It’s been a trying year for the UCLA football team. A season that started off with high expectations and ambitions, largely due to the debut of head coach Chip Kelly, the Bruins got blindsided along the way to a reality that they are just Year 1 into the re-culturing of the football team.
With that said, the challenges have been many, starting with the quarterback position. Both Dorian Thompson-Robinson and Wilton Speight have had up and down moments, some spectacular, and at other times the two signal-callers have played sporadically.
UCLA has lost its last three games, including two straight defeats on the road against Oregon and Arizona State, as they head into their annual showdown with crosstown rival USC. The Bruins are tied for fifth in the Pac-12 Conference South Division with Colorado, and nowhere to go but up.
Despite their record, the Bruins have provided their fans with bright moments in a somewhat dreary season, none shining brighter than redshirt junior running back Joshua Kelley. With two games left in the season, the Inglewood-born Kelley is on track to rush for over 1,000 yards, a milestone that didn’t look so achievable at the start of the season.
Thus far, Kelley has rushed for 899 yards and eight touchdowns on 167 carries. A transfer from UC Davis, Kelley’s debut into his coach’s offensive scheme didn’t exactly light the world on fire with outputs of six yards on 20 carries against Cincinnati and only seven yards on five carries against Oklahoma.
But by UCLA’s third game of the season-a Pac-12 South divisional matchup against Colorado, Kelley seemed to have found his stride, rushing for 124 yards in the Bruins’ 38-16 defeat to the Buffaloes. Kelley’s production against Colorado was a prelude for things to come.
Kelley has rushed for 100 yards or more in five games this season, including galloping for a season-high 161 yards on 26 carries in UCLA’s 42-21 road loss to Oregon. In UCLA’s 31-24 defeat to Washington at the Rose Bowl, Kelley rushed the ball 20 times for 125 yards. The 5-foot-11, 204 pound Kelley, has shown this season that he is not just a speed guy, pounding Cal with 30 rushing attempts for 157 yards in the Bruins’ 37-7 win.
Kelley also busted up Arizona’s defense with a 31-carry, 136-yard performance in a 31-30 UCLA victory. The most dynamic part of Kelley’s effectiveness and impact on the field is looking at the breakdown of his success. Most of Kelley’s rushing total have come on first down. At this extent of the season, Kelley has rushed for 441 yards on first down. He has totaled another 382 yards on second down.
These are impressive statistics when you consider the first two downs of a possession are not generally considered as obvious passing downs. Averaging 5.4 yards per carry, Kelley has rushed for more yards when the Bruins travel (528 yards) than he has done at home (371 yards). He has been dominant against Pac-12 Conference teams, tallying up 872 yards on 156 carries.
So, despite their tough season, the Bruins still have something to smile about. They have Kelley’s broad shoulders to stand on for the next two games and next season.