After a disastrous run, things are looking up for UCLA football. The Bruins are back in the Rose Bowl for the first time in five years, and the team might be the best in the country. It’s hard to ignore the new-look offense that has evolved under new coordinator Noel Mazzone, who’s helped the offense average 51 points per game.
When Mack Brown stepped down after 16 years as Texas’s head football coach, he was replaced by… Chip Kelly. It seemed like a strange choice at the time, since Kelly, a New Jersey native, had never coached in the college game before. But recent results have proven that he is the right coach for the job.
The Bruins went through a tumultuous offseason, and one of the biggest questions surrounding the program is whether the Kelly era is finally ready to take off.
PASADENA, Calif. (KGO/KGO/KGO/KGO/KGO/ During UCLA’s 38-27 victory against LSU on Saturday, athletic director Martin Jarmond stood in his suite and took in the ambiance as he gazed out over the nearly-full Rose Bowl.
He beams with satisfaction as he says, “This looks excellent.”
UCLA took the lead for the first time in the game when running back Zach Charbonnet ripped past the LSU defense on a 12-yard touchdown run. Jarmond raised his arms straight over his head instinctively. The celebration wasn’t only about gaining a second-quarter lead, but he was careful not to make too much of it since there was still a lot of game to be played. It was just a fleeting glimpse of a dream becoming a reality.
After the victory, quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson remarked, “I’m so thrilled for this community, for this squad.” “I realize the Bruin fans had to wait a bit longer, but we’ve finally got things moving in the right way.”
Chip Kelly was generally regarded as the finest coach on the market when former UCLA AD Dan Guerrero hired him in 2017. Kelly’s 46-7 record as the head coach at Oregon in four years spoke for itself, despite his unsuccessful NFL career. His arrival in Westwood was greeted with high hopes that UCLA would finally realize its long-unrealized potential and contend for conference championships on a regular basis. It also gave UCLA the chance to become significant on a national level.
That didn’t happen in Kelly’s first three years. That’s not even close.
Chip Kelly’s first two seasons at UCLA resulted in a combined 7-17 record. Ashley Landis/AP Photo
The first two seasons were abysmal in terms of win-loss records (a combined 7-17), and season-ticket sales in 2019 were at their lowest level since the Bruins relocated to the Rose Bowl in 1981. There was improvement (3-4) last year without supporters in the pandemic-shortened season, but it showed how low the bar had been set.
Kelly, on the other hand, became convinced that as the team’s depth improved, so will its on-field fortunes. The Bruins had 115 players participate in spring ball, which is more than the normal amount of 70, and they were fortunate to have many experienced players in important positions.
“We had 57 scholarship guys in our first season when we defeated USC,” Kelly told ESPN in July. “Everyone else has a score of 85. Then we added another 25 for a total of 72. Then there was last year, when we were still under the age of 80. This will be the first year that we have more than 80 scholarship recipients. So simply having that competitive depth [matters], because your depth will be put to the test in this league. I believe we’ve always had some excellent frontline players, but when one of them fell down, the rest of the team suffered.”
Making any strong judgments about a college football team in the first month of the season is foolish, as history has shown. It’s unclear how a win against LSU, who finished 5-5 last season, will be remembered at the conclusion of the season, but it’s clear that it was the program’s most important victory since Kelly came.
The Rose Bowl was filled with over 70,000 spectators for UCLA’s victory against LSU. Icon Sportswire/John Cordes photo
For an increasingly indifferent audience, it was critical to create early-season momentum. The festive mood, which drew almost 70,000 spectators, was a striking contrast to the Bruins’ victory over Hawaii the week before in front of a mostly-empty stadium.
“I believe it was the most crowded Rose Bowl I’ve seen since I’ve been here,” said linebacker Bo Calvert. “And I really enjoyed it. It was high-octane from the start. The defense was on point, and they took advantage of the home fans. There were also a number of LSU supporters in the crowd. And I think having a squad that goes as far as they did was a lot of joy to be a part of.”
The victory also offered a feeling of vindication for Thompson-Robinson, who was dedicated to the program before Kelly was appointed.
“I believe everyone in the locker room went into this game with a lot of confidence,” he added. “The game was anticipated to be won by everyone. That has just confirmed our predictions, and there is yet more to come.”
Thompson-Robinson has completed 19 of 36 passes for 390 yards, four touchdowns, and an interception in two games. While his statistics aren’t very spectacular, he has shown an aptitude to locate playmakers at crucial times. He found tight end Greg Dulcich for a 75-yard touchdown in the second quarter against LSU, then subsequently connected with Kyle Philips for a 45-yard score late in the fourth quarter to put UCLA up 38-20.
UCLA defeats No. 16 LSU because to Kyle Philips’ impressive footwork.
The two running backs, Charbonnet and Brittain Brown, are what propel the offense forward. The duo rushed for 213 yards on 28 runs against LSU, a week after combining for 186 yards on 19 carries against Hawaii. The squad wearing the “sissy blue” jerseys, as LSU coach Ed Orgeron called to UCLA’s blue, was the more physical team on both sides of the ball.
UCLA gave up just 49 yards on 25 carries, while LSU quarterback Max Johnson passed for 330 yards but never looked comfortable.
“You saw us change groupings out there — it was like watching a hockey game with shifting lines,” Kelly said. “I believe it’s because our defensive staff did a fantastic job of keeping everyone fresh.” “Every man was so focused on the game plan that there was no drop-off as you moved from one group to the next. For a long time, I’ve been impressed by them.”
The key lesson from UCLA at this point is that the season’s muted external expectations are likely to increase, thanks to offensive balance, a strong defense, and, ultimately, depth.
The Bruins will have a week off before returning to the Rose Bowl on Sept. 18 to face a Fresno State team that gave Oregon all it could handle before losing in Eugene on Saturday.
After that, UCLA’s schedule looks fairly good until Pac-12 play begins on Sept. 25 against Stanford. Only ASU, out of the first four teams on the schedule (Stanford, Arizona State, Arizona, and Washington), won their first game. If the Bruins survive that stretch, it will add to the excitement when Kelly’s old club, Oregon, visits the Rose Bowl on Oct. 23.
“They realize that if you accept the process, it will hug you back,” Kelly said. “I believe that these people are receiving precisely what they put into it.” And the great thing is that they’re really putting more effort into it. They expect more from it.
“You can’t fake football, therefore it’s the best game ever created.”
The nation will soon find out whether UCLA is for genuine.
Chip Kelly took a lot of heat from fans and media for a variety of reasons this season, but the most prominent of which is his team’s performance on the football field. After a tremendous start to the season with wins over two ranked teams, the Bruins went on to lose their remaining 4 games of the season, including a humiliating home loss to Texas A&M, and a road loss to Stanford.. Read more about ucla football recruiting 2021 and let us know what you think.
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