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Opponent Q&A: Talking UCLA Bruins Football

Carlos from the No Truck Stops Podcast tells us how he really feels about the Bruin defense and Chip Kelly.

UCLA v Stanford Photo by David Madison/Getty Images

Earlier this week we had the chance to talk to Carlos from the No Truck Stops Podcast regarding this week’s matchup with the Huskies.

Here’s what we learned in our Q&A:


UWDP: Quarterback Dorian Thompson Robinson has impressive numbers including a 168 QB Rating and 8/1 touchdown to interception ratio. Has he looked good overall this season? Where does he still need to improve? How has his pass protection been early on?

Carlos: My one hope from Pac-12 fans is that they stop living in 2019 or even 2020 when it comes to making judgments about Dorian Thompson-Robinson. DTR had a pretty stellar season last year, and he looks better this year. He’s even more decisive than he was in 2021, he looks more athletic, and he’s improved his accuracy as a thrower (albeit only marginally so far). DTR is one of the three best quarterbacks in the Pac-12 and he should stay there for most of the season.

South Alabama v UCLA
DTR is completing almost 75% of his passes, up from 62% career.

The issue is that UCLA’s offensive line is not good and potentially very bad. What DTR has done despite the shaky pass protection has been somewhat impressive, but consider the competition: Bowling Green (127th in the country in defensive SP+), Alabama State (a middling FCS SWAC team), South Alabama (actually fine at 40th in defensive SP+), and Colorado (114th in defensive SP+). Those teams exposed some real problems with UCLA’s pass protection but did not have the talent or the coaching necessary to exploit it. A team with a halfway decent pass rush might have a field day and might make DTR look worse than what he is. Unfortunately for UCLA, Washington’s pass rush is at least competent and, at best, a top-3 pass rush in the Pac-12.


UWDP: WRs Jake Bobo and Kazmeir Allen have been DTR’s primary targets. Explain how they are utilized, and tell us about some other playmakers in the passing game.

Carlos: Neither are downfield threats the way any of Washington’s receivers are. Jake Bobo is a massive, 6-foot-5, sure-handed possession receiver who gets utilized over the middle and frequently is asked to run routes that you might see a tight end run. In many ways, Jake Bobo is the player who’s taken over much of Greg Dulcich’s production and role in Chip Kelly’s offense. Coming into the season, Bobo was considered WR1 for UCLA and that’s proven to be the case.

Kazmeir Allen is an enigma. Or, rather, his role in UCLA’s offense is an enigma. While it looks like he’s DTR’s top target based on receptions, he frequently disappears for long stretches of the season, though he’s getting more consistent run this year than he has in the past. He’s one of UCLA’s fastest players—if not the fastest—and because of that, most of his role is as a catch-and-run receiver rather than a downfield threat (though he’s certainly had plays run for him to try to beat corners with his speed).

Consider, too, that UCLA’s competition has made it such that lots of different guys get targeted and the receiver rotation looks rather big since the Bruins are putting in second- and third-stringers by the midway point of third quarters. I’m certain that rotation is going to get tighter, so we’ll see who emerges as the real WR2 behind Jake Bobo.

Overall, the passing game has never really been Chip Kelly’s rock and foundation, and that’s been true at UCLA and has continued to be true in 2022, despite the considerable uptick in how much UCLA has run pass plays this year (48 percent, up from 41 percent in 2021).


UWDP: Zach Charbonnet is averaging almost seven yards-per-carry this season. Tell us about a UCLA running attack that averaged 215 yards per game in 2021. Are things looking just as good this year?

Carlos: Zach Charbonnet somehow looks better this year, but I also think his production might be worse given that UCLA’s offensive line isn’t giving him anywhere near as much space or as many lanes as they did in 2021. I don’t have the advanced stats on this, but it feels like the vast majority of his yards come after contact. He’s a big, bruising running back and does well with contact but that doesn’t mean it’s sustainable to have him create yards the way he does sometimes behind the line.

Zach Charbonnet ran for 131 yards against the Huskies last season in Seattle.

UCLA’s run-blocking is better than its pass protection but it’s still regressed since 2021. Of course, observers of the Bruins have had to grade the line on a curve and extract insight from some very meaningless games against very bad competition. At this point, all we have to go off of to assess UCLA’s run-blocking is how well they look against horrific teams in 2.5 quarters of play per game, and based on that alone, I suspect UCLA’s run game will look worse by the end of the year than it did by the end of last season.

That’s not to say there aren’t some promising playmakers and dangerous guys at running back. Behind Charbonnet, Keegan Jones has played adequately. But T.J. Harden is quickly emerging as a fun, physical running back in the run that he’s gotten. Again, we’ve got to see how this looks against real competition and not Colorado (the worst Pac-12 team in Pac-12 history).


UWDP: UCLA finished dead last in the Pac-12 in passing defense last season. Has that improved this year? How has the defense performed as a whole?

Carlos: No. Bad. Not worth it.

In all seriousness, UCLA is going to look at least as bad defensively this year as they did last year. Pac-12 fans might sort through stats and conclude that UCLA’s defense is Good And Fine And Competent, finding that UCLA is top-50 nationally in pass yards allowed and 11th in rushing yards allowed. The determined ones might even discover that UCLA is top-40 in defensive SP+ so far this season!

To these claims I say, please watch teams outside your own. No one who’s suffering through these UCLA games is walking away with the conclusion that this Bruin defense is going to be good when it comes time to play real teams with a pulse. Anyone willing to interrogate their own conception that UCLA’s defense is improved would look at the advanced box score for the UCLA-South Alabama game. In that game, South Alabama gained 71 percent of its available yards, while averaging nearly nine plays per drive and nearly 54 yards per drive. That’s very bad! For comparison’s sake, South Alabama gained just 56 percent of its available yards, while averaging just under six plays per drive and over 39 yards per drive against Louisiana Tech, a team it beat 39-14.

UCLA v Colorado
The Bruin defense faces it’s first real test Friday night against UW.

Also, Colorado looked like it was playing an actual game of football on offense against UCLA last week. Do you know how bad your defense has to be to let 2022 Colorado look like this? I cannot stress enough to you that every single first down Colorado gets against your defense should move your team’s defensive coordinator 10 steps towards the hot seat! If your team gives up more than, like, 5 first downs in a half against the Buffaloes and you aren’t concerned, please look inward! Reflect! Consider all the mistakes that led you to this moment where you’ve cut yourself off from reality!

UCLA’s secondary looks just as bad as it did in 2021, and that’s bad news because their Pac-12 schedule now includes what looks like two of the best receiving corps in the country (Washington, USC) and two extremely formidable receiving corps on some flawed teams (Arizona, Stanford). Schematically and possibly even in terms of talent, UCLA’s secondary got worked by South Alabama. That’s a horrifying sign if you’re a UCLA fan, and a tantalizing one if you’re a Washington fan.

A discourse that emerged from the offseason, though, was that UCLA’s pass rush was going to be very good. This has mostly proven to be false. There are times when it looks fine (even against bad competition), but mostly it’s average and in spots, it looks terrible. Gabriel and Grayson Murphy were UCLA’s most intriguing performers in the offseason, and they’ve largely been a good pair of edge-rushers, but they haven’t performed anywhere near the extent to which they were hyped up. As usual, I chalk this all up to poor scheming from first-year defensive coordinator Bill McGovern and lackluster roster construction and talent development from Chip Kelly and previous defensive coordinator, Jerry Azzinaro.

The question is not, “Is UCLA’s defense going to be bad?” Rather, we’re all wondering just how bad this UCLA defense is going to be. To be even-handed here, I will say that UCLA’s looked much better defensively in the second halves of games. Are these the products of honest-to-god defensive adjustments or just UCLA’s severe talent advantage over bad teams finally winning out over the course of four quarters? My hunch is it’s the latter but I’m willing to entertain the idea that perhaps McGovern might be making some tweaks at halftimes of games.


UWDP: After a rough first couple seasons, Chip Kelly has the Bruins on an upward trajectory, with the program trending in the right direction the past two years. We’ll assume UCLA donors still want him canned?

Carlos: I feel like you’re trolling me. I respect it.

Seriously: UCLA is technically on an upward trajectory from Chip Kelly’s first year, but consider that Chip Kelly created a new floor for UCLA. UCLA had never gone 3-9 before and UCLA had not had three straight losing seasons since 1964, before the Pac-8 was even a thing. Saying Chip has UCLA on an upward trajectory is technically true, but it’s like me breaking your leg and then helping you rehab it until it’s back to what it was prior to injury.

UCLA v Washington
Bruin fans are divided on Chip Kelly, and it will take a good 2022 season to keep favor.

Except it’s worse, because UCLA’s roster is dramatically worse than what it was prior to Chip Kelly’s arrival. The biggest critique of Kelly’s tenure at UCLA is the critique that has followed him since his days at Oregon: he is a horrific manager of a roster. He does not care about recruiting the way he should, and as a result, UCLA’s roster is less talented than it’s been in quite some time. Sure, UCLA might still have a passable 2022 (I’m not convinced, but it’s on the cards), but its ceiling is dictated by the talent level. And come 2023, when much of that talent has left… the Bruins might be worse off than what they were when Chip Kelly was hired.

I don’t know what UCLA donors are saying about Chip Kelly because I try to steer clear of spaces where millionaires and billionaires are present. I can say that the fanbase, like any fanbase at this stage in a coach’s tenure, is divided. But there’s a good contingent of UCLA fans who are ready to see him go.


UWDP: What is your prediction for Friday Night?

Carlos: I hope people don’t respond with “pain” to things like this anymore, it’s 2022 and we have new jokes. I know commentary on the state of our memes isn’t what was asked, but I just have to let you know: responding “pain” to “what’s your prediction” should be outlawed. We are a society!

Anyway, Washington by 14 or more. I’m not surprised that advanced metrics have this as an extremely close game. UCLA beat the shit out of very bad teams, and Washington’s beaten the shit out of bad teams and one potentially decent one. But having a Pac-12 podcast that forces me to watch teams outside my own (stream No Truck Stops!), I’ve seen what Washington looks like and they look dangerous. UW looks, right now, like the best team in the Pac-12. They have the best receiving corps in the conference (sorry, USC!) and the best quarterback in the conference (again, sorry USC). Their offensive line looks solid and doesn’t seem to have the depth issues that other top Pac-12 teams will or have struggled with. And the Huskies’ pass rush looks like it’s going to be nasty to boot.

This is a matchup nightmare for the Bruins. The worst part of this UCLA team is the offensive line, and that’s what UW’s defense has been strongest at this year. UCLA’s secondary is horrific cat poo, and UW’s passing game looks like the best passing game we’ve seen in the Pac-12 in quite awhile. Sure, UW’s secondary looks shaky, but UCLA doesn’t have the receivers required to punish them, and it won’t matter if DTR is going to be punished by the Huskies’ pass rush.

I’d be shocked if UCLA wins this game, and I’d be pleasantly surprised if UCLA made this a competitive game.

Washington 44, UCLA 27

Thanks Carlos. For more on UCLA, be sure to check out the No Truck Stops Podcast.