Bruins fall short in Year 2 of the Chip Kelly experiment

PASADENA, CA (News4usonline) – Year 2 of the Chip Kelly era at UCLA ended almost as identical as Year 1 for the Bruins: unimpressive and unstainable. The potential to be a great college football program is somewhat of a muted dilemma for the Bruins considering that the team has seen dozens of student-athletes beat it out of Westwood to make their way to greener pastures.

With that said, the great moments that the Bruins have had to enjoy have been few and far between. Beginning their 2019 college football campaign with a three-game losing streak and then wrapping up their up-and-down season the season the same way after dropping a 28-18 contest to Cal at the Rose Bowl Stadium, would not be something that the UCLA faithful would want to cherish in their memory bank.

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November 30, 2019 © Dennis J. Freeman/News4usonline – UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson (1) hands the ball off to running back Joshua Kelley (27) in the Bruins’ season finale against Cal. Cal defeated UCLA, 28-18, at the Rose Bowl Stadium in Pasadena, California.

Kelly and his Bruins went winless in their first three games of the season, dropping games to Cincinnati, San Diego State, and Oklahoma. It would have been a four-game skid had the Bruins not kick-start one of the greatest comebacks in college football history against Washington State in Week 4.

You’ll recall that was perhaps quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson’s greatest game as a Bruin. Thompson-Robinson passes for 507 yards and five touchdowns and added two more scores on the ground to lead to UCLA on a 50-point second half scoring binge to beat the Cougars, 67-63. The game also was Kelly’s finest moment as head coach for the Bruins.

UCLA was basically kicking rocks when Washington State rolled up a 32-point lead over the Bruins in the third quarter. Thompson-Robinson and the UCLA offense then reminded people of the days when Kelly’s high-octane Oregon team’s usd to do to people as the Bruins picked up their first win of the season.

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November 30, 2019 © Dennis J. Freeman/News4usonline – UCLA wide receiver Chase Cota (23) is hit from all sides by Cal defenders during the Bruins’ 28-18 defeat to the Bears at the Rose Bowl Stadium in Pasadena, California.

It’s too bad those highlight-reel moments against Washington State for Thompson-Robinson and the UCLA offense were not replicated consistently throughout the season. The high of that victory and of the following week when the Bruins knocked off Arizona, was cooled off when Oregon States handed UCLA a 48-31 thumping.

Kelly and Bruins shook off that defeat to win three straight games, taking down Stanford, Arizona State and Colorado. Reality for Kelly and Bruins then checked in with defeats to Utah, USC, and now Cal. It’s never a good look when you finish a season with a 4-8 record as the Bruins did. Last year, UCLA recorded only three victories in a 3-9 campaign.

So, now after going through massive student-athlete defections and registering successive sub-par seasons, where do the UCLA football program go from here? The correct answer would be up. A couple of the losses that UCLA picked up easily could have gone in their favor, which would negate the Bruins’ losing record.

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November 30, 2019 © Dennis J. Freeman/News4usonline – Cal running back DeShawn Collins (26) on the move against UCLA during the Bears’ 28-18 win over the Bruins at the Rose Bowl Stadium in Pasadena, California.

However, the problem is that Kelly is too big of a high-profile coach to ignore. His reputed success in pushing Oregon into national prominence and his NFL pedigree are the main reasons Kelly was brought on board to succeed Jim Mora. Basically, Kelly was hired to take the UCLA football program to the next level.

Thus far, the kind of football magic that Kelly injected into his Oregon teams has not happened for the Bruins. Far from it. Kelly’s four-season run at Oregon (2009-2012), which he guided the Ducks to two Rose Bowl Game appearances and a BCS Championship game against Cam Newton and Auburn, seems like a long time ago.

Against Cal, UCLA’s offensive stagnation showed up against the Bears. At times, as happened throughout the season, Thompson-Robinson and the Bruins can look unstoppable at times. Then a disconnect happens, and the fluidity of the Bruins’ offense becomes sketchy. The Bruins gained 401 yards in total offense and produced more first downs (24-22) than the Bears.

But the second and fourth quarters sum up UCLA’s season in a nutshell. The Bruins put up three points in the second period and were completely blanked in the fourth quarter by Cal’s defense. This is kind of how’s it’s been for the Bruins under Kelly: enticing but a lot of disappointment.

On the bright side, UCLA still has Thompson-Robinson under center for the next two years. Kelly’s savviness as a head coach may finally come through and pay dividends for the Bruins in Year 3 of the Great Experiment. However, that’s probably going to be determined with a wait-and-see approach.

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