UCLA lost its second-straight season-opener Thursday night and for the second-consecutive year the Bruins got pushed around by the Cincinnati Bearcats. With the defeat, UCLA fell to 3-10 under Chip Kelly and looked like a team that’s going to have some serious long-term problems.
The Bruins were missing running back Joshua Kelley, receiver Theo Howard and cornerback Darnay Holmes Thursday night, but it wouldn’t have mattered. There were just straight out-hustled, out-hearted and out-played by a mid-major college football program. They showed absolutely zero fight against a team they should have crushed, and it happened for the second year in a row.
UCLA’s offense looked hilariously inept Thursday night and only mustered 14 points in a 24-14 loss. Quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson completed just 8-of-26 passes for 156 yards, with two touchdowns and two interceptions. He also rushed 10 times for minus-20 yards and fumbled twice. Kelly has had a year to work with Thompson-Robinson and the kid looked completely lost.
Kelly was supposed to instantly modernize UCLA’s program and give a jolt to an offense that was largely dormant under previous coach Jim Mora. His system was supposed to be up-tempo, unrelenting and a whole lot of fun. Most of all, it was supposed to be innovative and outsmart opposing teams. On Thursday night, Kelly’s offense looked painfully bland and conventional, just like it did last season. That showed in the results as the Bruins gained just 218 total yards, which included 62 rushing yards on 36 carries — that’s a horrendous 1.7 yards per carry.
Kelly’s offense has some serious problems, especially up front. The offensive line got absolutely dominated by Cincinnati’s defense, allowing two sacks, six tackles for loss and seven quarterback hurries. The Bearcats also blew up countless running plays in the backfield.
Frankly, UCLA’s entire team looked terrible. A Bearcats offense that didn’t look anything above average rushed for 175 yards and threw for 242 more.
Meanwhile, Cincinnati held the ball for a whopping 38:17 minutes. Despite that, the Bearcats kept giving UCLA every opportunity to hang around. The Bruins just refused to take command of the game.
This all comes down to Kelly. At Oregon he inherited a loaded roster from Mike Bellotti and hit the ground running in 2009. He had two years as offensive coordinator, a previously-constructed roster and the pull Nike provided him in recruiting. He didn’t have anything like that when he arrived at UCLA.
There were concerns about how well he could build a roster at UCLA without built-in success and the help Phil Knight and Nike gave him at Oregon. He wasn’t going to have ridiculous facility upgrades every year, or a close relationship with the world’s premier apparel brand and its co-founder. So far, the recruiting trail has been a disaster for Kelly and the Bruins.
Despite the rich recruiting grounds Southern California provide, Kelly was only able to score the 20th-ranked class in 2017 according to 247’s rankings. The Bruins landed two five-stars, one of whom (Jaelan Phillips) has already transferred away. Other than that, they landed just one player ranked in the top 150 nationally.
During Kelly’s first full recruiting cycle in 2018 the Bruins ranked 19th, but only landed one player ranked in the top 150 nationally.
Things got much worse in 2019, as the Bruins’ class finished 40th nationally and featured just one player ranked in the top 400 nationally. That’s not a typo, they got one player in the top 400.
Let’s face it, Kelly isn’t the most personable guy in the world. He needs help recruiting and connecting with players. That either needs to come from a high-flying, up-tempo, fun offense or from having outstanding recruiters and coaches around him. Right now he has neither at UCLA. This was supposed to be the year he got the Bruins rolling, and they opened the season like a 1973 Chevy Vega with three flat tires.
Could Kelly and the Bruins turn this around? Of course. But weak recruiting years have left UCLA’s roster thin as far as playmakers go and Kelly’s offense looks far more like the mixed bag he deployed in the NFL, not the brilliant attack he used at Oregon.
UCLA paid for the Oregon version of Chip Kelly and it appears they’ve gotten the guy who was run out of Philadelphia and San Francisco.