Chip Kelly’s 5 Worst UCLA Losses

What are the lowest of the lows of UCLA's Chip Kelly era?

Earlier this offseason, I wrote about the Top 5 UCLA Wins Of The Chip Kelly Era. But with the good, must come the bad. It’s time to look back at some of the less fun moments from Kelly’s time in Westwood.

I’ll admit, this was a pretty hard piece to write, much more so than expected. That’s because, unfortunately, there have been a lot of bad losses during Chip’s Bruin tenure. Since Chip Kelly’s arrival in 2018, UCLA has lost 29 games total. 17 of those losses came during Kelly’s first two seasons. UCLA was one of the worst teams in the country those two years. There was a lot of bad and not a lot of good. And it’s not like the Pac-12 was particularly strong or the losses were close. UCLA was just straight-up bad.

The bottom line is, it’s tough to pick the five worst losses, as you could make an argument for plenty of losses belonging on the list. You could also argue that pretty much every UCLA, Oregon, and Utah loss belongs on this list. So just for the sake of brevity, I decided to only include one of each. You can think of this list as more of a “five notable losses” than the definite worst. There’s just been too much lousy football for that, and the answers would vary too much depending on the criteria.

Chip Kelly’s Top 5 Losses

NCAA Football: Sun Bowl-Pittsburgh at UCLA
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5) December 30, 2022: Sun Bowl- 35-37 vs Pitt

After this loss, my LAFB Network colleague over at Bruin Bible, Will Decker, declared this the worst loss of Kelly’s UCLA tenure. It had all the hallmarks of a classic Chip Kelly collapse: turnovers, self-inflicted mistakes, giving up a big lead, and an inability to finish. Not to mention, UCLA was playing with most of their starters against a Pitt team full of backups. This was definitely a winnable game for them.

I don’t view it quite as harshly as Will. It was only a two-point loss, it was a bit fluky with a questionable call late in the game, and had UCLA won, they would have tied a program all-time record with 10 wins. That’s a tough benchmark to reach. And while it is embarrassing to lose to backups, Pat Narduzzi-led teams are always physical and always ready to play. I was in no way expecting this to be a cakewalk.

So why does it make the list? It’s more about the magnitude of the game. Bowl games matter more for middling programs, and the way they lost it was particularly devastating. It was also Dorian Thompson-Robinson‘s last game as a Bruin along with a few other notable seniors. It’s certainly not how you would have liked to see him cap off his five-year tenure in Westwood.

This loss may also get magnified in the rearview mirror depending on what happens next with UCLA. What if Kelly cannot improve the Bruins further, and 2022 ends up being his peak? If that’s the case, we’ll certainly be looking back at this game as the time UCLA had an opportunity to get over the hump and was unable to do so. I’m not saying I believe that will happen, but it’s a possibility, especially with era-defining players DTR, Zach Charbonnet, and Stephan Blaylock all graduating.

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4) October 23, 2021: 31-34 vs Oregon

Again, the loss itself wasn’t nearly as bad as some other Chip losses. This was just a three-point loss against a pretty good team, and that was with DTR injured and unable to finish the game. With this one, it’s more about how this was a chance for UCLA and Chip Kelly to prove that they could get over the hump, and they failed to do so.

Coming into this game, UCLA had 2 losses on the year: an out-of-conference loss against Fresno, and a 23-42 loss to Arizona State. This was Kelly’s first good year, and UCLA had a chance to be special. But they also didn’t have a ton of margin for error with those two losses.

This was a significant matchup in the Pac-12. College Gameday had come to Westwood for the first time since 1998. With UCLA’s offense looking dominant and a significant early season upset against LSU, there was a lot of talk about what this UCLA team was capable of.

As has come to be the case in the Kelly era, it was close but no cigar. Oregon looked like they had the game in their pocket for much of the day. UCLA rallied back hard to make it a one-score game, but things ended with an Ethan Garbers interception late. It was a game that played with your emotions a lot. After seeing that rally to make the game winnable again, the interception to end it was painful.

After this loss, UCLA got blown out by Utah, and there went their Pac-12 chances. Yes, they curb-stomped USC, but this game could have been a turning point for this Bruins team. It was, but not in the direction we wanted.

Chip Kelly has yet to beat Oregon as a Bruins coach. He’s lost games 21-42, 31-48, 35-38, 31-34, and 30-45.

3) November 16, 2019: 3-49 vs Utah

UCLA did finally beat Utah last season, but it’d been rough before then. 10-41, 24-44, and of course, the worst here: 3-49. This game came in 2019, arguably Chip Kelly’s worst season as a Bruin coach. Pretty much any loss from that season could go on this list, but this one was especially bad.

Three points are the worst scoring output for Kelly’s career at UCLA, as is the 45-point scoring differential. DTR lost two fumbles and UCLA was held under 100 yards rushing. Meanwhile, Tyler Huntley was 14/18 for 335 yards, 2 touchdowns, and no picks. That’s a whopping 18.6 yards per attempt. Zack Moss had 17 carries for 127 yards (7.5 avg) and 2 touchdowns, and Utah had over 200 yards rushing total. This was just a beatdown against a severely outmatched team.

2) November 19, 2022: 45-48 vs USC

Like Oregon and Utah, all the USC losses have been bad. Maybe it’s recency bias, but I’ll put this on the list because of the legitimacy it gave USC. You could argue that for much of the season, UCLA had been better than USC and that USC was overrated. The Trojans barely squeezed by against Oregon State and Washington State. They only won by one score against Arizona and Cal. The only ranked opponent they had played all season was Utah, and they lost that game. They would also go on to lose the rematch against Utah and lose their bowl game against Tulane. Not to mention the unearned cockiness

Coming into the game, both teams were ranked. It was the best victory bell matchup we’d seen in years. Both teams were having their best season in years. UCLA had a chance to shut down the hype, put USC in its place, and establish itself as the team to beat in SoCal.

Instead, UCLA fell behind in the second half (per usual) and was unable to catch up. The game was not as close as the final score indicated. As is customary with Chip Kelly, the Bruins defense could not get a stop when they needed to. They just let Caleb Williams, who threw for nearly 500 yards on the day, continue to score. Jordan Addison had almost 200 yards receiving on the day. And DTR threw a pick to end the game.

UCLA’s task coming into this game wasn’t complicated. They needed to stop Williams and Addison. Not only did they not stop them, they didn’t even come close. And that’s how, despite UCLA’s best season yet under Kelly, USC retained bragging rights and legitimacy, and UCLA was left embarrassed.

1) September 7, 2019: 14-23 vs San Diego State

This year was awful. The Bruins were awful. And this game was awful. UCLA scored just 14 points in each game during their 0-3 start. UCLA couldn’t do anything in this game. They couldn’t throw it, run it, or play defense. And they were playing San Diego State at the Rose Bowl. This game more than anything was a low point and an indication that it was going to be a rough year ahead. San Diego State only scored 23 points, but even that was out of reach for these Bruins. Ryan Agnew threw for 9.4 yards per attempt on the day. His average for the year was 6.6.

How do you know you’re a truly bad team? When you play a team you’re supposed to beat, and you make them look good in the process. Let’s all be glad that this era of UCLA football is behind us (knock on wood).