It’s Execution Time For UCLA

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When you lose a handful of games, the questions come from all over. Do the schemes work? Are the players good enough? Are the coaches maximizing the abilities of the players? Why do we keep losing? When you win a couple of games, the answers are much easier for a coach like Chip Kelly, who doggedly sticks with his plans week to week. It’s execution time for UCLA.

“You can draw lines on a paper and say hey this works versus this coverage or this works versus that coverage, but you have to actually go out and execute it. Again, the credit goes to the players. The players are the ones executing it,” Kelly said at practice Wednesday.

Even with a 3-5 overall record, UCLA has climbed to the top, or near the top, of several offensive production categories in the Pac 12. On the strength of the two-game winning streak the Bruins now lead the Pac 12 in scoring at 38.2 points per game. They are second in yards per game with 488.4 (Washington State is first with 494.8 per game). UCLA is first in the conference in Red Zone scoring, converting on 76% of their visits inside the 20-yard line. They also lead the conference in rushing with 220 yards per game.

Kelly says the reason for the uptick in numbers is the players being in sync with one another. “They are on the same page and that takes a while, no matter who it is.”

Quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson agrees. “These guys, Kyle (Philips), and Chase (Cota), and Jaylen (Erwin), they all have a feel for me and how I like to play, and I have a feel for them and their style of play. We’re jelling right now, and everything is clicking so far.”

Thompson-Robinson repeated his head coach’s frequent proclamation. It is about what you do during the week that leads to those same habits on Saturdays. “It’s more so about practice than it is on Saturday.” The sophomore quarterback is going though the week with a sizable brace on his left leg. He took a helmet to the knee on a scramble out of the pocket last Saturday in the win over Arizona State. Both he and his coach expect him to be well enough to be able to play Saturday at home against Colorado.

It's Execution Time For UCLA
UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson meets with the media after practice Wednesday. (Photo from Tony Siracusa).

There is also a theme that is becoming consistent on both sides of the ball; simplicity. Last week, linebacker Jason Harris told us some of the reasoning behind the success of a newly aggressive defense was that the coaching simplified the schemes; that sometimes they had been very complex.

Completely independent of that conversation, Thompson-Robinson says there is a newfound freedom on the offensive side of the ball. “He’s just made it really simple for us,” Thompson-Robinson said of Kelly. “It’s just go out there and play football and not make it too complicated and not think too much, and just go out there and play.”

That jelling between quarterback and receivers could be put on display this weekend. Colorado is 129th out of 130 teams in the country when it comes to passing defense. The Buffaloes are giving up 327 passing yards per game this season. They are 125th in the country in total defense, giving up 486 yards to opponents per game.

Thompson-Robinson is grateful for the recent additions of running backs Martell Irby and Kazmeir Allen to the production they are getting from Joshua Kelley. “Now you can have an offense where you have Kyle, Felt (Demetric Felton), and Kaz on the field too…a bunch of speed guys running. It definitely opens up our offense a little more and you guys will see that coming up this week and in the weeks to follow.”

The Bruins defense may have a tougher battle. Colorado comes in with one of the best receivers in all of college football in Laviska Shenault. The junior from Texas had nine catches for 172 yards and a touchdown against USC last week. He is averaging 15 yards a catch with a long of 71 yards this year.

Kelly says the major part of defending against a receiver like that is being cognizant of where is on the field at all times. It sounds easier than it is. “You’ll give Colorado credit in terms of what they do. They move him around. They’ll line him up at quarterback. I think first and foremost is just finding out where he is and whatever position they deploy him to, what do they like to do when he is at those positions. Now again, it goes back to we were just talking about execution. We can all identify where he is, but we still have to be able to execute our coverage against him.”

It's Execution Time For UCLA
UCLA head coach Chip Kelly previews the upcoming Colorado game with the media at practice Wednesday. (Photo from Tony Siracusa).

Colorado benefits from being a very experienced team. Quarterback Steven Montez is a fifth-year senior who has been starting since his sophomore year. He has more than 8,000 career passing yards and owns 26 school records for passing and total offense. Kelly said, “I have always been a big fan of Steven. He’s been a very, very productive quarterback in this league and one of the top quarterbacks in this league for a couple of years now. We have a ton of respect for him. I think he is a heck of a quarterback. It’s going to be one of the battles, is how do we defend him because I think he runs that offense so well.”

Kelly said the first time he saw Montez play was in 2016. It was his first start, as a redshirt freshman, in a game at Oregon. All Montez did that day was set a school record for being the first quarterback in school history to throw for 300 yards and rush for 100 in a game. Montez went into Autzen Stadium and threw for 333 yards and three touchdowns while running for 135 yards and another score.

While Kelly routinely touts his team’s youth, the Bruins are in week nine of the season and immediate maturation is essential. They have a chance to move to 4-2 in conference play and keep pace for a South Division title run. “The one thing in college football is that the teams that have the most experience are usually a little more successful,” Kelly said of Colorado. Time for his team to put some mileage on their years.