Reporter: “What are your thoughts on your team’s execution?”
Then-Tampa Bay Coach John McKay; “I’m in favor of it.”
UCLA’s Chip Kelly can relate. If you look at the stats from his return to Oregon Saturday night, you could be led to believe the game was competitive. Oregon had 492 yards. UCLA had 496. Both teams had 290+ yards passing and 190+ rushing.
So how did UCLA get blown out for the second week in a row, this time 42-21, by Oregon? Execution, or in the case of UCLA, the lack of it.
Ten penalties and three turnovers are a starting point. But a deeper dive is critical. On special teams alone UCLA gave up a punt return for a touchdown; fumbled a punt deep inside its own territory for the second week in a row; had a false start lead to a missed field goal at the end of the first half for the second week in a row; had a failed onside kick; gave up a first down on a fake field goal. And that was just special teams.
How bad were the mistakes? With the game out of hand in the closing moments, Caleb Wilson caught a touchdown pass from Wilton Speight but was called for offensive pass interference. That’s the way the night rolled.
The mistakes started early. Four minutes into the game, Stefan Flintoft punted away to Oregon, but the kick coverage lost Ugo Amadi who returned it 56 yards for a touchdown.
Dorian Thompson-Robinson was back at quarterback for UCLA, his shoulder injury of two weeks ago seemingly healed. His passing game did not necessarily show it. He kept the ensuing drive alive with his legs. He had a 4-yard scramble on third down and a 23-yard run, escaping the rush. That was followed by a 14-yard pass into the end zone that was intercepted by Jevon Holland.
UCLA’s defense would keep Oregon contained. The Ducks lined up for a 46-yard field goal on fourth and 10. But holder Blake Maimone pulled up on the fake attempt and completed a pass to Jacob Breeland. UCLA’s Krys Barnes had him stopped short of the first down, but like the season-long epidemic goes, he missed the tackle. Breeland took it all the way down to the UCLA one yard line. C.J. Verdell ran it in from there for the 14-0 Oregon lead.
It’s not that UCLA didn’t have offense. Running back Joshua Kelley was having another stellar night. He had 41 yards rushing on the next series. UCLA had it third and short on the Oregon 40, but got called for a false start. They could not convert the down, and were out of field goal range. Another mistake. Another drive killed. Kelley would finish with 161 yards rushing on 26 carries to go with 32 receiving yards on six catches. Most importantly, he made no egregious errors. He was the UCLA offense. At the end of the first quarter the Bruins had 109 total yards. Thompson-Robinson had three yards passing. Three.
The start of the second quarter had a familiar look to it. On the second play, UCLA’s Adarius Pickett fumbled an Oregon punt at his own 12-yard line. That is two weeks in a row Pickett has done that, (he would be replaced by Theo Howard on punt returns the rest of the game). Oregon’s Justin Herbert would throw a four-yard touchdown pass to Dillion Mitchell and a UCLA team that could not get out of its own way was down 21-0 with 13 minutes still to have to fight through in the second quarter.
It wasn’t any easier with Thompson-Robinson being three of nine for 25 yards. He did finally find an opening and had Caleb Wilson wide open over the middle for a 63-yard touchdown pass.
With the Bruins down 21-7 and time running out in the half, they managed to drive 46 yards in 1:15. They lined up for a 51-yard J.J. Molson field goal. But stop us if you have heard this before. A false start penalty pushed them back an additional five yards and the kick fell two yards shy. Yes, for the second week in a row, UCLA could not convert a field goal at the end of the half because of a false start.
The second half was marked by more mistakes and a notable injury. Halfway through the third quarter, with the Bruins still within range of the Ducks, Thompson-Robinson was sacked by Justin Hollins at the Bruins 32-yard line. Hollins picked up the bouncing ball at the 18 and ran it another seven yards to the UCLA 11. To make matters worse, Thompson-Robinson had been driven to the turf and re-injured the shoulder on his throwing arm.
UCLA seemingly had Oregon stopped with a Herbert incompletion in the end zone, but things being what they are, Darnay Holmes was called for interference. Cyrus Habibi-Likio ran it from the one and the game was officially out of reach at 28-7.
Wilton Speight came in to replace Thompson-Robinson, and he passed well enough. He would finish 13 of 25 for 147 yards and a touchdown. But this also goes back to changing the offense. Speight is not a threat to run or hit the edges, so the offensive play calling has to inherently change to more of a dropback scheme. Fortunately, he still had Kelley at his disposal and he added a 25-yard touchdown run in the third quarter to cap a nine play, 75-yard drive.
Kelley had another 23 yards rushing early in the fourth quarter to put UCLA in field goal range, down 28-14. But the lack of discipline bit them again. Molson was late running on to the field. The snap was high. Holder Matt Lynch had to take off running and UCLA shot itself again. Two plays later Herbert hit Mitchell for a 67-yard Oregon touchdown pass. It’s what happens when you can’t take care of your own business. Others will do it for you.
Speight got a late touchdown pass to Howard and Tony Brooks-James added a 54-yard touchdown run for Oregon for the final score.
The Bruins have now surrendered 83 points in the last two games. They have six turnovers in those two weeks combined and 16 penalties. The penalties, by themselves, are bad enough. But they are killing drives. They are making field goals unreachable, literally taking points off the board. The things that are the most fundamental of the game are the things that are going wrong, see: 8 receiver drops in two weeks.
It’s hard to build/rebuild a program with a new coach. It’s harder when nine weeks into season, the players still are not executing the most basic aspects of football.
As if the season has not been quizzical enough, the Bruins (2-7, 2-4), are on the road next week against one of the great enigmas of the season, Arizona State, (5-4, 3-3)