UCLA came away feeling pretty good after the season opening win against Hawai’i. It was the first out of conference win in the Chip Kelly era in Westwood. It was also the first time UCLA was 1-0. But now the season gets real for UCLA. No offense to the Rainbow Warriors, but the Bruins are about to go face-t0-face for the first time with the LSU Tigers.
Season Gets Real For UCLA
LSU has its hands full already. They packed up the equipment trucks, and the players got everything they needed, and they left everyone and everything behind to head to Houston ahead of Hurricane Ida. Representatives from the athletic department told us they might have had made the trip all the way to LA and stayed out here for the week, but they could not get a plane in time. So, they did what too many teams have had to do in the past. They got on buses and headed to Texas to shelter down for at least a few days. At the end of this article there will be information for direct donations to the Louisiana area if you are able to help.
Kelly is usually watching game tape or some other college football news in the morning before heading out to practice. He told us Monday, he had only been watching the news on the hurricane. “First off, our thoughts and prayers go out to the people of Louisiana. It’s a lot bigger than football with what they’re going through,” he said. “We hope everyone is safe down there. I feel for Coach O and the team. They moved, but they had to leave their families back there. That is a difficult position for anyone to be put in. Our thoughts and prayers are with everyone in Louisiana that is going through this now.”
Cleanup From Last Week
While he preps for Saturday night’s game at the Rose Bowl, there was obviously a lot of upside from the previous week. The running game was particularly productive and the offensive line dominant for much of the game. Still, Kelly said there is much to do. “When you watch the film as a coach and as a player, there’s a million things we need to clean up and fix,” he said. “For a start it was good. You really don’t know what you have. You have an idea in where you are. But you really don’t know until you play someone.”
And now the Bruins really play someone. Reading comments from the UCLA fan base, they are too easily persuaded by last year’s 5-5 LSU record. What they miss is that last year’s Tigers lost 17 starters from the previous year’s national championship team. Take that kind of talent away from any team and there is going to be a rebuilding year.
Facing The Best There Is
In terms of the 2021 version, Kelly says there is a lot of talent across the positions. The brightest of the talent to be found is cornerback Derek Stingley, Jr. He would have been a first round draft pick if he had been eligible for the NFL draft last year. Just now entering his junior year, he will be on the short list for many awards, including the Nagurski Award for the best defensive player in the country. In seven games last season he had 27 tackles even as teams threw away from him. In his freshman season in 2019, he had 38 tackles and six interceptions.
We asked Kelly is there was anything that could be done to neutralize a player like Stingley. “Not that’s legal,” Kelly joked. “People at the next level already talk about how good of a corner he is. He’s patient, sharp and has great technique. As a coach at times, when you see someone that talented, you actually kind of admire him.” Kelly said Stingley and his fellow cornerback Elias Ricks will be the best tandem at the position the Bruins will face all year.
Need More On Both Sides
It can be a daunting task for UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson. He had a very pedestrian game Saturday against Hawai’i, going 10-20 for 130 years and a touchdown. Kelly said after the game he was not worried about balance, saying you go with the hot hand. Saturday that was the running game. Still, against a good defense, UCLA is going to need to at least have something from both parts of the offense, or LSU’s very athletic defensive front will just key in on the running game. Thompson-Robinson said the LSU secondary is likely to be the best they will face all season. Of Stingley, he said, “He’s a very physical ballhawk. Has very good ball skills. Can cover real well. We’ve got our work cut out for us.”
The Bruins defense is going to be facing an LSU quarterback who was not the incumbent starter coming into the season. But if you know anything about LSU football from last season, you know Max Johnson was going to earn the job at some point either during camp or during the season. Myles Brennan was the starter last season, but Johnson filled out the season when Brennan got hurt. Brennan got hurt again early in Fall camp and is out for the year. But the reality is, Johnson is the better quarterback. He threw for 435 yards in a win against Ole Miss and he also led the Tigers in a win in The Swamp against The Florida Gators. His completion percentage is only 59% but he puts up the yards and has an 8:1 touchdown to interception ratio.
Some Of The Unknown
One of the challenges Kelly faces is that both sides of the LSU game have new coordinators. Jake Peetz is running the offense after several years in the NFL with the Raiders and the Panthers. He also spent a year under Nick Saban at Alabama, as so many coaches do.
Daronte Jones is the new defensive coordinator. The former Minnesota Vikings defensive backs coach was hired at the behest of outgoing coordinator Dave Aranda. The two worked together at Wisconsin.
Kelly said when you have two new coordinators, you study less on scheme, and more on talent on the field. “You look at LSU film to get an understanding of what the personnel is like,” Kelly said. “You have to make adjustments on the run.”
Kelly doesn’t like to talk about momentum. But these are the games that create it for a program. The Bruins have played other blue blood programs under Kelly, but UCLA was decidedly undermanned. This has already been declared as the UCLA team that can and must turn the tide. Saturday is the biggest game in Kelly’s tenure to date at UCLA.
If you are looking for a way to help Hurricane Ida victims, we have vetted the following two direct outreach organizations: The American Red Cross, and https://cajunrelief.org/.