SCOUTING THE OPPOSITION – UCLA

Note … Previews for CU’s opponents will be posted each week leading up to the start of Fall Camp … Previously posted: Colorado StateNebraskaAir ForceArizona StateArizonaOregonWashington StateUSC

2019 Game Nine – Colorado at UCLA, November 2nd

Related … “UCLA’s rebuild under Chip Kelly continues” … from the Daily Camera

From the Daily Camera … The hiring of Chip Kelly as head football coach after the 2017 season made UCLA one of the most intriguing teams in the Pac-12, and the country, a year ago.

It didn’t take long for the spotlight to dim, however. The Bruins were awful during an 0-5 start to the season and finished 3-9.

Kelly’s return to college football wasn’t anything like his previous stint. From 2009-12, he led Oregon a 46-7 record and he nearly won the national title in 2010. He turned that into a gig with the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles, taking them to back-to-back 10-6 seasons in his first two years.

It’s been a while since Kelly has won, however. In his last three years of coaching – with the Eagles, San Francisco 49ers and UCLA – he is a combined 11-32.

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Last game between Colorado and UCLA – September 28, 2018

… Colorado 38, UCLA 16 … 

Game Story … On a colder than expected Friday evening (46-degrees at kickoff), a Blackout Folsom field crowd of 46,814 was on hand to watch Colorado raise its record to 4-0 record for the first time since 1998, using a big second half to pull away from UCLA, 38-16.

Quarterback Steven Montez went 22-of-26 for 237 yards and a touchdown, with 11 carries for 81 yards and two more scores to lead the Buffs. Wide receiver Laviska Shenault had 12 receptions for 126 yards and a touchdown, also carrying the ball five time for 18 yards and another score. The rushing attack was led by Travon McMillian, who had 21 carries for 102 yards and a touchdown.

In all, Colorado out-gained UCLA, 477 yards to 289, with the Buffs dominating the second half. In the first half, the scoreboard and the stats sheet were about even, with CU holding a slight edge in total yards – 196-191 – and an even slimmer margin on the scoreboard, at 14-13. In the second half, however, the Buffs pulled away, scoring the final 24 points of the game after UCLA had taken a 16-14 lead early in the third quarter.

“I thought in the second half, the offense and the defense really made just good adjustments,” said head coach Mike MacIntyre. “Hats go off to our coaching staff. I thought our kids came out in the second half and kept playing and playing.”

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… Essay for the game … “The New Normal?” … can be found here

2018 UCLA results – 3-9 (3-6 in Pac-12 play)

– 2018 UCLA National Rankings (Offense)

— Scoring – 98th  (11th in the Pac-12)… 24.6 points per game  (Colorado scoring defense – 70th … 27.3 points per game)

— Rushing – 86th … 154.8 yards per game (Colorado rushing defense – 44th … 145.6 yards per game)

— Passing – 62nd … 237.8 yards per game   (Colorado passing defense – 74th … 234.7 yards per game)

— Total – 75th … 392.6 yards per game  (Colorado total defense – 52nd … 380.3 yards per game)

– 2018 UCLA National Rankings (Defense) …

— Scoring – 104th (11th in the Pac-12) … 34.1 points per game  (Colorado scoring offense – 79th … 27.1 points per game)

— Rushing – 100th (11th in the Pac-12) … 199.4 yards per game (Colorado rushing offense – 99th … 143.0 yards per game)

— Passing – 88th … 245.5 yards per game (Colorado passing offense – 45th … 249.6 yards per game)

— Total – 102nd (11th in the Pac-12) … 444.9 yards per game  (Colorado total offense – 74th … 392.6 yards per game)

UCLA storylines … 

– Chip Knows Best … 

The bloom fell off of the Chip Kelly, Savior, rose pretty quickly last fall, as the Bruins opened with an 0-5 record for the first time since 1943.

The Bruins did show signs of life in the second half of the season, winning three of their final seven games, including a satisfying 34-27 win over USC, buying Kelly more time.

“We’re all benefits of the experience and the only time you get experience is time served,” Kelly said this spring. “Those guys have taken advantage of that. I think our guys are really doing a good job of progressive learning, not making the same mistakes twice, learning from what they did, what’s the correction we’ve got to make and then let’s move forward.”

But … Kelly isn’t making it any easier for Bruin fans to embrace his style. Kelly’s first full Recruiting Class, the Class of 2019 signed this past December/February, had one four-star recruit. In the 2012-18 Recruiting seasons, UCLA averaged 10.6 four- or five-star prospects per Class, never signing fewer than seven blue-chip recruits in any of those Classes.

This just in: that’s a significant drop off in (at least perceived) talent coming to Westwood.

Bruin fans want to believe in Kelly, but a 3-9 campaign, followed by a less-than-stellar Recruiting Class, have the UCLA faithful a bit on edge.

Players make plays

Chip Kelly didn’t exactly bring the success of his high-flying Ducks to Westwood, with the Bruins finishing 98th in scoring, and in the bottom half in the nation in most offensive categories.

Optimism again reigns supreme, however, as a pair of late bloomers are expected to make the UCLA offense hum this fall. Sophomore quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson improved towards the latter stages of his freshman campaign, and much is expected from “DTR” this fall.

One weapon at DTR’s disposal is senior running back Joshua Kelly. The former UC-Davis backup ran for 1,243 yards and 12 touchdowns last fall, including a 289-yard romp through the USC defense last November. The passing game loses perhaps the top tight end in the country last season, Caleb Wilson, but returns senior Theo Howard, who had 677 yards receiving and four touchdowns last fall.

One concern for the Bruin offense  is the play of the offensive line, which returns the interior, but must replace both offensive tackles. Two freshmen, Alec Anderson and Sean Rhyan, could be the starters at those positions.

The good news for the UCLA defense is that nine starters return.

The bad news for the UCLA defense is that nine starters return.

The Bruins gave up 30 or more points to nine opponents last fall, including 38 to Colorado. UCLA ranked 100th or worse in many defensive categories, including scoring (104th), rushing (102nd), total defense (102nd), tackles for loss (122nd), and sacks (119th). Cornerback Darney Holmes and linebacker Keisean Lucier-Smith could be All-Pac-12 performers, but unless the Bruins can get some push up front from a makeshift defensive line, it could be a long season for the UCLA defenders.

“We’ve got chips on our shoulders,” said Holmes. “We’ve got a lot of people who depend on us: family; community; fans base.”

How well the players respond with that chip on their shoulders will go a long ways in determining how well the Bruins improve on their 3-9 record from last season.

How the Buffs fit into the Bruins’ 2019 schedule

Colorado and UCLA had diametrically opposed 2018 results.

The Buffs opened the season with a 5-0 record, including a satisfying 38-16 win over the Bruins. The Buffs were nationally ranked at the end of September, but then fell off a cliff to finish the season with a 5-7 record.

The Bruins, meanwhile, opened the 2018 campaign with an 0-5 record, including a disappointing 38-16 loss to the Buffs. The Bruins then rebounded, however, to win three of their final seven, including a 34-27 win over USC and a pair of close losses to Arizona State (31-28) and Stanford (49-42) to close out the season.

Safe to say that, based upon where these teams were at the end of September, 2018 – and where they ended up in November – that it will be difficult to predict this September what will happen when CU travels to the Rose Bowl the first weekend of November … much less try and make those predictions in July.

But since these teams meet in November this year instead of September, we will know a great deal about both teams by the time November 2nd rolls around.

UCLA has one of the toughest non-conference schedules in the nation, opening on the road against Cincinnati (11-2 in 2018, including a 26-17 win over UCLA in Chip Kelly’s debut), then at home against San Diego State (7-6 in 2018) and Oklahoma (12-2).

After that little gauntlet, the Bruins open Pac-12 play with two games on the road, facing Washington State and Arizona. UCLA will then open October at home against Oregon State, before taking to the road again to face Stanford. A home game against Arizona State precedes UCLA’s home game against Colorado … before the Bruins take to the road again to face Utah and USC.

For UCLA to have a winning record entering November, the Bruins will have to win three of their home games (San Diego State, Oregon State, Arizona State), and pull off a pair of road wins (at Cincinnati? at Arizona?). If Chip Kelly can pull that off, Bruin fans will be feeling pretty comfortable about taking out the Buffs at home.

However, if Kelly doesn’t enter November with a winning record (which seems a decent bet), then the two November home games (v. CU and v. Cal in the regular season finale) may be “must wins” for the Bruins to obtain bowl eligibility.

Bottom Line

Pundits don’t know what to make of UCLA in Year Two under Chip Kelly.

Athlon has UCLA as the No. 2 team in the Pac-12 South, and the No. 42 team in the nation. Street and Smith’s also have the Bruins as the No. 2 team in the South.

Lindy’s, meanwhile, has UCLA as the No. 5 team in the South division, finishing just ahead of … Colorado (the consensus bottom feeder in every preseason magazine).

Will the Bruins continue on the with momentum gained at the end of the 2018 season … or will they come flat like they did last season, when UCLA opened with an 0-5 record?

UCLA has another tough opening to the schedule. Facing Cincinnati on the road before returning to face Oklahoma. If that’s not bad enough, the Bruins must play three of their first four Pac-12 games on the road (at Washington State; at Arizona; at Stanford).

While the offense will be good behind the talents of Darian Thompson-Robinson and Joshua Kelley, it’s hard to see the defense improving sufficiently to handle the competition they will be facing.

The last two times Colorado played in Pasadena, the Buffs were very close to pulling off victories (35-31 in 2015 and 27-23 in 2017).

The Buffs just didn’t have “it” – leadership, luck, play-calling, you name it – against the Bruins in those games. The Buffs weren’t able to close the deal and come home with victories.

Buff fans are drinking the Mel Tucker Kool-Aid, believing that the Buffs under Tucker & Co. will have “it” against teams CU can beat.

The UCLA game will be a good test of how far the team has come …

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