Besides Scott Frosts’ return to Nebraska, UCLA got the other best off-season hire with bringing in Chip Kelly. The former Oregon coach was a rock star at Nike University with his lightning-fast up-tempo offense and won three Pac-12 titles and landed the Ducks a berth in the 2011 national championship game before his departure for the NFL. He inherits a Bruins team with several question marks on offense and a defense that’s low on confidence after getting torched last season. His predecessor Jim Mora recruited like a monster so the talent is there. Kelly has already made a statement to the team by suspending six players for the season-opener against Cincinnati, including two starters. Clearly he’s a no nonsense-type of guy and he expects that out of his players too. There’s no Joshua Rosen this time around and Kelly is still mum on who he’s going to name his starting quarterback for the Cincinnati game. Word around campus is that he’s favoring true freshman Dorian Thompson-Robinson.
Team strength: The defensive secondary. The most experienced unit on this years’ defense ranked second in the conference and 31st nationally in pass yards per game. Darnay Holmes, Nate Meadors, Adarius Pickett and Colin Samuel all combined for 190 tackles, including seven from behind the line of scrimmage, a sack and six interceptions.
Team weaknesses: Rush defense. The Bruins’ front seven got absolutely mauled last season, allowing 287 rush yards per game which ranked dead last in the Pac-12 and 130th in the country. With only three starters returning in the front seven, including just one up front, expect UCLA to get steam rolled by any opposing offense that runs the ball with a pulse.
Players to watch: Running back Bolu Olorunfunmi, wide receiver Theo Howard, tight end Caleb Wilson, safety Pickett, cornerback Holmes. Olorrunfunmi led the team in rushing last season with 565 yards and five touchdowns, along with 10 catches for 118 yards. He will get the bulk of the carries early on while fellow starting running back Soso Jamabo sits out two games because of suspension. Howard is the teams’ leading returning receiver. He caught 56 balls for nearly 600 yards and four touchdowns in 2017. Wilson only played in five games because of injury but averaged nearly 100 yards receiving per contest with 38 catches. Pickett is the teams’ leading returning tackler with 85 stops, four tackles for loss and an interception. Holmes had 39 tackles and led the team with three interceptions as a true freshman last season.
The schedule: Favorable. The early trip to Oklahoma in the second week will be a definite loss. UCLA gets all of its’ tough opponents at home. Road games at Colorado, California, Oregon and Oregon State are winnable.
My take: It’s going to take some time for Kellys’ system to start clicking for these players. That may not happen all season. The defense will be this teams’ achilles heal, with little experience and production along the front seven. 2018 most likely will be a losing season for the Bruins, but its’ best to start from the bottom in year one and build up from there.