The UCLA Bruins stink. They are 3-8, allow 443.3 total yards per game and have watched opponents reach 35 or more points in five of their 11 outings. In contrast, UCLA’s offense has failed to reach 20 points more than four times, averaging just 23 points per game. The San Francisco 49ers, back in 2016, are the only other Chip Kelly led team to average fewer points through a season.
And yet, I am still nervous.
Something about the mystic of Kelly and his offenses is terrifying, still commanding fear in the PAC-12. Last week, I wrote about head coach David Shaw killing the Cal rivalry, receiving some backlash from Stanford Cardinal fans still finding doubt in a victory over the Golden Bears. Of the two, very winnable games left for Stanford, this is the one that has me irrationally agitated.
Why is Kelly making me quake?
Through four meetings with the Cardinal during his Oregon Ducks tenure, Kelly’s teams posted 161 points (40.3 per game). While Kelly has been remembered for fast-paced, throw it around the yard, spread football, a staple has always been stout running back play. These games could be pegged as air versus land when Kelly and the Cardinal clash, but the reality is both sides were looking to win in the trenches to find success.
In 2009, 2010 and 2011, it was LaMichael James going for over 1,500 yards each year. In 2012, it was Kenjon Barner surpassing the 1,500 yard mark. Every season under Kelly, the Ducks topped 40 rushing attempts per game, making the ground game a crucial factor in the Oregon onslaught. Finding consistent running gave the Ducks balance, opening up plenty of deep shots because of how effective they ran the rock.
The aggressive ground attack took the fight right to the Cardinal and their strength when Stanford was at peak powers; now Kelly will do it again in a season that finds the front seven of the white and crimson lacking in defensive prowess.
For the first time since Paul Perkins in 2015, UCLA can run the ball (if you want to be sad, look at the Bruins rushing stats in 2016 and 2017, I needed a stiff drink after). Joshua Kelley has carried the ball 207 times for 1,188 yards (5.7 per carry), already collecting more rushing yards than the UCLA team in 2016. The offensive line and running game for the Bruins were torturous to watch and gave quarterback Josh Rosen precisely zero help for two years.
In one season under coach Kelly, the running game has already come back to life for the Bruins, giving them the first two-pronged attack they have had in since Josh Rosen’s first season.
Now, Kelly can throw a running back who has been building steam through 2018 at a defense that uncharacteristically allows an average of 147.4 rushing yards per outing. Kelly is still finding a quarterback, going from Dorian Thompson-Robinson to Wilton Speight as the season has progressed.
But with a strong running game, Kelly can try to mask the inefficiencies of his passing offense, and if Kelly has proven one thing through his collegiate tenure, it is that his scheme starts on the ground. It will give the Cardinal fits on game day and offer Kelly a way to victory over the Cardinal. Despite the early season struggles, this UCLA team has found some teeth to close out 2018.
Kelly has the most crucial part of his system locked and loaded, headed into week 13, which has me up at night, worried for a Stanford offense that needs a quick start in what will likely be a shootout.