Chip Kelly went 46-7 as head coach for the Oregon Ducks from 2009-2012. That’s seven losses in 53 games, with no more than three losses ever in a single season. After three games as head coach at UCLA, the Bruins are now 0-3. It’s Kelly’s first time starting 0-3 as a head coach ever, and it’s the Bruins first 0-3 start since 1971. Clearly, this is a rebuilding project, unlike any other, Kelly has gone through before.
UCLA lost to Cincinnati 26-17, Oklahoma 49-21, and now this past week, to Fresno State, 38-14. Is there progress? Maybe..? If you squint…? Surely it won’t be long before the fans and the commentators start calling for Kelly’s head.
UCLA has shown some progression in certain areas. They’ve had moments where they are successful on the field, albeit very short moments. But in many ways, they look similar to how they did during week 1: undisciplined, unorganized, and outmatched.
The on-field announcers during this game spoke positively of UCLA, of Chip Kelly, and strongly emphasized the inexperience on the roster. They were confident that Kelly and this team would show improvement moving forward. They also stressed that Jim Mora, the former UCLA head coach, simply did not leave much talent on the roster for Kelly to work with.
While it’s not uncommon for announcers to be protective of coaches in their commentary, I have to agree with them in this case. While I certainly can’t project how much improvement we will see moving forward, I think it’s unreasonable to expect a rapid turnaround from this roster under Kelly. The fact of the matter remains that they are one of the youngest teams in college football, with 71.7% of their roster underclassmen (4th highest in the FBS).
While I certainly hope this team starts putting more points up (and starts winning games), it’s a team that is still finding their identity–and a head coach that is finding it with them. Moving forward in the year, that’s the way we have to look at this UCLA team. How are they progressing in finding their identity?
UCLA Bruins Game Day Grades – Week Three
Despite another low scoring output, I thought Chip Kelly did a better job with playcalling than we had seen in previous games. At the beginning of the season, I wrote a great deal about Chip Kelly’s offense and the big question mark it was as he began his tenure at UCLA. First, there was the fact that the ripple effect of Kelly’s spread/hurry up within college football over the past 5 years or so has torn away from its novelty, rendering its previous schematic advantage for Kelly quite diminished. This raises the question as to how much Kelly might change his preferred scheme moving forward.
Second, there’s the fact Kelly is working with new and young players–players he didn’t handpick via recruiting. These players may not fit his intended offense, or they may not be talented or experienced enough to run it, or both. This is why I say that Kelly himself, in addition to the team, is finding his identity. It’s all a discovery process.
The announcers of the game as well agreed that the Bruins don’t currently have an offensive identity under Kelly. And even Kelly himself seemed to confirm this to the press, although him saying so may have just been a way of brushing aside the question more than anything.
During weeks 1 and 2, we saw a pretty vanilla, and a pretty unsuccessful scheme. There was a consistent effort to run inside zone on early downs (without success). Past that, there wasn’t much to hang your hat on. It was a mix of ill-timed short passes, static and uncreative formations, and defenders effortlessly making their way to the backfield.
Chip Kelly changed things up a bit this week, and while it was by no means novel, he seemed to make an effort to mix up the formations, stick with what worked well, and abandon what didn’t. He used more trips formations with all receivers to one side, which I thought was a good move. He wasn’t as stubborn with the futile inside zone run on first down.
Instead, he started a few drives with quick throws while rolling Dorian Thompson-Robinson (DTR) out. While DTR wasn’t able to connect on those throws, I liked the idea. Rollout passes are a nice way to get a few easy yards, especially when you have a mobile quarterback.
Another thing I liked was quick rhythm passes over the middle with play action out of the shotgun. DTR throws these balls well. They’re fairly simple reads, easy to hit in rhythm, and don’t require a ton of anticipation. I expect Kelly to continue fine-tuning the wheels of his offense moving forward.
As for DTR, it was another mixed bag for the true freshman. He made a couple nice throws, one of which being a long touchdown toss to Theo Howard, which showed off his arm strength and quick release. Like last week, DTR wasn’t asked to throw down the field too much but looked good when he had to.
DTR also did a good job picking up yardage on the ground. Rushing as a quarterback is as much about knowing when to run as it is about how talented a runner you are. Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks is a great example of this, and Kyler Murray at Oklahoma has been pretty savvy with it as well. DTR showed some definite improvement in this area.
The negatives are that DTR is still lacking touch and timing in the short and intermediate passing games. He’s still a tad late with his throws. He tends to speed himself up in the pocket, which affects his footwork, and by extension his accuracy. At times he leaves a clean pocket too quickly, and other times he stays on reads too long. All is to be expected for a young quarterback playing behind a poor offensive line.
The offense as a whole, however, still reeks of dysfunction. The players are still having trouble lining up in the right places and being in sync with the snap count. We again saw too many false starts and drive killing penalties. The result was way too many 3rd and longs (again), and the Bruins were (again) terrible on third down, with a conversation rate of just 1 for 10 on the day. DTR also fumbled a snap from under center. At some point, this offense has to stop the sloppiness and be able to get on the same page with the basics. Three weeks in, there are no more excuses.
Soso Jamabo – Running Back
Game Stats: 4 Carries, 12 Yards
Jamabo’s return from suspension did not meet expectations. With just 4 carries and 12 yards on the day, he was fourth on the team in carries, yards, and yards per carry behind Martell Irby, DTR, and Kazmeir Allen. The announcers mused that Jamabo was not successful under Jim Mora, but that with his body type, he should be one of the best backs in the country.
He certainly didn’t show it this week. The announcers also noted that Kelly is going to play a rotation of backs, which he did this week. Whether Jamabo will be able to be their foundation runner in future games remains to be seen. What is certain is that Kelly needs more out of his running game. And especially with the state of his offensive line as is, he needs to find more ways to get his backs out in space.
Game Day Grade: D
Current Draft Stock: 5th Round
Caleb Wilson – Tight End
Game Day Stats: 0 Rec
Three games into the season, Wilson is nowhere near the production he had last year. This is where it’s hard to separate the player from the offense and the scheme. Because UCLA’s offense as a whole has been nowhere to be found this year. Is Wilson a cause of that, or is he just a result of it?
The same thing could be said about his production last year. Was he as good as the numbers he put up or was he just playing with one of the best quarterbacks in the FBS? The announcers were adamant that Wilson is a big-time talent and seemed surprised that he wasn’t getting involved.
DTR missed him late in the second quarter when he was covered pretty well. He had a pre-snap penalty early in the 3rd quarter. He had a drop in garbage time out of the slot, albeit with not a lot of field to work with. Whatever the reason, he and DTR simply aren’t clicking right now, and Theo Howard is the clear number 1 target.
Looking at Wilson’s numbers last year, the majority of his production came in two games, with 15 catches against Texas A&M and 11 against Stanford. The Bruins were trailing big time in both games, which may have contributed to his production. But looking back to his NFL days, Kelly was very productive with his tight ends, including both Brent Celek and later Zach Ertz in Philly. For whatever reason, that hasn’t been the case thus far in LA.
Game Day Grade: D
Draft Stock: 4th Round
Andre James – Offensive Line
James started the day at left tackle, and he was able to rebound after a satisfactory performance week one and a very poor game last week. Although he still gave up the occasional pressure, he turned in an overall decent performance on the day. The pressure mostly came from the other side of the line. I didn’t notice James too much in this game, and as an offensive lineman, if you’re not standing out, its generally a good thing.
Game Day Grade: B
Current Draft Stock: 4th Round
Like last week, the Bruins were in this game at halftime, facing just a 16-14 deficit. They imploded in the 3rd quarter, giving up 15 points and another 7 early in the 4th. They made a litany of mistakes on both sides of the ball. On the first defensive possession of the half, they were about to hold Fresno to a field goal attempt but committed a roughing the passer penalty, which ultimately led to a Fresno touchdown.
DTR then threw a pick on a tipped ball, and on the ensuing Fresno possession, the receiver took a short screen and turned it into a huge gain with almost no UCLA bodies in sight. On both these Fresno possessions, quarterback Marcus McMaryion scored on a QB sneak over the B gap–a play he also converted for a first down earlier in the game around midfield.
By this point, the game was out of reach. Another UCLA tipped pass INT would end it for all intents and purposes, this time on a DTR pass that was thrown a little late. Late in the game, UCLA’s run defense was gashed, but Fresno was so far ahead at this point that it didn’t really matter. Three weeks in, it’s clear UCLA doesn’t have the talent or depth to play strong through four quarters, especially when they’re getting so little from their offense. They were clearly worn down late in this game.
As for Fresno, Jeff Tedford called a good game, and McMaryion looked poised and in command. Like the offense, the defense had their moments, but ultimately committed too many mistakes.
Jaelan Phillips – Edge Rusher
Game Stats: 3 Tackles
Phillips’ snaps were limited in this game; in fact, I didn’t see him on the field until the fourth quarter. He was injured last week, and when asked if Phillips’ limited snaps were due to injury, Kelly had this to say:
“Um, nah, he just didn’t practice all week, he was in and out of practice during the week, so you’ve got to go with the guys who practiced.”
Parsing through the coach speak, I’m going to assume that means he’s not hurt anymore, but he didn’t practice because he was hurt.
Whatever the reason, they need this guy back on the field. He flashes when he’s on, he makes plays all over the field, and he’s probably their most talented player on defense. They couldn’t stop the run in this game without him. The announcers said that it was “a little alarming” that UCLA couldn’t stop the option seeing as how they run it in practice every day, as well as the fact that they are “so inexperienced at the linebacker position”. All the more reason to get Phillips back into the lineup as quickly as possible.
Game Day Grade: N/A (Not enough snaps)
Current Draft Stock: 2nd Round
Adarius Pickett – Safety
Game Stats: 13 Tackles
Like weeks one and two, Pickett had a productive day racking up tackles. Unlike weeks one and two, I noticed less positive plays from him and a fair share of negative plays.
He was beaten by the tight end in the middle of the first quarter. He made some nice tackles early and had a nice pass deflection against the tight end in the middle of the second quarter (altho the tight end also dropped the pass). He was overly aggressive and took a bad angle against Jordan Mims on a running play in the 3rd quarter that almost led to a touchdown (altho the play was called back by a hold). And later, he was unable to stop Mims in the red zone for a touchdown.
If Pickett goes to the NFL, he will likely be a strong safety. Over three weeks, I have yet to see him involved in the passing game. Furthermore, the announcers referred to the other safety, Quentin Lake, as the free safety, implying that Pickett was the strong safety.
Another thing I noticed out of the UCLA defense was that Darne Holmes, one of UCLA’s starting cornerbacks, did not hold up in single coverage at all. Almost every time they took a shot at him, they would complete the pass. In the future, I would like to see UCLA’s safeties get more involved in the passing game.
Game Day Grade: C-
Draft Stock: 3rd Round
UCLA has a much needed bye week coming up. Hopefully it will allow them to sort themselves out, fix some of the easy mistakes, gameplan moving forward, reflect on the tape, and begin figuring out their identity. They badly need this time off, as they’ve passed the two easiest games of the year, and have nothing but division games remaining.
According to Chip Kelly, quarterback Wilton Speight, who hasn’t seen the field since week 1, is day to day with his injury. Should he recover, I still am of the belief that he should take back the starting role from true freshman Dorian Thompson-Robinson. I’m sure many are of the opposite belief, and for good reason. There’s a chance DTR is the future of this program, while Speight is just a stopgap. DTR also is a much more talented runner, which is an asset in the Chip Kelly offense. Why pull the wheels away from him just as he’s beginning to gain experience and confidence? I get that line of thinking, but the fact of the matter is–as I’ve mentioned earlier–this team is struggling to execute the basics, has no offensive identity, and looks pitiful on offense. Speight is a veteran, and while he won’t blow anyone away. He can provide the stability this offense needs. He’ll be able to digest the playbook and get them lined up. He knows what he’s seeing on defense. He’ll know where to go with the ball, and his anticipation, touch, and accuracy on short passes are simply ahead of DTR at this moment. DTR’s day will come, but right now, UCLA needs a vet at the helm.
People may read this thinking I’m being overly optimistic, and perhaps my mind will change later in the season. But I think we have to be realistic about where this program is, as well as where they’re coming from. Right now, they have a porous offensive line, little run game to speak of, a defense that is giving up a lot of points, and drop prone receivers. However, this was the case last year as well. They just had an NFL calibre quarterback that was capable of covering it all up.
Three weeks in, the story has begun, but it’s far from being written. I’m looking forward to seeing where it leads.