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Sunday Morning Quarterback: Did Bad Play Calling Cost UCLA a Win Against Cincinnati?

The Bruin offense failed to execute against the Bearcats the entire second half, but did Chip Kelly make a bad decision on 4th and 1?

NCAA Football: Cincinnati at UCLA
Chip Kelly should have benched Dorian Thompson-Robinson after he fumbled into the end zone for a safety.
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Bruin fans, we have a problem. Actually, there are plenty of problems that are visible after yesterday’s game against Cincinnati.

But, if you’re expecting a call for Chip’s head after one game, I’m going to disappoint you immensely. That’s because contrary to what some fans out there may think, the sky is not falling.

Instead, let’s dive in and look at some of the problems that were evident yesterday.

Before I go there, let’s look at one quick question.

Are we better off now than we were one year ago?

In other words, what could have happened yesterday if Jim Mora were still coaching UCLA? Well, I’m feel pretty confident saying that yesterday’s result would have been a lot worse. Instead of losing by 9 points, it would have been a double-digit loss and maybe even more than 20 points because the defense would have allowed more rushing yards and definitely more big plays. Of course, that would have resulted in more points by the Bearcats.

So, while the end result was not a win, don’t think for a second that we are not better off now than we were a year ago.

So, what problems did UCLA encounter?


The single biggest problem was a lack of execution and/or inconsistent execution.

No position better exemplified that better than the play at quarterback. Believe it or not, Wilton Speight did not play badly before he was hurt in yesterday’s game. Sure, he wasn’t amazing, but he completed 8 of 12 pass attempts and one of the four he didn’t complete was intercepted by Cincinnati deep in UCLA territory and the Bearcats capitalized on that with a touchdown.

That’s what happens with turnovers. Turnovers lead to points. We saw that earlier in the first quarter when Rick Wade forced a fumble from Cincinnati quarterback Hayden Moore on the Bearcats’ 13-yard line which led to a one-yard TD plunge by Bolu Olorunfunmi.

So, in the turnover department, the teams were even.

But, if we’re discussing UCLA’s lack of execution, we really need to start with Dorian Thompson-Robinson.

Prior to the final drive, he was just 8 of 16 and, for the most part, his incompletions were not catchable balls that were dropped by the receivers. They were either passes that were thrown over a receiver’s head or they were underthrown and low.

On top of all that, he fumbled the ball back into the end which ended up as a safety because Caleb Wilson was able to fall on it to prevent Cincinnati from doing so for a touchdown.

He did not play well at all. If Chip Kelly is being honest when he says that playing time is earned, then, based on Thompson-Robinson’s performance yesterday, he played way more snaps than he deserved to play and his play yesterday should have unearned him playing time in both yesterday’s game as well as next week against Oklahoma.

On top of all that, Thompson-Robinson, a dual-threat quarterback, finished the game with minus-4 yards rushing on eight carries. So much for the dual-threat. Wilton Speight actually finished with 13 yards on only three carries.

This is what happens when you put in a true freshman who only played one year of quarterback in high school.

The fix for this is simple. If Speight is unable to start next week’s game against Oklahoma, Devon Modster has earned the right to start against the Sooners.

But, Thompson-Robinson wasn’t the only offensive player that executed poorly. The Bruin offensive line was also inconsistent.

The line flashed well on two plays. The first was on Bolu Olorunfunmi’s one-yard touchdown run. It was nice to see the offensive line literally move the pile into the end zone for the score.

The second time the offensive line looked good was on Kazmeir Allen’s 74-yard touchdown run.

But, then, the offensive line gave up five sacks on the day and, besides the Allen run, our rushing game was still anemic despite the fact that UCLA ran, or should I say tried running, the ball 31 times total.

In fact, the longest run besides Allen came on Wilton Speight’s 13-yard run. No other running back ran for more than 20 yards in the game. This remains a huge execution problem for the Bruins.

Overall, I thought the defense played better, even if they remained inconsistent. The defense held the Bearcats to minus-3 yards offense in the first 13 minutes of the game and, even after the last two minutes of the quarter, UCLA had only allowed 20 yards to the Bearcats.

In the second quarter, the defense gave up two touchdowns and a field goal. Looking at this, it wasn’t terrible. The worst was probably the first touchdown drive. It was a 75-yard drive that started in the final two minutes of the first quarter, but it was the only prolonged touchdown drive of the game for the Bearcats.

The second TD came after the Speight interception.

The field goal resulted from a long drive as well, but the Bruins forced a field goal instead of allowing another TD.

If there was a bright side to this game, it has to be the second half adjustments.

Yes! We had second half adjustments! At least defensively, we did.

As a result of those adjustments, the defense did not allow a drive of more than 36 yards in the entire second half. That’s right. Cincinnati’s longest drive of the second half was only 36 and that resulted in the Bearcats’ only touchdown of the second half.

So, the second half adjustments on defense generally worked. That’s very encouraging.


Now, I know a lot of you out there are under this misguided assumption that Chip Kelly never should have gone for it on 4th down and 1 with 5:46 to go and you might be right. Unfortunately, we will never know what could have happened had the Bruins punted the ball away.

But, here’s the deal.

UCLA was down by 2 due to DTR’s fumble into the end zone that resulted in the safety. There was 5:46 left on the clock. UCLA needed to try to score.

Had the Bruins punted, it’s possible the Bruin defense may have stopped the Bearcats or even turned the ball over, but it’s also very likely that the Bearcats would just eat up the entire clock driving the ball downfield slowly with their running game and settle for a two-point victory.

Guess what, Bruin fans!

In that scenario, UCLA still loses. Sure, the final score is a little different, but the result is still the same.

So, Coach Kelly made a gutsy call to go for it on fourth down and one with less than six minutes to go. That’s not where he made a mistake.

His mistake was leaving a true freshman in the game after he fumbled into the end zone to give Cincinnati the lead in the first place.

After all, Kelly says that playing time is earned. Well, on the basis of errant passes and that fumble, Dorian Thompson-Robinson had unearned playing time for the remainder of the game.

In fact, it was another errant pass from Thompson-Robinson that caused the Bruins to turn it over on fourth down.

So, it was the decision to leave Dorian Thompson-Robinson in the game late that was Coach Kelly’s biggest mistake of the game, not his call on fourth and one.

Go Bruins.