play.
The Bruins travel to Oklahoma to play the sixth-ranked Oklahoma Sooners next week. Expect things to get ugly quick.
Prediction: Oklahoma 49, UCLA 13