Former UO coach Chip Kelly hopes to get back to winning ways in second season at UCLA
Chip Kelly made mincemeat out of the Pac-12 competition while at Oregon.
The Ducks won 91.7% of their conference games during Kelly’s four seasons as head coach.
Kelly’s run in Eugene included a 46-7 overall record, three Pac-12 championships, an appearance in the BCS national title game, two Rose Bowls and a Fiesta Bowl.
So UCLA’s 3-9 finish (3-6 Pac-12) during Kelly’s first season was hard for the Bruins to stomach.
“When you first hear about Chip Kelly coming when he got hired, that’s a big head coach for us,” linebacker Kris Barnes recalled of players’ initial excitement about Kelly’s return from the NFL to the Pac-12. “He’s done incredible things in collegiate football and he’s going to turn this thing around for us.”
UCLA is picked to finish third (tied with Arizona State) in the South Division in the Pac-12 preseason poll.
The Bruins, who return eight starters on offense and nine on defense, believe a better grasp on Kelly’s system will lead to a dramatic turnaround.
“It wasn’t (Kelly’s) schematics or his program that messed everything up, it was the way we executed things,” Barnes said. “We weren’t ready for the things that we were handed, we were very immature in some areas and we were young.
“Now being year two, we’ve brought a lot of maturity, knowledge on offense, defense and special teams. We’re ready to go.”
The Kelly era at UCLA sputtered to an 0-5 start before back-to-back wins over California and Arizona.
Two weeks after the 42-21 loss to Oregon in Kelly’s return to Autzen Stadium, the Bruins beat cross-city rival USC, 34-27.
Joshua Kelley rushed for 289 yards and two touchdowns on 40 carries during the breakthrough win at the Rose Bowl.
During last week’s Pac-12 media day in Los Angeles, the senior running back credited the offensive line for “moving people out” of his way.
The wide receivers, including talented senior Theo Howard, also made sacrifices during the second half of the season as UCLA racked up over 400 yards of total offense in six of its final eight games.
“None of the receivers came up to me after the game and said, ‘Well, you had 40 opportunities.’ They were like, ‘You ran hard.’ I appreciate that the most,” Kelley said. “Wide receivers want the ball. I don’t blame them. It just takes a lot of unselfishness for tight ends and receivers to go out there and block the way they did.”
Kelley finished with 1,297 yards (5.5 per carry) and 12 touchdowns. Backups Kazmeir Allen and Martell Irby also return.
Howard led team with 51 receptions for 677 yards four touchdowns, including a 33-yard score against USC.
The development of quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson, a part-time starter who appeared in 10 games, will be critical for the Bruins to elevate in the wide-open South Division.
Thompson-Robinson completed 57.7 percent of his passes for 1,311 yards with seven touchdowns and four interceptions as a freshman.
“The one thing about Dorian I’ve always loved is he’s got an unbelievable work ethic,” Kelly said. “He’s always thirsty for something else and wanting to get better, and he’s been doing it since we ended (spring practice) on April 20.”
UCLA ranked 11th in the Pac-12 in points allowed (34.1 per game) and yards allowed (444.9 per game).
Defensive coordinator Jerry Azzinaro, who followed Kelly from Oregon to the NFL and then UCLA, has 11 players returning with significant starting experience.
Longtime Oregon linebackers coach Don Pellum has some productive players to work with in Barnes (85 total tackles, 10.0 for loss) and Tyree Thompson (55 tackles, 6.0 for loss).
The secondary features safety Quinton Lake (67 tackles, two interceptions) and cornerback Darnay Holmes (48 tackles, three interceptions).
“The idea is that UCLA is soft, that UCLA isn’t a big competitor in the Pac-12,” Barnes said. “That’s something that we’ve kind of been dealing with. This year, I feel like it’s going to be a big change.”
The Bruins must navigate a challenging nonconference schedule that includes a road game at Cincinnati and home games against San Diego State and Oklahoma.
UCLA avoids North Division favorite Oregon and defending Pac-12 champion Washington this season in the conference’s unbalanced schedule.
“The group we have right now, I really like them,” Kelly said. “I like the way they work, I like their mindset, I like how they approach it on a daily basis.”
Coach: Chip Kelly, second year (3-9 at UCLA, 49-16 overall)
Key players: QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson, RB Joshua Kelly, WR Theo Howard, LB Krys Barnes, DB Darnay Holmes, PK JJ Molson
2018 record: 3-9 overall, 3-6 Pac-12
2019 projection: The Bruins are picked to finish third (tied with Arizona State) in the South Division in the Pac-12 preseason media poll
Nonconference opponents: Cincinnati, San Diego State, Oklahoma
Plays Oregon: No regular-season meeting
Full schedule: Aug. 29 at Cincinnati, Sept. 7 vs. San Diego State, Sept. 14 vs. Oklahoma, Sept. 21 at Washington State, Sept. 28 at Arizona, Oct. 5 vs. Oregon State, Oct. 17 at Stanford, Oct. 26 vs. Arizona State, Nov. 2 vs. Colorado, Nov. 16 at Utah, Nov. 23 at USC, Nov. 30 vs. California
Wednesday’s preview: Arizona State