In college football, as in life, you are not supposed to look back to search for what could have been. The road not traveled allegedly gets you nowhere, and you are supposed to keep your eyes on path ahead. That’s true now, more than ever, for the UCLA Bruins.
UCLA Bruins; Picking Up The Pieces
It’s not always easy to do. If UCLA had taken care of its business in a very winnable game last weekend against Arizona, they could be looking at a potential 3-0 conference record and a commanding Pac 12 South presence as woeful Oregon State comes to town this weekend.
As it is, UCLA is 1-1 in conference, 1-4 overall, and not in a position to overlook any team, including Oregon State.
The Beavers come into the game at 1-3, and 0-1 in conference. They narrowly lost to a beleaguered Stanford team last weekend, 31-28. Jake Luton is the Pac 12 quarterback you have probably not heard of. Nearly one-third of the way through the season, he has thrown for over a thousand yards, has nine touchdowns and zero interceptions. That’s right. His completion percentage, (60.7), and his interception numbers, (0), are actually better than Dorian Thompson-Robinson’s (59.2, 6).
They also come with receiver Isaiah Hodgins. The junior is the #8 receiver in the country in terms of yards. He has 509 yards and six touchdowns in the four games. UCLA head coach Chip Kelly called Hodgins one of the top receivers in the country. “He’s got some circus catches when you look at film on him, and you just say holy smokes. It obviously starts with him on the perimeter.” Kelly also talked about how the offensive line is giving Luton what he needs. “They are protecting the ball really well, and Jonathan, (Smith, Oregon State head coach), is known for what he does with the quarterback spot.”
Running back Artavis Pierce is averaging seven yards per carry and his partner in the backfield, Jermar Jefferson averages just under six. “They mix in the run really well,” Kelly said. “When it starts in the passing game, it starts with Hodgins and that’s the guy we’ve got to make sure we have all of our attention and focus on.”
Kind of makes you wonder how they are 1-3, right? The Beavers are ranked 99th in the country in total defense. To be fair, though, that is still 28 spots better than UCLA.
The Bruins have their own issues, of course. It is unclear as to whom the quarterback will be come Saturday. Thompson-Robinson left last weekend’s Arizona game with an ankle injury. He was replaced with Austin Burton, who took his first snaps ever in a college game. He finished five of eight for 48 yards and no touchdowns. Kelly said Wednesday that Thompson-Robinson did some light workouts Tuesday and they would see what he could handle Wednesday. He was clear that Thompson-Robinson would need a couple of days of full work to be ready for Saturday.
Burton’s roommate seems ready to make the call now. Linebacker Shea Pitts says he knew Burton would be ready when called upon. “I don’t know if you guys saw it, but he was just confident. Everything he did, he just stepped up, and was like ready to go. He was very calm in the pocket. He’s taken that leadership role for this team to the next level. I’m expecting really big weekend out of him. I think he is going to do great things for us.”
Burton will need big help from an offensive line that Kelly still refers to you as young. “I think Duke, (Clemens), did a really nice job in his first extended playing time. Like everything in this program, it is earned, and he earned more playing time. I think Sean, (Rhyan), is getting better the more experience he gets. Jake Burton and Chris Murray have started 17 games already. Boss Tagaloa has 14, (he would also have 17 if it were not for the season starting suspension last year). In the three-year college life span of so many football players, that is half a college career for each of them.
Still, Kelly emphasized how they were new at their respective positions when last season started. They’re just starting to gel. I believe they were better last week than they were at the beginning of the year. That’s kind of what you want in that group, how they can continue to develop as a unit and move forward.”
UCLA running back Joshua Kelley had his first 100-yard rushing game last week behind the line that Kelly calls improved. He is going to need another, with presumably a rookie starter at quarterback.
As for the Bruins defense, Pitts, who got his first career sack last week in Tucson, said it is back to the fundamentals. “We don’t really focus about what the other team is doing. It’s kind of about us. They can run kind of what they want coming at us, but if we are able to just execute what we’re supposed to do and tackling is the biggest thing….that’s the biggest thing, just tackle, tackle, tackle…then they can run whatever they want pretty much, but we’ll put ourselves in a good position to win the game, I feel like.”
At this point, it is just one win at a time, in Kelly’s micro system, with no big picture look ahead.
When Kelly comes out on his media days, he generally is ready to launch into the questions. Wednesday though, he wanted to re-address the story of California’s new law. It allows college athletes to own the right to their image, likeness, and branding. Kelly was already in favor of it. But Wednesday, he suggested maybe even some of us in the media could get sponsors. “With the rule that was just put in place, everyone is starting to think outside the box.” Kelly suggested that as long as it was not a product we cover, those in the media could be sponsored. If you are listening Tommy Bahama, and I know you are, I would look brilliant in the press box in some fine attire.
Kelly was on a roll Saturday. He was asked about a seemingly growing proclivity to go for it on fourth downs. Kelly explained that it is more about the ability to convert, as well as considering if the defense is ready to go back out if they miss the conversion. He was asked about not going for it on fourth down late in the game in Tucson when Burton was in the game. It was sussed out during the Q&A that it was not a fourth and one, but a fourth and six. “I’m not a math major, but I think there is a huge difference between fourth and one, and fourth and six.” For the record, Kelly was not a math major. He graduated from the University of New Hampshire in 1990 with a Bachelor’s of Science in Physical Education.