When Josh Rosen left early for the NFL, it was supposed to be Wilton Speight’s offense. But he got injured. Then Devon Modster. But he transferred. The last man standing was blue-chip freshman QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson. All of this happening in the first month of a season with a new head coach? Zero wins out of four is the result.
UCLA probably expected more this season. While the transition from Jim Mora was always going to be hard, this feels like a true year zero situation for Charles Edward Kelly’s return to the Pac-12. Chip has committed to the youth movement in Westwood and is giving freshmen time all over the offense. Predictably, it hasn’t been pretty.
As I’m sure many are aware, Chip Kelly was an offensive innovator at Oregon, where his ideas were fresh and different relative to the rest of college football. Now, his concepts are the norm and are seen in almost every offense around the country. He mixed elements of the option, zone read, RPO, hurry up/no huddle, and pistol formations—what you could simply call today’s “college football offense.” And that’s what we see out of UCLA this season. Well, they’re trying, at least.
UCLA mostly lines up in shotgun with freshman QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson and will often employ the pistol formation. At this point of the season, they are pretty darn close to an even 50/50 run/pass ratio. Despite this balance, they have not stood out in any area and can’t be said to have any true offensive strengths. Add this all up and you have an offense—in the modern era of college football—averaging a paltry 17 points per game.
There isn’t much good overall so let’s just get into it.
Through the Air
DTR was clearly recruited as Chip Kelly’s QB of the future but has struggled as a starter. He’s a true dual threat who is still evolving as a passer. He has the arm, but has problems getting past his first read and can make just plain bad throws and miss simple fundamentals. Just about every advanced passing statistic puts UCLA's air attack as one of the worst in the country. DTR has completed just over 50% of passes with 3 TDs and 2 INTs. He doesn’t get much help from the offensive line, who are giving up close to four sacks a game, better than only five teams in the country.
His key targets are TE Caleb Wilson and WR Theo Howard. Wilson exploded onto the scene last year, but with a new head coach, offense, and QB, he’s managed only 10 catches for 141 yards. He can make the tough catches over the middle; he just hasn’t gotten many chances. Theo Howard, on the other hand, seems to be the only veteran that Chip Kelly is trying to integrate into the offense. He’s averaging about 50 yards a game and is UCLA’s most complete player and best option to stretch a defense. However, third downs are a struggle, except third-and-short situations where they rank 47th in the country. Trying to make a ranking of 47th in the country sound good is about all you need to know.
After Wilson and Howard, it’s all freshmen. The 6-4 Chase Cota, slot Kyle Phillips, and ultra-athletic TE Michael Ezeike all will get opportunities. Ezeike looks like he could be one to keep an eye on and had a big-time TD in the Colorado game.
On the Ground
For all of UCLA’s struggles in the pass game, they aren’t much better when they keep the ball on the ground. Last year's starters Soso Jamabo and Bolu Olorunfunmi have taken a backseat to freshman Kazmeir Allen and junior Josh Kelley. Kelley has been the big surprise but has the qualities of many former Chip Kelly running backs—lightly recruited, slightly undersized, but fast and effective. The same can be said for Allen. He seems to have cemented himself as RB1 with 124 yards against Colorado. Allen on the other hand brings much-needed speed to the UCLA offense and has the highest per-carry average.
They aren’t very efficient but at times show some decent explosiveness, ranking 53rd in S&P+. They do get stuffed alot at the line of scrimmage but don’t have enough explosiveness to make up for it. Freshman Martell Irby is another young player Chip is trying to integrate. He is rising up the depth chart and has seen his snap counts increase each week.
This game feels tailor-made for Washington’s defense, though I suppose the UCLA offense right now will make any defense look good, and make the Huskies look as elite as it gets. UW’s lack of explosive edge pressure has made the defense double down on the idea of keeping QBs “in the cage” and not letting them escape the pocket, even if that means sacrificing a potential sack. Great defenses force you to do what they want, and for the Huskies that is forcing teams to throw into an elite secondary. When it comes to DTR, keeping him in the pocket is the best possible scenario for Washington. The Huskies shouldn’t have too much trouble stopping the run, and forcing DTR to stand in the pocket and pick apart Washington’s defense is the ideal outcome.
At their best, UCLA can display some explosiveness on the ground. But when your best is essentially average, where do the points come from against a defense like UW’s? Short of a UCLA miracle, the Husky secondary should have no issues shutting down the UCLA pass game. Washington plays weird in the Rose Bowl against UCLA, but I’m struggling with how UCLA will score any points.