Here we are — heading into the regular-season finale against USC — a game above .500 for the first time in the Chip Kelly era. Did you see this coming?
I only ask, because I didn’t.
UCLA knocked off Arizona State, 25-18, to get to 3-2 on the year while the Sun Devils fell to 0-2. In a back-and-forth game, UCLA showed resolve on defense, seeing three fumbles in the game, recovering one and making another interception. In total, they held Arizona State to just 165 yards on the ground and 277 yards through the air despite being on the field for 71 snaps as a unit.
It wasn’t pretty on offense, save for a few drives, and it surely wasn’t all too exciting, save for the game-winner at the end. UCLA Bruins QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson struggled to move the ball effectively downfield with his arm and was highly dependent on his receivers to do a ton of the work after the catch in the process. He may have finished 18-for-25 with 192 yards and a touchdown but his play is hardly what defeated the Arizona State Sun Devils.
The offense, however, put the defense in incredibly difficult positions at times, especially in the second half. Their second-half drives went as follows:
+26 yards, punt, 1:56 time of possession
-2 yards, punt, 2:13 TOP
-3 yards, safety, 1:06 TOP
+26 yards, punt 6:11 TOP
You’re not going to win many games without a strong defense if that’s what your offense is giving you.
Despite that, UCLA allowed just two touchdowns on those possessions, but did give up the lead.
In total, Caleb Johnson led all tacklers with 10 total tackles including two sacks and 2.5 tackles for loss. He also recovered what could be seen as a game-clinching fumble recovery in the third quarter after ASU fumbled a 2nd & Goal snap.
The ball is out and @UCLAFootball has it!— FOX College Football (@CFBONFOX) December 6, 2020
On 2nd & goal the snap is fumbled and the Bruins are there to grab it pic.twitter.com/XWG45kkI8h
Osa Odighizuwa and Mo Osling also recorded sacks while Jay Shaw continued his terrific season with an interception of Jayden Daniels late in the third quarter.
.@YoursTrulyyy24— UCLA Football (@UCLAFootball) December 6, 2020
: @FS1#GoBruins pic.twitter.com/8Kvpzy93It
This defense continues to impress and it’s not just one specific unit or one specific play type that they’ve impressive on.
In total, UCLA has allowed just above 60% of the passes to be completed on them and have made nearly 20 plays on the ball compared to just five passing touchdowns. They’ve recorded nearly 20 sacks as a team and have as many QB hits as they do sacks as well. They’re routinely making plays in the backfield to force mistakes and continually pushing the offensive line in the backfield.
If there is one cause for concern defensively, it’s likely their inability to wrap up in certain situations, but that is something that could at least for a little bit be tied to being on the field for far longer than their offense has been.
So I did some math. Everyone knows leaving your defense on the field for too long only means bad things, so I looked at the total snap counts to see if this success is something sustainable with DTR at the helm.
Save for the Cal game in which the Bears just basically didn’t show up offensively, the UCLA offense has been on the field far fewer than the defense with Thompson-Robinson at the helm:
Colorado: 96 snaps compared to UCLA’s 72
Arizona State: 81 compared to UCLA’s 65
177 total defensive snaps compared to 137 offensive snaps in those two DTR games.
Compared to Chase Griffin-led games:
Oregon: 66 snaps compared to UCLA’s 84
Arizona: 78 snaps was equal to UCLA’s 78
144 total defensive snaps compared to 162 offensive snaps in those two Griffin games.
(Even if you counted DTR vs Cal’s 66 snaps compared to UCLA’s 81, it’s still a far greater gap than when Chase Griffin led the team at QB — 243 on D to 211 on O).
Yes, DTR brings to the table a significant impact with his legs and with his speed on the ground, but questions certainly remain about his arm as a college passer three years into his career.
Those aforementioned snap counts may seem like small numbers to be considering it much of a difference but against a USC team next week that runs somewhere between 80-90 plays on average on offense, that’d be a long time to keep their offense quiet. DTR will have to be able to pick up first downs with his arm and his legs against the Trojans.
Still, the Bruins are 3-2 and above .500 for the first time in Chip Kelly’s time in Westwood. How they got there is now a thing of the past and we can nitpick any which way we want to going forward. It may not be sustainable but at least we can look to the bright side and say this year, with everything considered, has been largely a success for the Bruins on the gridiron.
I’m here for it, and you better be too.