Pac-12 South Preview: UCLA Bruins

Entering Chip Kelly's third season and there's finally reason for optimism atop Westwood Hills. The Bruins return a majority of the offense and some playmakers on defense, but is it enough to crack the top-3?
Author:
Updated:
Original:

As part of our Pac-12 South Preview, we will be examining each Pac-12 team. We will break down their schedule, their offense and defense and what should be considered a successful or failure of a season.

Up next is the UCLA Bruins — a team on the brink of finally breaking through into the upper echelon of the conference.

Oct 17, 2019; Stanford, CA, USA; UCLA Bruins coach Chip Kelly watches from the sidelines in the second quarter against the Stanford Cardinal at Stanford Stadium.

Oct 17, 2019; Stanford, CA, USA; UCLA Bruins coach Chip Kelly watches from the sidelines in the second quarter against the Stanford Cardinal at Stanford Stadium.

Underlying Theme
After two years of mediocre play, is the year Chip Kelly and the Bruins finally crack the upper tier of the Pac-12? Realistically, Utah and USC are the top tier and Colorado and Arizona are at the bottom, which leaves Arizona State and UCLA battling for that No. 3 spot in the upper tier.

Fans wanted a change last season, but Kelly is owed way too much for that to happen. If he struggles this season, it will all depend on the manner of the struggles if he is to return next year.

The Bruins are armed with a talented quarterback in Dorian Thompson-Robinson, yet he hasn't made that big leap forward into stardom and just continues to sit at a level slightly better than mediocre. The team will go as far as Thompson-Robinson takes them.

There are no elite players on this team but it is full of serviceable options who can get the job done if put into the right places to succeed. That will be Kelly's job, getting his athletic players in space and letting them make plays.

UCLA wants to take that next step forward but I doubt it happens and word of Kelly's demise begins to heat up... again...

Overview
2019 Record: 4-8 overall, 4-5 Pac-12
At one point, the Bruins were 4-2 in conference play with wins over then-ranked Washington State and Arizona State, and it appeared the experiment was turning the corner. But then came a 49-3 beatdown by Utah, followed by losses to USC and Cal and the Bruins were left out of a bowl game... again...

Schedule = Brutal Finish / SI Prediction in Bold
*Saturday, Nov. 7 — @ Colorado (W)
*Saturday, Nov. 14 — vs. Utah (L)
*Saturday, Nov. 21 — @ Oregon (L)
*Saturday, Nov. 28 — vs. Arizona (W)
*Saturday, Dec. 5 — @ Arizona State (L)
*Friday, Dec. 11 — vs USC (L)

November 2, 2019; Pasadena, CA, USA; UCLA Bruins quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson (1) moves out to pass against the Colorado Buffaloes during the second half at the Rose Bowl.

November 2, 2019; Pasadena, CA, USA; UCLA Bruins quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson (1) moves out to pass against the Colorado Buffaloes during the second half at the Rose Bowl.

Getting off on a right foot with a victory over Colorado is a huge step forward, especially after starting last season 0-3 with bad losses. The game against Utah could be interesting considering how much the Utes are 'retooling' their entire team — and Utah hosts USC the following week in a massive showdown. 

Then comes Kelly's return to Eugene, followed by a winnable game against Arizona. The Bruins should be 2-2 at that point, needing one win over either Arizona State or USC to break even. Does it happen — I think not but in this weird season it's anybody's guess.

Offense = Potential
Thompson-Robinson could be very very good, let's start with that, Yet for some reason, he's struggled with consistency issues and the ability to read and process defenses. If he can put it all together this year, this offense could be pretty solid, surprise some teams and give the defense a break.

Oct 26, 2019; Pasadena, CA, USA; UCLA Bruins running back Demetric Felton (10) avoids a tackle by Arizona State Sun Devils linebacker Khaylan Kearse-Thomas (20) during the first half at Rose Bowl.

Oct 26, 2019; Pasadena, CA, USA; UCLA Bruins running back Demetric Felton (10) avoids a tackle by Arizona State Sun Devils linebacker Khaylan Kearse-Thomas (20) during the first half at Rose Bowl.

Demetric Felton takes over for Josh Kelly, who's now playing for the Chargers, and he could find some holes behind the left side of the offensive line. The team also returns four of its top five pass catchers from last season, including leading receiver in Kyle Phillips, who caught 60 passes for 681 yards and five scores.

Felton is also a really nice option out of the backfield, while Chase Cota is expected to take a step forward as a junior and emerge as a potential No. 1 threat. 

If nothing else, this offense has continuity and all it needs is one player to really elevate their game to superstar status to take off. But that has happened in the past two years, so who knows if it ever will.

Defense = Bend But Don't Break
The Bruins have a potential all-Pac-12 contender at defensive end in Osa Odighizuwa, who finished last season with 10 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks. He will anchor what should be the best unit on the defense and consistently hold its own against the Pac-12.

Sep 14, 2019; Pasadena, CA, USA; Oklahoma Sooners quarterback Jalen Hurts (1) moves the ball while UCLA Bruins defensive lineman Osa Odighizuwa (92) defends during the second half at Rose Bowl.

Sep 14, 2019; Pasadena, CA, USA; Oklahoma Sooners quarterback Jalen Hurts (1) moves the ball while UCLA Bruins defensive lineman Osa Odighizuwa (92) defends during the second half at Rose Bowl.

But after that, only Stephan Blaylock at safety is the other potential all-Pac-12 pick. He led the team with 86 tackles and gives the Bruins a solid backend at their defense. Other than that though, it's slim pickings.

The defense will need to be successful in the redzone to have any chance at success, sort of like Kelly's philosophy at Oregon when he would happily exchange touchdowns to giving up field goals. That same trend must be happen for the Bruins because otherwise, their offense might not be able to put up enough points.

Season Outlook
UCLA is an interesting one to peg. 

If everything clicks for the Bruins, they could potentially challenge for that upper tier. But if everything falls apart, the bruins could find themselves near the bottom of the south division.

Oct 26, 2019; Pasadena, CA, USA; UCLA Bruins defensive back Stephan Blaylock (4) tackles Arizona State Sun Devils wide receiver Kyle Williams (10) after a catch during the first half at Rose Bowl.

Oct 26, 2019; Pasadena, CA, USA; UCLA Bruins defensive back Stephan Blaylock (4) tackles Arizona State Sun Devils wide receiver Kyle Williams (10) after a catch during the first half at Rose Bowl.

The Bruins didn't draw any luck by having to travel to Eugene for their crossover game, so to go 3-3, they'll have to pick off one of Arizona State, Utah and USC — and I don't know if that happens. I think UCLA may be more competitive overall but it doesn't translate to wins.

A 2-4 finish will put even more pressure on UCLA brass to make a decision regarding Kelly — and ultimately it could be the end of his run in So Cal.

Final Prediction
Record: 2-4
*It's simple, the offense takes strides but the defense remains stagnant and unable to stop anybody. This means the Bruins will bet who they should and lose to who they should, resulting in more questions that need answers regarding Kelly and the overall direction of the program.

Want to share opinions or ask questions? We want to hear them! Making a profile is free and it only takes ~1 minute to set up. Also, be sure to like us on social media for future coverage:

Twitter — @UtahUtes_SI and Ryan Kostecka at @Ryan_Kostecka