UCLA’s Bowl Prep Is To Stand Pat

UCLA’s Bowl Prep
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Not much has come easy for UCLA during the Chip Kelly era. Even in their first winning season in Kelly’s four years, the bowl season is being turned on its side with the new Omicron variant of the Covid virus. UCLA’s bowl prep is to stand pat and do what they have been doing for the past two years. Kelly likes to call it protecting the eco system.

Covid Reappears in College Football

Wednesday, Texas A&M had to bow out of next week’s Gator Bowl. Even though it was nine days away, there was no chance they would have enough scholarship players completing the 10-day quarantine. The Miami Hurricanes have shut down their bowl prep. And in Westwood, both the UCLA men’s and women’s basketball teams suspended their season due to Covid outbreaks. Tuesday night, the university announced it was closing down the campus during Winter break. It is also going to remote classes for a minimum of a couple of weeks when the Winter quarter starts in January.

So is Kelly worried about the Bruins and potential exposure to the virus that would endanger their participation in Tuesday’s Holiday Bowl? “We have taken all of the precautions we took a year ago, you know when we were faced with this challenge,” Kelly said Wednesday. He added that there had been no discussion about going to San Diego earlier than Friday’s departure date, in order to get into a different protective bubble.

Been Here Before

Since the Covid altered-season of 2020, Kelly has reinforced a message to his players about what they do on their own time when they are not with the team. “They understand the ramifications if for some reason you did test positive, you are out for 10 days when we are inside of 10 days from the game. I think everybody’s got to be really heightened.” He said the staff has highlighted what has happened in recent days with the NHL, the NBA, and even other UCLA teams on campus when there is an exposure. Kelly said the medical staff is in charge of the protocols process. “My take is that we’ve always let the medical team make the decision in terms of where we are, and they’ve got a really good grasp of it.”

UCLA will be requiring booster shots for all students to return to campus for the Winter quarter. That will be relevant to football players who will not be leaving early for the draft or leaving via the transfer portal. Players who opt for the NFL rarely return to school in the Winter as they sign on with agents and training teams to get them ready for pro workouts.

Wednesday Is Monday

The practice location is not the only thing staying static. Kelly said the schedule stays the same for the workouts. Well, sort of. We won’t go through how Wednesday is Monday in Kelly’s world and Friday is Wednesday…or maybe Tuesday. We’re not sure we can keep up with it. The point is Kelly is treating this week of workouts like any other game week prep. “This is really a rinse and repeat from last week,” Kelly said. “Today is Monday in our world.” In other words, it was the first day of practice of the week. So, UCLA was doing on Wednesday what they would generally do on a Monday during the season. Friday’s practice will cover what they would generally do on a Wednesday. That means the Thursday walk-through will be Saturday, Christmas morning. Yeah, we also need a chart to follow along.

Another thing that is staying the same, for the most part, is the lineup. At least as best we can tell. Defensive lineman Otito Ogbonnia will not play. He has opted for the NFL draft and needs time to recover from some minor injuries.

We looked over the two-deep chart to see if there were any changes. Kelly told us we were wasting our time. “I have not looked at any two-deep,” Kelly said. “Maybe I think they just put names down because you’ve got to put names in. Two-deep, besides the quarterback, really doesn’t mean anything because really anybody in the two deep plays for us.”

Going Home

Sixth year linebacker Jordan Genmark Heath is going home for the post-season. He played his high school ball in San Diego. With the Bruins bowl opportunities at the end of the season boiling down to Las Vegas or San Diego, he said he was excited with the bowl decision. “I’m not that good at gambling so it is good for me that we go to San Diego,” he joked Thursday.

He said he has to had to engage in some negotiating with teammates to get their potentially unused tickets for all the family and friends he has in San Diego who want to come to the game. He expects 40 people from his inner circle to be in attendance.

Having significant post-season experience from his years at Notre Dame, he is also aware that most of the current roster has never been to a bowl game. “As far as being in this position, me, Ale [Aho], and some of the other guys that are a little older, we have been in situations like this and it is just another game for us,” he said. There is also the point of this being one of the most experienced teams in the country. “We have such a mature team. We’re all older and disciplined and know what’s at stake.”

Sink Or Swim

There is a little bit of fun built into bowl week. The team will be visiting Sea World. Quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson had talked about swimming with the dolphins. Genmark Heath says there will be such adventure for him in his hometown. “Animals like that, I would never go into their habitat. But if Dorian wants to do it, as you know, Dorian likes to do different things.”

As part of the game being in his adopted hometown, [he is originally from Stockholm, Sweden], he said in order to comply with Covid restrictions, he can’t really show the players around San Diego. “But we might have to go to my crib, and have mom cook some food up.”

A full preview of the bowl game will be part of Last Word’s daily bowl coverage. Holiday Bowl coverage will be coming on Sunday.