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The “Eye Test”: Southern Cal Exposes the Flaws in Chip Kelly’s UCLA Program

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The Bruins had no answers for the Trojan offense.

NCAA Football: UCLA at Southern California Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

Honestly, I don’t have any grand thoughts to start with up here. Quite simply, the UCLA Bruins got their asses kicked by their crosstown rivals, and in a way that should hopefully open eyes about some of the major flaws present in Chip Kelly’s program.

Plus, I don’t want to ruin your Thanksgiving by focusing on this more than I have to.

Thus, this will be a shorter Eye Test, not going as in-depth as some of you may want in some spots, but in many cases it’s just because I don’t feel like repeating myself on some points anymore. I hope you’ll all forgive me for it.

Offense

Quarterback: B

Honestly, this game would have been a (bigger) blowout had Dorian Thompson-Robinson not balled out in the second half. By the end of the game, DTR had thrown for 367 yards and three touchdowns while averaging 8.3 yards per attempt, while also adding 64 yards and a touchdown on the ground. Those are great numbers, and would have been the story of this game had the UCLA defense decided to show up instead of allowing Kedon Slovis to set a Southern Cal single-game passing record. Yes he had a bad interception early, but considering how poor the play calling has been (more on this in a bit), I really can’t hurt his grade too much.

Running Backs: B-

Credit to Southern Cal - they’ve at least learned from the past, and were determined to make sure Joshua Kelley wouldn’t repeat his performance from last year. The Trojans keyed in on Kelley whenever he was on the field, limiting the senior to only 45 yards on 15 carries, to go with only one catch out of the backfield for nine yards. Demetric Felton was again a non-factor in the run game, only carrying the ball twice for three yards, but he did have six catches for 50 yards and an impressive opening touchdown. Kazmeir Allen actually got some play and looked impressive on the few runs he was allowed to have, using his four carries to pick up 39 yards. In general, however, the Trojans focused on not getting run off the field by the running backs again, and for the most part succeeded.

Receivers: B-

Generally fine? This one again followed a trend that has grown as the season progresses, in that the vast majority of the production of this group comes from Kyle Philips and Devin Asiasi, while the other receivers put together some middling performances. That was very much the case in this game, as Philips caught a team-high 12 passes for 123 yards, while Asiasi only had five catches but made them count, going for 141 yards and a touchdown. Beyond that, it was really a whole lot of nothing, with Chase Cota at least contributing a touchdown.

At this point, we shouldn’t be surprised by the continued non-performance of Jaylen Erwin and Jordan Wilson. If anything, their continued issues should help prevent UCLA-centric outlets from breathlessly reporting every positive the UCLA coaching staff leaks out from practices, because they’ve generally been non-factors as the season has progressed.

Offensive Line: C+

This was definitely a better performance than we saw against Utah, but the Bruins still struggled at points in keeping the Trojans out of the backfield. The offensive line allowed three sacks and eight tackles for loss, not to mention one official QB hurry on top of all the broken play runs by DTR because of pressure. I don’t really blame them completely for all of the issues in the run game because, again, Southern Cal was very much loading up in an attempt to stop the run, and the coaches did the line no favors with some of its obvious play calling (again, we’ll get to that). But again, a better effort, and you can see this unit has an opportunity to improve next year if given the opportunity.

Overall: B

Honestly, the offensive players were not the problem in this game. Thompson-Robinson balled out, and the players generally did as well as you could expect. 35 points, 540 total yards, and winning time of possession should be enough to win most games, and while the offensive play calling did them no favors, the offense was really let down by a miserable defensive performance.

Defense

Run Defense: D+

Not really the big problem here, but the fact remains that the Trojans, an Air Raid team that normally struggles to run the ball, was able to put up 128 rushing yards and average 4.0 YPC. That’s not great, and the only reason they are getting off the hook is because...

Pass Defense: F

The pass defense was a nightmare. UCLA was able to do some things early, creating some token pressure, but as soon as Southern Cal adjusted, this game was over. As stated, Kedon Slovis threw for a Trojan single-game record of 515 yards, and it is honestly something of a wonder he did not throw for more, as he constantly had receivers wide open in the middle of the field. Four Trojan receivers had over 100 yards receiving, which is as good an indication as any of UCLA’s entire secondary just not having a good day. Darnay Holmes struggled when matched up against Michael Pittman, and I’d still say he had the best day of UCLA’s secondary, which should tell you all you need to know about the general performances of Elijah Gates, Stephan Blaylock, and Elisha Guidry. The linebackers did not fair any better when they were in coverage, with Lokeni Toailoa in particular getting picked on by the Trojan aerial attack.

Now, quick caveat that the pass defense suffered from the Southern Cal personnel being really good, and playing in a scheme that is really bad, but the players themselves did not cover themselves in glory.

Overall: F

The Bruins gave up 52 points, 643 total yards, and 34 first downs. Oh, and it was a rivalry game.

That’s all I really need to say here. Let’s move on.

Special Teams

Overall: B-

Generally fine? J.J. Molson missed a 54 yarder, but really I can’t blame him too much for that, because that is a long field goal from no-man’s land. The Bruins did a good job in coverage, including recovering a muffed punt that directly led to UCLA’s first touchdown. I was honestly surprised UCLA did not try to test the Trojans on kickoffs more often, considering Southern Cal has one of the worst coverage units in the country.

Coaching

Offensive Gameplan: C-

Hey look, another game where the UCLA offense looked hopelessly lost as soon as it appeared they had run out of scripted plays.

As I’ve stated, this game was lost thanks to the defense’s performance, but if you want to point to a specific moment that UCLA lost this game, it would be in the second quarter, when UCLA scored to go up 14-10. Southern Cal would score a touchdown on the following drive, and UCLA would do the following:

  • Missed FG
  • Punt
  • Punt
  • Punt

When UCLA next scored, they then had 21 points. The problem was, in that time frame, the Trojans had scored multiple touchdowns to put them at 38 points.

I don’t think it is a coincidence that UCLA’s best stretch of offense came when they were down 3+ scores. It forced Chip Kelly to move away from the concept that were not working, such as the inside zone read out of the pistol that UCLA always runs and never passes out of making it extremely easy to defend, and shift towards letting DTR make plays with his arms and legs. It should have become painfully obvious early that UCLA was going to need to win a shootout in this game, and that the Bruins could not afford to have empty possessions, yet as soon as the script ran out Kelly opted to return to his old standbys that have not proven to be effective against teams with a good gameplan. Between those lulls and UCLA’s seeming inability to self-scout their own tendencies, Chip Kelly has a lot of issues to fix on this side of the ball going into next year.

Defensive Gameplan: F

There’s a play that is going to live in infamy from this game for UCLA fans.

On Southern Cal’s second drive of the 3rd quarter, they had a 3rd and 2 from the UCLA 44. A stop would, at the very least, force the Trojans into a decision to go for it or punt, and could at the very least stem the bleeding as the score was 31-14 at the time. So of course the UCLA defenders lined up 10 yards from the line of scrimmage, and Slovis was able to hit Drake London for an easy 18 yard gain and a first down. The Trojans would score a touchdown three plays later to go up 38-14.

The current UCLA scheme is broken beyond repair. The coaching staff was able to confuse some bad offensive coaching staffs by switching up the personnel to bring in more athleticism, but two smart offensive staffs in a row have laid bare all the problems this group has. There is a distinct lack of fundamentals in the secondary, a distinct lack of talent at multiple positions, and a clear lack of development. Even if you take Chip Kelly’s “youth” comments at face value, you should be able to reasonably expect improvements by the end of year two. At the end of 2018, UCLA ranked 102nd in the nation in allowing 445.6 yards per game. This year, that ranking has dropped to 117th with 460.3 YPG. And while UCLA’s defensive advanced stats ranking has risen from 97th in 2018 to 86th this year, that’s nowhere near the rise that can justify keeping this staff in its current form. Throw in recruiting, and this isn’t even a debate: changes have to be made to the defensive staff going forward if Chip Kelly wants any chance to succeed at UCLA.

Overall: D-

I really wanted to give this section an F, and only did not because there were moments where the offense actually looked good, but considering what was the end result of the game was, it’s hard to feel good about that fact.

This is where I project a bit onto this grade and point out that, at this point, it’s hard to see this season as anything less than a failure. 6-6 was a realistic goal for this team, and UCLA is going to miss out on that goal thanks to poor week-to-week coaching that refused to develop successful concepts that could be utilized on a weekly basis, instead repeatedly going back to failed ideas in a vain attempt to prove that they could work. It does not help to compare this staff to the coaching staff across the field in this game. With his back against the wall, Clay Helton went out and got a great offensive coordinator, benefited from good recruiting, and may have somehow saved his job for another year. Can any UCLA fan honestly say with a straight face that Chip Kelly and his staff did a better job of preparing their team for this game than a lame duck staff led by Helton? The fact that so many UCLA fans would say “no” should be damning.

Discipline/Execution

Overall: D

Did you know UCLA had more penalties and penalty yardage than the Trojans? It’s not often in recent history that that has been the case, and the Bruins really could not afford to be the less-disciplined team in this game. Throw in the missed tackles and bad reads by the defense, and this was just a bad performance in this category.

Final Composite

Offense grade: B (3.0)

Defensive grade: F (0.0)

Special Teams grade: B- (2.7)

Coaching grade: D- (0.7)

Discipline grade: D (1.0)

Final grade for Southern Cal Trojans: D+ (1.48)

For reference, here are the grades UCLA has received this year:

Cincinnati Bearcats: C- (1.78)

San Diego State Aztecs: D+ (1.42)

Oklahoma Sooners: D (1.16)

Washington State Cougars: B-/C+ (2.48)

Arizona Wildcats: C-/D+ (1.54)

Oregon State Beavers: D+ (1.34)

Stanford Cardinal: B (3.06)

Arizona State Sun Devils: B+ (3.34)

Colorado Buffaloes: B (2.88)

Utah Utes: D (0.94)

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Well, one more game left this season. Let’s see if this team can manage to go into the offseason with some level of positive momentum.

Go Bruins.