UCLA Has More Questions As Season Ends

An uninspired UCLA season ended in appropriate fashion Saturday night the Rose Bowl, in that it ended. The Bruins lost to Cal 28-18 in front of a crowd of 38,102. It was the second lowest crowd of the season, topping the San Diego State game by 1,151. Clearly UCLA has more questions as the season ends.

UCLA came in with nothing more to play for than a shred of dignity. Cal was already bowl eligible. It was just a matter of which bowl. Since there were multiple colored blazers from bowl groups hanging out in the press box lounge, no one seemed too concerned about the final outcome. The Bruins finish the season at 4-8, one game “better” than 2018. Cal finishes the season at 7-5 and awaits their bowl bid.

UCLA Has More Questions As Season Ends

UCLA did what it does. It scored first and then squandered the lead and could not keep pace. Stop us if you heard that before.

With quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson giving up sack yards in retreat mode, the Bruins faced a third and 15 at the Cal 47-yard line and they ran a play up the middle for running back Joshua Kelley. He hurdled a Cal defender on the way to the 20-yard pickup.

Thompson-Robinson would find receiver Jaylen Erwin in the flat along the right sideline, and Erwin broke a hand tackle in route to a 19-yard touchdown to give UCLA a 7-0 lead.

The run gave Kelley 1,000+ yards for the season. It made him only the eighth Bruin in school history to do that in back-to-back seasons.

Cal didn’t make it past midfield until their third drive of the game, and in appropriate fashion, it was thanks to a UCLA defensive mistake. Cal had second and eight from their own 38, and Bruins defensive back Darnay Holmes was called for pass interference on an incompletion from Cal quarterback Chase Garbers. Two plays later, Garbers threw a bubble screen to Makai Polk who had nothing but a huge gap in front of him. He took it 44 yards for the Bears touchdown and the 7-7 tie.

Cal took the permanent lead on the next drive. They went 72 yards on 10 plays, highlighted by a Garbers to Marcel Dancy 28-yard completion. Garbers took in a quarterback sneak from one yard out for the touchdown and the 14-7 lead.

UCLA would settle for a J.J. Molson 31-yard field goal at the end of the half as their answer to close the gap to 14-10.

UCLA’s defense would cause more self-inflicted damage early in the second half. With Cal inside the UCLA red zone, Bruins defensive back Jay Shaw committed a holding penalty in the end zone and then Rayshad Williams was called for pass interference two plays later. Bears running back Christopher Brown would leap over the top from one yard out for the touchdown and 21-10 led.

The Bruins closed the gap before the third quarter ended. They went 80 yards in nine plays. Thompson-Robinson hit Chase Cota for five yards. It was initially ruled a touchdown, but the review showed his knee was down at the one-yard line. Cota also injured his ankle on the play. Kelley drove it in from the one yard line for the touchdown. The Bruins went for the two-point conversion. Thompson-Robinson ran a misdirection play and found Delon Hurt all alone in the end zone. It was Hurts’ first catch in his two years at UCLA. It was 21-18, and the game became more typical of the season.

The Bruins would tease their fans by keeping within range, but would be unable to close the deal. And they would lose more players along the way. Aside from Cota, they also lost center Boss Tagaloa during the game, (his final as a Bruin), and freshman guard Duke Clemens. They were already without linebacker Krys Barnes who would miss his last college game with an injury. His absence created the oddity of seeing Bo Calvert play. The sophomore had been suspended by the NCAA for eight games, but he was not officially cleared until this week. So he started, had four tackles, and can still file for a redshirt. It was one of those nights, much as it has been one of those seasons.

Cal would score a touchdown on its first play of the fourth quarter. Brown had a 10-yard touchdown run for the 28-18 lead. The two teams spent the rest of the quarter trading unremarkable drives.

The game ended in symbolic fashion for UCLA. On fourth and one from the Cal one-yard line in the closing moments, Demtirc Felton’s rushing attempt was blown up for a three-yard loss. Cal then ran out the clock on the Bruins’ season.

Neither team lit up the stat sheets. Garbers was 17 of 29 for 230 yards, a touchdown and an interception. That is far below the yardage that UCLA’s defense usually gives up to quarterbacks. The Bears managed 412 total yards of offense. That is a pretty pedestrian number considering the way the UCLA defense got lit up by USC and Utah the last two weeks.

UCLA Has More Questions As Season Ends
UCLA Bruins quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson (1) drops back into the pocket to throw the ball against the Cal Bears Saturday at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, CA.(Photo by Jordon Kelly/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Thompson-Robinson was 23 of 39 for 278 yards with a touchdown and interception. It was a fairly routine day for the Bruins quarterback. UCLA rushed for only 92 yards. It was an even worse net of 58 yards when you factor in Thompson-Robinson carrying -34 yards in sacks. He reverted to his retreating backwards in the face of a pass rush, turning small sacks into much bigger ones. Cal dropped him five times.

In typical fashion, the team now goes into post-season analysis and recruiting. But this is no typical time. Unsourced social media rumors this week have had head coach Chip Kelly leaving to go back to the NFL. They even had Kelly in meetings with the hierarchy of UCLA’s athletic department, even though athletic director Dan Guerrero and associate AD Josh Rebholz were actually in Hawai’i with the basketball team. Kelly addressed the rumors.

“I don’t know where they (the rumors) came from and I have not had any discussions with anybody.” Kelly, in reference to another question on the same topic, labeled his commitment to the school as 100%.

UCLA Has More Questions As Season Ends
UCLA head coach Chip Kelly addresses the media after the team’s loss to Cal Saturday. (Photo from Tony Siracusa).

As to his team’s performance and finishing only one game better than last year, Kelly was reminded of a quote of his from September. At the time, he said, “You are what your record says you are.” Kelly was asked what his team is at 4-8, and what he is with a two-year record of 7-17. He avoided the latter question and reverted back to talking about the team’s youth. “I think this team is growing. I’ve watched how these guys have responded to everything that they have faced during the season. We knew going in, the challenges that we had, we were a young team and guys were going to have to get experience on the run. I watched our guys individually grow as a group, and I think that is part of what this process is all about.”

The process has bugs in it. The record over two years is not good, regardless of whatever reasons someone wants to put forward. Clearly just hitting the recruiting trail Monday as Kelly said he and his assistants will be doing, and replacing the experience that is leaving with more youth is not enough. Unless more youth will be next year’s story line for the season.




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