WESTWOOD (News4usonline) – The obvious question surrounding the UCLA football program following another season of going negative in the win and loss columns under head coach Chip Kelly is what’s next? Actually, there may be quite a few questions to ponder. The first one is will new UCLA athletics director Martin Jarmond stand by Kelly’s side and allow the offensive guru to lead the Bruins for a couple more seasons?
Kelly and the Bruins played seven games in a shortened Pac-12 Conference season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But when Kelly and his Bruins held camp for their spring football practices, a breath of fresh air comes with the cleansing of last season’s record. It’s the new attitude philosophy. And what’s new for Kelly and for the Bruins is that they can start off fresh as they prepare for a new season.
The spring football practices, and later summer training camp, insert that things are getting back to normal. It also may be a sign that the Bruins will finally hit the overdrive button under Kelly for the 2021 college football season. The first four games of the season will say a lot in determining what kind of team Kelly has with LSU coming to town on Sept. 4, and Stanford awaiting their matchup with the Bruins on Sept. 25.
“I thought both sides had great energy, great attitude for the 15th training session, and we’ve really had it for all 15 throughout. Our big deal is the consistency part,” Kelly said after the Bruins had concluded their spring football camp. “Like, Let’s not just go crazy on the 15th day, but we weren’t doing anything on the 13th, 14th. They’ve been really consistent and we’re pleased with that.”
In 2020, for the third straight season under Kelly, the Bruins ended their season below .500, going 3-4. After signing a massive five-year contract to coach the Bruins, Kelly and UCLA laid an egg in their first season together, marching to a 3-9 record drumbeat. In 2019, Kelly and the Bruins did one better, jumping up to a record of 4-8.
All total, Kelly has lead UCLA to 10 wins in three seasons. During that time, the Bruins have lost 21 football games. Kelly didn’t lose 10 games during his four-year run as head coach of the Oregon Ducks football program. In those four years, Kelly built a 46-7 record. But that seems like that was ions ago. This is the here and this is now.
Statistically, Kelly has not gotten it done for the UCLA football program. But when you consider all the moving parts that go along with the art of trying to build a culture of a winning program, Kelly and his staff have steadily made improvements in the right direction. Instead of getting blown out, the Bruins are in every game and competing at a high level.
But will that be enough to satisfy alumni and school officials? Kelly has already turned the page on the 2020 season. Backup quarterback Chase Griffin thinks the football program is on the uptick.
“I think the trajectory of the program is to be a winning program – that’s our mindset every day,” said Griffin. “That’s how we fight. Days like this hurt. Days like last week hurt, but it’s supposed to hurt. We’re not playing to lose, we’re playing to win. Every day, we’re going to be focused on winning this offseason.”
Kelly and the Bruins had an opportunity to finish the 2020 season with a better won-loss record if they had managed to get by Stanford with a win. That didn’t happen. Stanford’s 48-47 win against Kelly and UCLA, put the Bruins once again in the deficit end with their fourth loss of the season.
Kelly said after the game that his definition of success for the team is not solely based on statistical numbers.
“I think you look at how hard our players played,” Kelly said. “We lost a game by one, we lost a game by three, we lost a game by five, and we lost a game by six. There’s great effort, great attitude. [Fans] can be proud of these young men, I think. They gave everything. You’re down 20-3 at halftime and they rallied. Getting Davis Mills to turn the ball over, which he hadn’t done at all. They did a great job of really rectifying what was not a really pretty first half. They came back and rallied in the second half. [Fans] can be proud of these young men and this program.”
The UCLA-Stanford Pac-12 finale at the Rose Bowl Stadium was a perfect example of why you play until the last tick has parked itself at the zero mark. It is a lesson learned the hard way for the Bruins and their faithful fan base. After being down 20-3 halftime and looking every bit like a team disinterested in being on the football field, the Bruins played opposite of their lethargic first half.
“This group of guys, we always fight until the end, so we just don’t give up, UCLA linebacker Mo Osling III said. “These guys fight hard throughout the week, so when game time comes it’s much easier to not look at the score and go out and compete.”
As a result of UCLA’s resiliency, Kelly’s team reeled off 31 straight and unanswered points to take a commanding 34-20 lead late in the fourth quarter. And that is when the bubble burst for the Bruins. With time running out on them, Stanford rallied for 14 points late in the game to force an overtime draw. UCLA lost that battle.
In a sure turn of events, UCLA flipped a win into a 48-47 double-overtime defeat, a painful reminder that it ain’t over until it’s over.
“One thing about this program — we don’t make excuses, we let others make excuses for us,” Kelly said after the game in a postgame press conference. “There’s two halves to football. They rallied. We had to come together as a group because we lost some guys. When you lose Sam [Marrazzo], you lose Dorian [Thompson-Robinson], and [Qwuantrezz Knight], and then not having Bo [Calvert] available to start the game. But, again, everybody else deals with injuries in this league and no one feels sorry for you, so we’re not feeling sorry for ourselves. I thought we moved the ball well in the first half, but we had a couple of key penalties that just put us way behind the sticks.”
One of the things that will help Kelly and his quest to turn things around in Westwood is the fact he has Griffin, who threw for four touchdown passes against Stanford in a relief role of starter Dorian Thompson-Robinson, in his back pocket. A redshirt freshman, Griffin showed throughout the season that he is more than ready for the spotlight of primetime football.
To add to the competition, four-star recruit Parker McQuarrie is waiting in the wings. However, Thompson-Robinson is still the guy for the Bruins. Thompson-Robinson talked about making strides this spring on the mental aspect of playing quarterback.
“I think just really getting into the film room, just being up there with Coach Gundy [Ryan Gunderson] as well as also encouraging the younger guys, the other quarterbacks to get up there, too,” Thompson-Robinson said. “So, we’ve had a bunch of guys going up there, and just working with Parker [McQuarrie], and some of the younger guys have really elevated my game. When you teach somebody, it helps you understand it a lot more.”