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Opponent Q&A: Talking UCLA Bruins Football

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Our friends from Bruins Nation stop by to fill us in on year one of the Chip Kelly Era

NCAA Football: UCLA at Utah Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

Earlier this week we had the chance to talk to some members of the SBN community Bruins Nation regarding this week’s matchup with the Huskies.

Here’s what we learned in our Q&A:

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UWDP: QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson has played OK at times, but really seemed to struggle in the second half against Colorado. Is it time for a change? How has the UCLA pass protection held up?

Markybcool: Ok at times is a perfect way to describe his performance so far this year. He’s a freshman, and he has not had a lot of snaps as a QB, so he is definitely a work in progress. There are definitely some Bruins fans that seem to be putting way more blame on the shoulders than is deserved. If Chip Kelly felt that there was a current UCLA quarterback that had a better chance to lead the Bruins than DTR, well I guess that QB would be starting at this juncture in the year. So, no, based on where UCLA is, it is 100% not time for a change.

Joe Piechowski: Markybcool is Dorian Thompson-Robinson’s biggest cheerleader. I, however, disagree completely. I am not convinced that he is UCLA’s quarterback of the future. Here is a kid who did not play quarterback until his senior year at Bishop Gorman in Las Vegas. During his senior year, the Gaels frequently blew out their opponents, meaning that Thompson-Robinson was lifted in favor of the second string QB. So, his reps for his one year at quarterback were extremely limited.

As if that’s not enough, he chose to not enroll early. As a result, UCLA coaches only had a month to work with him before they trotted him out against Cincinnati when Wilton Speight was injured.

Make no mistake, I think he may be a heck of an athlete, but his days as UCLA’s starting quarterback should be numbered and probably are, especially if Jayden Daniels signs as part of the 2019 recruiting class.

orlandobruin: I am moderate on Thompson-Robinson. I can see both Marky’s and Joe’s side of the debate. We will see how it shakes out. Chip certainly seems to be putting all of his eggs in one basket.

AnteatersandBruins: It was unfortunate that we lost a potentially solid quarterback in this whole debate. Wilton Speight definitely isn’t the answer, and Devon Modster found the need to leave, so unless there is a more viable option hiding under a rock, we stick with him. I would hope that Chip Kelly is going with the best man for the job.

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UWDP: Theo Howard, Caleb Wilson and Chase Cota have been the top receivers for the Bruins so far. How is each used in the passing game? Who else is a threat at receiver?

Markybcool: Theo is a blazer that can make things happen in the open field, might get a jet sweep or two, and is our biggest offensive threat. Wilson is a chain mover, typical tight end that can use his big body to shield receivers to make catches. Chase Cota, has he caught a ball this year? Just kidding, overall, it has been hard to really see what kind of true receiver he is going to be due to his limited touches.

Joe Piechowski: All of the receivers have had limited touches and I’ll tell you why. It’s because Dorian Thompson-Robinson would have a hard time hitting the ocean with a beach ball from the Santa Monica Pier.

It’s really hard to say how any of these guys are used in the passing game at this point because the passing game has been so bad. Theo Howard has been the speedy deep threat, but he is seeing so few targets that he’s inspired the Twitter hashtag #FreeTheo. Caleb Wilson hasn’t seen enough targets either, but that’s likely due to the fact that teams are playing him differently this year. Another guy who has played well, albeit, with limited touches is Michael Ezeike who has caught a couple of touchdown passes. In fact, he only has two catches and both were touchdowns.

orlandobruin: As Joe stated so eloquently, it is difficult to gauge this crop of receivers because of Thompson-Robinson’s inaccuracy. I think Cota has shown some flashes. So have the others you speak of. But all of them have dropped balls and all of them have had poor balls thrown at them. The passing game, frankly, is not much of a threat right now and I expect the Dogs to stack the box and force Thompson-Robinson to try to beat them (a virtual impossibility).

AnteatersandBruins: Well, all of our receivers have the potential to be great. But you can’t win games with potential and we’re proving it. Our quarterback has no touch and at times looks more freshman than a lot of freshmen. Caleb Wilson is the most reliable out of the three, but Theo Howard has bailed us out at times where we thought all hope was lost (see our win vs. Texas A&M last year). Wilson is the guy you throw to when you’re facing a 3rd and 8--he’s the most solid and looks the most seasoned.

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UWDP: Kazmeir Allen (7.5) and Joshua Kelly (6.6) both have nice average per carry numbers. Describe their running styles. How has the offensive line performed in the running game?

Markybcool: Allen is a speedster, and each time he touches the ball the acceleration is immediate, and his quickness and speed jump off the screen. Kelly is a little more deliberate in his running style, but he is definitely able to get to the second level and had a nice game last weekend against Colorado. The offensive line is still a work in progress and is average at best. We have a converted DL that is now our center in Boss Tagaloa which has now allowed freshman Christaphany Murray to slide over to guard. Again, this unit as it currently stands is average and has a lot of room to grow.

Joe Piechowski: The offensive line has been a problem for years for the Bruins. Overall, they played better last season in Jedd Fisch’s offense and coached by Hank Fraley. After National Signing Day, Fraley departed for the NFL and he was replaced by Justin Frye, who came over from Boston College. Frye’s resume seems just like what the Bruins need.

Last week, the offensive line looked the best it has in years. UCLA ran for almost 100 yards in the first half. Things fell apart across the board offensively in the second half. So, it’s clearly still a work in progress.

orlandobruin: Allen is pure speed. A Blur in space. We are not getting him into space right now. Kelley is a bruiser. He gets the tough yards between the tackles. I agree with Joe that the offensive line was THE major improvement last week. They’ll need to be even better this week is the Bruins have a a prayer of beating the Huskies.

AnteatersandBruins: Allen is my favorite of the group. His speed is second to none, and if our offensive line keeps improving like it did last week, we’re going to see video game stats from him in the coming years. Josh Kelly is emerging as another solid option. He reminds me of Jonathan Franklin--he might not break the sound barrier, but he will crank out the yards and make you wish you assigned double coverage.

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UWDP: UCLA ranks in the bottom third nationally in all the major defensive categories. Have they looked as bad as the numbers indicate? Does new DC Jerry Azzinaro do much blitzing? Tell us about some of the top players on that side of the ball for the Bruins.

Markybcool: I thought that our defense would be slightly better this year, and maybe slightly is the opportune word. Our DL is young. Our linebackers have not been very good at all, and our DB play has also been below average. So, you add all of that up and you have a defense that ranks in the bottom third nationally. With that being said, our offensive ineptitude has impacted our defense.

Joe Piechowski: Believe it or not, the defense is much improved. To be sure, there are still weak spots, like inside linebacker where one of the projected starters was injured before the start of the season leaving a depth issue.

Azzinaro blitzed quite a bit against Cincinnati, but, after that game, the defense seemed to stop blitzing. It makes no sense.

orlandobruin: Unfortunately, the bottom third is an improvement for this team. Last year the Bruins were ranked #120 or lower in several major NCAA FBS defensive statistics.

In answer to your question, the unit IS better than its numbers. There are a few holes, and some tackling challenges, but the fact of the matter is that an improved (and IMO improving) defense has tired in the second half of the last two games because the offensive cannot stay of the field by making a single first down. Many of those negative UCLA defensive stats have been racked up in the second half against a a tired unit.

AnteatersandBruins: We’ve been so bad we actually look better than years past. I totally agree with orlandobruin--they look gassed in the second half and we win up giving up touchdowns because they don’t get much of a break when our offense takes the field and can’t convert on third down.

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UWDP: How is the fanbase feeling about Chip Kelly so far? It generally takes three years for a coach to turn things around, but fans never want to wait even close to that long.

Markybcool: If you listen to some in the fanbase, they have already turned. So the fanbase is definitely split, although slightly more on the side of giving Kelly the benefit of the doubt and time to build a program.

orlandobruin: There are two schools of thought and you’ve already heard both of them.

One: This is a “practice year.” The season is already over, so we might as well get this kid his reps (and actually not just Thompson-Robinson, but all the freshmen). We’ll be better for it in the future.

Two: Kelly says that he is trying to win every game. If this is the case, why did he not try Devon Modster when Thompson-Robinson struggled.early on. Now that a snubbed Modster has left the program, why not try Wilton Speight? If not, why did we ever even bring in the senior transfer from Michigan if he had no chance of playing. Receivers cannot develop if a QB cannot get them the ball. Thompson-Robinson could actually still redshirt under the new NCAA rules and we could develop the rest of the offense with experienced senior leadership. Why not at least try, Chip? Are you so hardheaded, Chip? Chip!

I’d say that’s a pretty good summary.

Joe Piechowski: Going 0-4 is a good way to make sure that the honeymoon is over. People are saying that we would have been better off keeping Jim Mora because he would have won a game or more already, but keeping Mora was not an option. It’s going to be a long three years.

AnteatersandBruins: There are people that want his head and there are those who are still remaining faithful and patient. You have to understand that the L.A. fan base can be extremely fickle, and this includes their feelings toward our rival Southern Cal. If you’re winning, you’re a king. But if you start losing, wait for the death threats. We don’t have people that can hold on like, say, Cubs fans (and God bless those people!).

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UWDP: What is your prediction for this game?

Markybcool: Do I have to give one? I predict that UCLA will show up at the Rose Bowl on Saturday, and they will play hard, but that will not be enough.

orlandobruin: Blowout city, baybee!!!! Of, sorry, wrong sport. You caught me looking a ahead to our next revenue sport. Is it basketball season yet? Well our hoops team has its own issues.

As for the game, I predict a score somewhere in the realm of 42-17.

Joe Piechowski: I think it depends on who is at quarterback for the Bruins. If it’s Speight, I think it’s a lot more competitive than if it’s Thompson-Robinson. If DTR is at quarterback, it will definitely be another blowout for the Bruins.

AnteatersandBruins: Great, now I have to think about it before it’s even game time. It will be ugly. At this point, I go to the Rose Bowl for the tailgating.

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Thanks guys. For more on UCLA, be sure to check out Bruins Nation.