Each week during Cal’s football season we solicit the thoughts a beat writer covering the Bears’ opponent to get a closer look at that team.
Today we welcome the insights of James H. Williams, who covers UCLA for the Southern California News Group. UCLA is 4-7 overall, 4-4 in the Pac-12 after losing 52-35 to rival USC last week.
Here are our 5 Questions:
1. It’s nearly two full seasons into the Chip Kelly era and UCLA is 7-16. What is his approach to the program’s struggles and how are UCLA fans responding at this point?
Chip Kelly’s mindset is to take things one day at a time and his weekly “let’s have a good Monday” comment has become a fixture during his pre-practice media scrums. Kelly is not big on talking about the past and would prefer not to look too far ahead. There have been signs of improvement throughout the season but fans are asking for change on defense following the USC loss.
2. What reasons are there to believe UCLA will be better a year from now? How far away are the Bruins from becoming contenders in the Pac-12 South?
Recruiting will need to get better before UCLA can have the expectation of being a consistent Pac-12 South contender. After a 1-5 start this season, the Bruins can only go up from here. The Bruins rattled shows signs of improvement when they rattled off three straight wins coming off their first bye week. UCLA has asked a lot of its young talent and guys such as sophomore quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson and redshirt freshman Kyle Philips have done well. It’s not crazy to expect the offense to make a big jump next year.
3. The Bruins rank 11th in the Pac-12 defensively, allowing more than 35 points per game. They have given up 48 or more five times. What have been their biggest issues on that side of the ball and did you see this coming?
The secondary has been picked on often this season and that was on full display against USC. Darnay Holmes missed some time early in the season but since his return it has been a rather quiet season for him. What can’t be predicted is the number of injuries that plagued the defense throughout the season. DB Quentin Lake (wrist) has missed 10 games this season. LB Tyree Thompson (leg) and LB Bo Calvert (academic suspension) have also missed significant time. DL Martin Andrus Jr. tore his ACL during pregame of the Oregon State game.
4. The Bruins have scored more than 30 points in six games but held under 20 in five others. Besides the level of competition, why has UCLA been so hot and cold on offense?
When UCLA can get RB Joshua Kelley in space and gaining yards, it allows UCLA to open up the playbook. The offense did plug in two true freshmen on the offensive line early, who have done well as the season went on. Thompson-Robinson was forced out of action with leg injuries at certain points in the season, which accounts for some inconsistencies at times. Unlike the defense, the offense has been fortunate enough to get players back from injury.
5. How has quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson progressed this season? What are his strengths and weaknesses?
Thompson-Robinson has taken on a leadership role as a sophomore and isn’t afraid to make plays with the football using his arm or his legs. I think the rally against Washington State did a lot for his confidence and leading the offense. He has to do a better job securing the football, it’s almost expected that he will throw at least one interception per game. Once defenders have managed to get past the inexperienced offense line, Thompson-Robinson is left scrambling which often results in a big loss in yardage and/or fumbles.