Now that a week has passed to seemingly desensitize the sting from last Saturday’s 14-7 defeat at the hands of the two-time defending conference champion Utes, below should be Chip Kelly’s task list on where to harness his energy, and oftentimes more importantly, what to ignore entirely in preparation of the Bruins most difficult home game against the reigning PAC-2 conference champion Cougars.
The UCLA Bruins Wrapped Up Their Bye Week – This Was Their Focus
Focus – Maximum Protection Schemes
The Utah defeat revealed glaring deficiencies in the Bruins offensive line development. There are two options for Kelly at this stage: an organic or inorganic solution.
The organic solution relies on building each lineman’s technique through practice and film, calibrating their diets, and experimenting with their weight room regiments. Powerful, yet longer term than what the schedule of Washington State and Oregon State being up next, demands.
The inorganic option lies in aiding the offensive line with additional blockers from the tight end, fullback, and T-formation perspectives. How Kelly can utilize Hudson Habermehl, Carsen Ryan, Colson Yankoff, and Anthony Adkins as hybrid offensive weapons-come-stalwart blockers will go a long way in stabilizing the Bruins offensive equilibrium against elite-ranked competition.
Forget – Noise About Job Security
I’m already seeing the chatter on social media – the seemingly annual lazy arguments about Chip Kelly’s record compared to his peers in the post-Terry Donahue era. The straw man narrative being no UCLA coach has had more time and fewer wins than the father of modern college football offenses. Let’s put an end to this hubris once and for all – or at least until the next Bruin defeat.
Bob Toledo won 20 straight games with Donahue’s last recruiting class; the moment he exclusively relied on his own players, he finished 24-22 before being fired from a stagnant program. Karl Dorrell was four 4th quarter comebacks in 2005 away from being exactly .500 over five seasons with a program that lacked direction. Rick Neuheisel never got out of the starting gate, primarily for redshirting Brett Huntley, en route to going 21-29. While Jim Mora won 29 games in three years with Neuheisel’s quarterback and was the greatest beneficiary of Trojan sanctions. The moment USC’s scholarship reductions were lifted, Mora finished 17-19 with a bare cupboard of talent.
Nobody has figured out how to win in Westwood consistently since recruiting became national and while the team across town is at full capacity. Kelly’s innovative offensive mind and transfer portal creativity is the most sustainable strategy the Bruins have had in the last 30 years. The real ones know and the others should be ignored.
Focus – Being Built Ford Tough
According to Coach Wooden, success is “knowing you did your best to become the best you are capable of becoming.” By the Wizard of Westwood’s timeless words, this year’s offense isn’t a success. That’s primarily because, arguably the Bruins’ most unique offensive weapon, Kyle Ford, is being heavily underutilized. Ford, the USC transfer, has the size of a tight end, the physicality of a linebacker, and the athleticism of a wide receiver.
While J. Michael Sturdivant can blow the top off defenses, and Logan Loya can be highly productive with underneath crossing routes, Ford provides that essential intermediate passing game target. It has been the one gaping omission to the Bruins vertical attack in order to extend drives, control time of possession, and win the vital field position battle.
Furthermore, getting Ford more involved will loosen opposing teams’ defensive box as linebackers will have to focus on accounting for Ford in coverage, thereby enabling more creases in the running game for the often stifled Carson Steele and TJ Harden. Kelly opening up Ford can provide the Bruins a dynamic new offensive dimension, one that will bring more stress to opponent schemes.
Forget – Any Quarterback Controversy
I’ll keep this short – Dante Moore convincingly gives UCLA the best chance to win today and over the next three years. Collin Schlee had as many completions to NC Central as he did to the Bruins. Ethan Garbers had a three-year advantage inside the program and couldn’t muster one quality half as a starter versus Coastal Carolina. Both are wonderful players, but they’re not Dante Moore and they never will be. They don’t have his arm, they don’t have his mind, they don’t have his poise, and they don’t have his upside.
Focus – Setting Up Moore Success
Where Kelly should focus his time with quarterback coach Ryan Gunderson is ensuring Moore trusts his mechanics in the face of a relentless pass rush. Too often, he bailed on a follow-through to brace for contact, or threw at unnecessarily compromised arm angles, or abandoned his footwork due to stress. Emphasizing muscle memory and intuitive instincts of Moore’s mechanics, come rain, shine, blitz, or prevent, will be paramount to success.
Additionally, there could be an opportunity to bring Schlee into the game for specialized run packages in short-yardage and red-zone situations. The lack of a quarterback-keeper threat stalls Kelly’s zone stretch run scheme at times. Bringing in Schlee for 5-10 plays per game could be a refreshing change of pace. Imagine Schlee executing the third down quarterback option in the Utah red zone at the end of the third quarter, would that have ended in a backbreaking fumble?
The bright side is so much of the Bruins scheme is correctable while all of their season is salvageable. We’ll see on October 7th where Kelly’s focus has resided.