If you’re old enough to remember the drive to Vegas before everything along the 15 was built up, you might also remember the feeling of finally making it to Victorville. You weren’t all the way to Vegas, but at least you could get out, stretch your legs, and find something to eat. Well, the Spring Game is like Victorville...we haven’t quite gotten to the football season yet, but it’s a little something to hold you over. And, I think this year people are a little more in need of some sustenance.
UCLA finished the 2017 season with a 6-7 record, resulting in the firing of Head Coach Jim Mora and a pathetic showing at a lower-tier bowl game. In one of the boldest moves the UCLA Atheltic Department has made during Dan Guerrero’s reign as athletic director, UCLA hired Chip Kelly on November 25, 2017. Now, we get to see what Kelly can bring to Westwood.
We all know that the offense isn’t going to be anywhere near what we’ll see come September. Kelly is infamous for playing things close to the vest and he is yet to sit down one-on-one with a single member of a Los Angeles media outlet. But we know this—change has already taken place and, so far, it has all been for the better.
It’s easy to recall Kelly’s days at Oregon—the groundbreaking offenses that have been employed in some fashion all over NCAA football, and even in the NFL. He’s even still sporting the familiar visor, except now it’s Powderkeg Blue. His tight-lipped demeanor, lack of any social media connection (which is frankly, refreshing) and unwillingness to let anything slip is nothing new to the seasoned football fan.
Offensive schemes are already taking new shape—a triple option was introduced, along with new read option and outside zone plays. We know the offense has been broken down and now has to be rebuilt which will take some time. Players have talked repeatedly about the new, faster pace of practice, which is definitely reminiscent of Kelly’s days at Oregon. In addition to changes on the field, there is a new holistic approach to managing players, as they monitor what they eat, how much they sleep (via a heart monitor), and wear GPS tracking systems during practice to monitor energy output and required nutrition. All of this is designed to build a better athlete.
You’ll see personnel changes from last year, for sure. Boss Tagaloa has moved over to center from the defensive line, trading reps with Zach Sweeney. Keisean Lucier-South is moving to the outside from the interior line, and Andre James has played both right and left tackle.
Of course, we have Michigan quarterback Wilton Speight adding to the quarterback stable, just don’t expect to see him on Saturday. However, freshman receivers Kyle Phillips, who enrolled in time for winter quarter, and Chase Cota, who enrolled for spring quarter, should be participating. Junior college transfer Tyree Thompson, a three-star recruit out of high school, is working his way into the defense, coming to UCLA from LA Valley College. He redshirted his freshman year at Sac State, and played in nine games with 14 tackles as a redshirt freshman. Je’Vari Anderson is also a JUCO transfer, coming from Laney College in Oakland. He played in high school with UCLA defensive lineman Boss Tagaloa and tight end Devin Asiasi at De La Salle and actually played safety at Laney. He’ll be adding to the thin linebacking corps and will hopefully add depth to a position that needs it.
And, then, there are others that will be missing. It’s not unheard of to see players transfer in and out with a new head coach, largely due to the fact that the offensive schemes no longer fit the personnel in place. DeChaun Holiday, who had moved from corner to safety to linebacker, wasn’t able to find his place and transferred back in February. Jalen Starks has also chosen to transfer, and K.J. Carta-Samuels, who was reportedly transferring in from Washington, will no longer be coming to UCLA. Greg Rogers is the most recent transfer, even though he was originally reported to be out with an injury.
Kelly is a coach that is not going to shove a square peg into a round hole—he’ll work with who he has, but he also isn’t afraid to move people all over the field to find what works best. That’s why you won’t know who’s playing in each position until they take the field against Cincinnati on September 1.
This year’s Spring Game is Saturday at 11:00 AM PST at Drake Stadium, with gates opening at 10:00. Following the game, there will be a 30-minute autograph session on the field. If you’re staying in town for awhile, check out the women’s softball game at Easton Stadium at 1:00. Parking in the lots around Drake will be for a fee of $12. Additionally, the UCLA Athletics Hall of Fame will be open from 8:00 AM to 4:00 PM, with free admission.
According to Chip Kelly at yesterday’s practice, this year’s game format is still up in the air. So, we don’t know if we’re getting a full game or not. It’s all going to depend on depth and whether or not they have the personnel to fill two teams. Kelly is hopeful, but the final decision will not be made until after Thursday’s practice. He said they have “27 formats to choose from” and it all depends on the number of guys that can play. People can come back from injuries, others can be hurt, and who knows, worst case scenario we have an influenza outbreak and the game is cancelled (his words, not mine).
The full game will be televised live on Pac-12 Networks Los Angeles. Fans outside of Southern California can watch only the first hour live on Pac-12 Network National. As is usually the case, there will be numerous replays throughout the week. A live stream will be available on the Pac-12 Now app. AM 570 will broadcast a radio feed, which will also be available on the official site.