The Bruins are now 1-1 on the season after a blowout win over Cal at the Rose Bowl Sunday. But don’t think for a minute they are getting too far ahead of themselves. Head coach Chip Kelly continues to focus on the “hour by hour” philosophy he has enforced through the 2020 pandemic-tainted college football season as UCLA preps for Oregon.
“I am just concerned with our film session today,” Kelly said Monday as the Bruins prepare to play at Oregon Saturday. “I have no idea what the future holds.”
UCLA Preps For Oregon And The Unknown
This is a lot about lessons learned. UCLA was preparing to play Utah last Saturday. The game was always tenuous because while the Utes submitted a two-deep list, it wasn’t worth the paper it was printed on. It was the same line-up that never played the previous week against Arizona because of a COVID outbreak. An hour or two after Kelly was informed that Utah would not be making the trip to LA, he found out that Cal would be coming down instead to play on Sunday.
So now it is about preparing to play Oregon at a time yet to be announced. What cannot be prepared for so easily is that Oregon Governor Kate Brown instituted new statewide restrictions four days ago. The state, like much of the country, is in the midst of a new spike in cases. Brown signed orders over the weekend that close all venues that host indoor and outdoor events. All social gatherings are limited to six people. Months ago, Brown said she would not do anything that put Oregon or Oregon State at a competitive disadvantage in the Pac 12. Thus Division I athletic facilities were exempted from the order.
Control What You Can Control
Kelly is big on preaching controlling what he can control, and he is big on passing that down to his players. They cannot control the Oregon COVID restrictions, so they focus on getting ready for a football game that may or may not happen.
The 2020 Ducks have a more balanced attack than they had in past years. It had been relying on the vertical game and Justin Herbert’s arm, with running back C.J. Verdell as a compliment to the attack. Now it is symmetry between the running game and the passing game. They are averaging 269 yards passing and 269 yards rushing per game. Can’t ask for much better balance than that. It has gotten the Ducks to 2-0 on the truncated season, coming off a win over Washington State.
Defense To Be Tested
Sophomore Tyler Shough is the first-year starter at quarterback for the Ducks. He has five touchdowns and two interceptions in two games this season, while throwing for 539 yards. He is not being asked to carry the fortunes of the offense on his shoulders as was Herbert. Verdell is carrying more of a load. He is averaging six yards per carry for 223 yards so far this season. This comes after back-to-back thousand-yard seasons. If you extrapolate his current rushing performance over a 13-game season, he would have nearly 1,500 yards. “We are facing one of the top backs not only in the conference, but in the nation in Verdell,” Kelly said. “We expect to see a heavy dose of the running back.”
While it is a Mario Cristobal team, the offense is now under the tutelage of offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead, the former head coach at Mississippi State. “Joe does a really good job of the RPO (run-pass-option) game off of the run game, “ Kelly said. “They are going to make you defend the whole field. They are going to try to get players isolated. We have to do a really good job of tackling in space.”
Which UCLA defense shows up then is going to be a game time insight. The Bruins got hammered for more than 525 yards of total offense in the loss to Colorado two weeks ago. They held Cal to 176 yards of offense in the win Sunday.
The Bruins would do well to keep its own offense on the field longer. Quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson has two interceptions already, (one was a tipped pass), and a fumble. They have five total turnovers in just two games. They did discover a solid running game in the Cal game. There was little chance to run much in week one because they were behind by four touchdowns before even getting to the halftime locker room. It put more of the weight of the game on the shoulders of Thompson-Robinson’s throwing. That is just not the recipe for success this season. He has a 52% completion rate and tends to try wait too long to throw the ball away and abandon bad plays.
This game was never even supposed to be. Oregon was not on the original schedule for this season. When the Pac 12 went to a conference games only schedule in early August, Oregon was not on the list for UCLA. Then came the cancellation of the season. When they reversed course in October, Oregon was added as the crossover game for the Bruins. Kelly will never admit it, as it is about living in the micro for him and focusing on the process, but you have to wonder how UCLA got stuck with Oregon, a team favored to the win the conference. This one totally came out of the blue.
Futile To Look Into Future
Oregon may be a favorite to play for the conference title on December 19th. But that is a road way too far for Kelly to look down. He was asked, with all the cancellations in the conference because of COVID outbreaks, how is it possible to have a legitimate conference champion when there is not likely to be schedule balance. “I don’t know if anything in 2020 makes sense,”
Kelly responded to the reporter. “We’re grateful for every opportunity we have to play a football game. When our league tells us who we are playing, we’re going to play those guys. But you are never going to hear us complain about who we’re playing, complain about where we’re playing, or complain about what time we’re playing.” He said in the big picture, the schedule equity and how it impacts the championship is a non-starter. “When we really put this whole thing in perspective, there is so much going with the pandemic, that the fact that we’re really going to argue about how the scheduling part works, I think that is a little pretentious.”