Spring Ends For UCLA Football

It’s hard to figure out what to make of a 3-0 Spring Scrimmage for UCLA. Lack of offense? Superior defense? Execution issues? Sure, why not. Take your pick. At the end of the day, with a team facing each other, after having spent a month facing each other at practice after practice, there weren’t going to be any surprises. So it was about individual performances that stood out, improvement over last season for returning players, and the “H” word…health.

Spring Ends For UCLA Football

First things first. It always takes a few days to medically assess everyone’s bumps and bruises, but for now it looks like the Bruins got out of the day with no major injuries. Considering how thin the depth chart is at some positions, that beats a 3-0 score any day of the week.

As for the on-field performance, it was intentionally quick. Head coach Chip Kelly had the game go on 60-minute running clock. No stoppages for anything.

As for the flow of the game, if points were given for ball movement between the 20’s, this was a shootout. The challenge came when the offenses had to actually try to put the ball in the end zone from there.

Quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson got off to a sluggish start. He was sacked twice (playing touch football rules for the quarterback), on the first drive. Most everything was up from there for the sophomore. In his second series, on third and seven, he ripped an eight-yard completion to Kyle Phillips over the middle. In the same series, on third and 11, he found Chase Cota for 13 yards, and then Devin Asiasi for eight yards on third and four. He had a potential touchdown pass go awry as Demetric Felton bobbled the ball going out of bounds.

On another series Thompson-Robinson hit Joshua Kelley over the middle for a 20-yard completion. That was followed by 10-yard completion to Theo Howard, and a 2-yard completion to Martell Irby. That last play was stopped inside the five-yard line on a nice tackle by linebacker Krys Barnes. It matters. On the next play, Irby took the hand off, but the play was strung out wide by Barnes who also made the tackle for no gain. Irby was tackled in the backfield on the next play by Tyree Thompson after Barnes shut the hole at the line.

J.J. Molson kicked a 27-yard field goal for the only points of the scrimmage.

Other than the first series, Thompson-Robinson was mostly effective moving the offense. When he scrambled, he was still directing receivers, trying to look downfield. He also had some designed runs that totaled about 30 yards.

Austin Burton had a decent day working for the back-up spot. Towards the end of the scrimmage he had the pass completion of the day, about 70-yards to Jaylen Erwin to the seven-yard line. That drive, like all others, bogged down at that point. Patrick Jolly batted away a fourth-down pass intended for Cota and Burton’s team came away with no points.

Spring Ends For UCLA Football
UCLA quarterback Jake Burton drops back during the annual Spring scrimmage. (Photo from Tony Siracusa)

Burton had a couple of nice passes earlier in the day that came up empty. A would-be 40-yard completion to Howard was broken up on a nice play by Thompson. He also had a long touchdown pass to Felton called back when the receiver could not get one foot in bounds.

Overall, Burton was quicker with his decision making than he has been for much of the Spring and showed a better running ability when needed. With that 70 yarder, his yardage stats were probably better than Thompson-Robinson’s.

Freshman Chase Griffin played three series and got in a total of about 25 snaps. His timing with receivers was off, and he relied heavily on the run game Cole Kinder. He did connect with Delon Hurt on a 20-yard completion that the receiver had to come back for to make the catch.

Spring Ends For UCLA Football
UCLA freshman quarterback Chase Griffin tries to get the handoff to runningback Keegan Jones in the annual Spring scrimmage. (Photo from Tony Siracusa).

If you notice something missing from the offense conversation, you are not wrong. It’s the running game(s). There weren’t any to speak of. The numbers for Kelley, Irby, and Kazmeir Allen were of limited significance, (Keegan Jones had about 35 yards unofficially, but also had two fumbles). Take your pick as to why. There were several plays that blew up as they were getting started because there were footing problems for the running backs as they cut. The holes were not there from any of the offensive lines. But, and this is a big but, the linebackers were the story of the day in terms of overall performance and shutting down the run game. Messrs Thompson, Barnes, Je’Vari Anderson, Leni Toailoa, and Jayce Smalley were the most prevalent factors on the day. And that is without Josh Woods and Keisean Lucier-South.

Defensive backs Quentin Lake, Shea Pitts, and Patrick Jolly also made nice plays on passes from the three quarterbacks. And there just was no completing passes one-on-one against Darnay Holmes. He has been impactful in pass coverage throughout the Spring and he had a couple of breakups again Saturday.

So, what do you take from an hour of work like this? First, Kelly is always going to treat it like another workout, so what you learn is going to be limited. Second, the maturation of Thompson-Robinson seems to be on schedule. And Burton showed the potential to be a real back-up. But there still must be concern over the lack of game experience. Beyond that, the linebacking corps is the strength of the defense with the defensive secondary very close behind. The individual talent is there. Playing as a unit will only be apparent when they are playing against someone other than their own teammates in a scrimmage. The depth is there for the running backs and receivers. The offensive line needs to do its job…..and they need to stay healthy.



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