UCLA is coming off a loss that looked eerily similar to many of its 17 losses over the last two seasons, and now enters a week of uncertainty. In UCLA’s week in limbo there is uncertainty as to the next opponent, and a huge amount of mistakes to fix at practice.
UCLA’s Week In Limbo
The Bruins were scheduled to play Utah Friday night at the Rose Bowl. That game got postponed to Saturday. The Utes had to cancel last weekend’s game against Arizona because of COVID-19 cases among players on Utah’s football team. The school announced two days prior to the game that they did not have the Pac 12 minimum number of healthy players to go through with the game. Moving the UCLA game to Saturday was intended to buy the Utes more to time to put together a healthy roster.
According to head coach Kyle Whittingham on Monday morning, the situation has not gotten much better. The Utes have gone two straight days with no new positive tests, according to Whittingham. But the severity of some of the existing cases means there will be no quick replenishment of healthy bodies. One un-named player who contracted it in August had since been hospitalized. He is now at home recovering.
The Numbers Are Not Good
The Pac 12 mandates that a team have 53 healthy players. That includes a minimum of one quarterback, four defensive linemen and seven offensive linemen. The Utah athletic department did not give specifics last week on which position groups were depleted, only that they could not comply with the minimums.
The Utes had no new positive tests Saturday or Sunday. But, and this is a big but, Governor Gary Herbert has issued a two-week long state of emergency throughout Utah. He has issued a new statewide mask mandate as there is a steep spike in COVID-19 cases in the state. The current positivity rate in Utah over the last week is 20%. One of every five tests for the virus, has a positive test result. The national positivity rate last week was 8.2 %, per the Centers for Disease Control.
Games not played in the Pac 12 are games missed. There are no bye weeks to make up postponed games. One option for UCLA would be to try to move the Arizona State game from the first weekend in December to this week. Of course, that also means ramping up travel logistics as it is slated to be an away game. Utah would miss this weekend, but it would save it for UCLA. If the schedule stands as is, there is a viable chance both teams lose the game, instead of one.
Uncertainty In Westwood
The uncertainty looks like this on the UCLA side of town. You are coming off a season-opening loss where you were down by as much as four touchdowns at one point. Now, in a shortened season, you are playing from behind an eight-ball the rest of the year. And you head into week two uncertain if you will play, or against whom.
UCLA has protected itself as best it can to this point, with regards to COVID, by having group meetings outside on the field at the Wasserman facility. There are no team meals. On the road, the team eats what UCLA head coach Chip Kelly called “grab-and-go” pre-prepared meals. The effort is to cut down the potential contact with the virus. It is what they have called protecting, “the eco-system,” all during camp and practice. As of Monday morning, Kelly was unaware of any official conversation regarding a contingency plan in case Utah cannot play. He said it is out of their control.
Chaos Off The Field, Bad Play On The Field
But then there are the other things they need to work on controlling, like committing four turnovers in one game and getting buried on the scoreboard early in the game. “When you lose the turnover battle, there is a high percentage you are going to lose the game,” Kelly said Monday. “When you lose the turnover battle the way we lost the turnover battle, minus 4, I think it is 96% of the time you are going to lose that game.”
While the offense had its large share of errors to correct, the defense gave up 525 yards. Colorado had quarterback Sam Noyer and running back Jarek Broussard making their starting debuts. Noyer is a converted safety. Yet they got 261 passing yards and 264 rushing yards against a UCLA defense that has been statistically ranked among the worst in the country the last two years.
Looking For The Light
Kelly still found a bright light in the effort of the team. Down 35-7 in the second quarter, the Bruins did climb back to within six points. “I liked our guys’ mindset, and I liked our team’s effort in terms of what we were doing.”
And despite the clear statistical downside on defense, Kelly said it was not all that unit’s fault. “As you look at it, the game plan for Colorado probably changed with the lead. And then us on offense protecting them from the short field. You know, all of a sudden we gave up two really short fields and put them (the UCLA defense), out there with not a lot of yardage to gain for them, (Colorado), to make it a 14-point game. Still he liked the fight in the team. “If we can continue to play with that kind of effort and refine our techniques and fundamentals, I think we will be ok.”
Delving Into The Unknown
It is a shortened season. They have lost a game already. They assume they have a game this week against Utah, but that could change on a moment’s notice. As Kelly likes to say, the season is hour by hour. He tries to remain positive. “It is not about the outcome, it is about the process,” Kelly said. “It is never more evident than it shortened season. I think our guys kind of exemplified that on Saturday. When they were down 35-14, they’re competing their tails off. They are not worried about that 35-14. We’re just saying, ‘Hey, let’s play the next down.’” In Kelly fashion, he said it is day to day and about having a good Monday.
Who knows what is lurking on Tuesday.