Discover more from The Mighty Bruin
Sunday Morning Quarterback: Kelly's Bad Game Management Cost Bruins Against Southern Cal
Bruin fans deserve to question Kelly's coaching after last night's loss.
If you’re like me, you were finally starting to believe that maybe, just maybe, Chip Kelly was finally starting to turn things around for UCLA football. Then, last night happened.
As I wrote recapping the game, the Bruins blew an 18-point lead in the second half. That’s a three-score lead. How the hell does a team which was a few turnovers away from coming into last night’s game undefeated blow a three-score lead?
Well, it wasn’t solely due to turnovers. Yes, turnovers played a part. Luke Akers’ fumble and Dorian Thompson-Robinson’s interception each led to Southern Cal touchdowns. But the Bruins were also successful at generating points of their own off Trojan turnovers.
Instead, I’d argue that last night’s loss had more to do with poor game management by Chip Kelly. After the game, Ben Bolch of the LA Times asked Kelly about the decision to play Keegan Jones on the fourth and one play, rather than either Demetric Felton or Brittain Brown. Kelly’s response, quite frankly, was dumbfounding.
He was the back that was in the game at that time. We needed a yard and Keegan's a good solid runner for us. So, we just came up a little short.
That might be the biggest understatement of the season from Kelly. He offered no explanation as to why he didn’t take a time-out to get either Felton or Brown into the game. He offered no explanation at all as to why he had a reserve running back in the game at one of the most pivotal points in the game.
Here are the complete postgame interviews, courtesy of UCLA Athletics:
It’s almost as if Kelly has a chip, pun intended, on his shoulder. It’s as if he was saying that he dared Todd Orlando and the Southern Cal defense to stop UCLA’s offense. Kelly bet big and lost. He went all in on an inside straight while Southern Cal was holding four aces.
But, even his claim that Keegan is “a good solid runner for us” is questionable.
In just four games this season, Jones has carried just 12 times for 46 yards. The only way he should have been on the field at that point in the game is if both Felton and Brown were hurt to the point where they were unable to play at all. And, even if they were both hurt to being unable to play, was that the best play to call under those circumstances? The option has worked well for the team, yet it wasn’t called once last night. Why not attempt to run outside on short yardage and call on the receivers who have blocked so well all season long to do that then? It was a terrible personnel decision by the coaching staff and a terrible play call to go with it.
And, all of that makes doesn’t even take into consideration the poor use of the team’s timeouts. Why was Kelly still holding three timeouts with just 16 seconds left to go? Had he used at least one a little earlier UCLA might have been the team getting the ball back with 52 seconds, or more, to go.
It’s just another in a long list of three years of bad game management decisions by Kelly that has Bruin fans figuratively banging their heads against the brick walls of Royce Hall.
Once again, special teams breakdown proved to be problematic for the Bruins under Kelly. There was no mention by Kelly about the rather horrific punt play that resulted in Luke Akers fumbling the ball away on the Bruins 31-yard line. He did mention the big kickoff return that setup the Trojans final touchdown, but the best Kelly could offer was, “We’ve got to get that fixed.” Do you think, Chip?
Realistically, Bruin fans have both a reason to be angry this morning while also being optimistic. The team has shown a marked improvement this season, especially on defense. That’s the reason Bruin fans can be optimistic, but Kelly has still failed to address probably the single biggest failure of his tenure as head coach: recruiting.
Kelly cannot be expected to win on the field if recruiting continues the way it has. In his postgame interview, Kelly said, “You knew going into the game with the talented receiver core that they had, that it was going to be a difficult matchup.” Well, Chip that’s what happens when you actually recruit blue chip players.
They say that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. Changes were made to the defensive coaching staff and the defense improved significantly this season. Even Dorian Thompson-Robinson has finally showed improvement. Last night, he was the most accurate he’s ever been at UCLA and he played one of his best, if not his best, game as a Bruin.
But recruiting remains a problem for Kelly and the Bruins and it is only getting worse. Kelly has lost three players who flipped to other teams recently in advance of National Signing Day on Wednesday. The team has the 78th recruiting class. That’s not just bad. That’s awful.
Watching the Utah-Colorado game yesterday, the announcers were talking about the quality of Utah’s recruits and how the Utes should bounce back from 2020 and be right back on top of the Pac-12 South over the next few years. No one has ever spoken about a group of Chip Kelly’s recruits at UCLA that way.
It’s time to fix that.
The question as to who should fix that is a question for UCLA’s new Athletic Director Martin Jarmond to answer. Jarmond has done an excellent job so far as AD. He hit a home run this week when he announced that UCLA has signed with Nike and Jordan Brand for next season. But, now, he needs to decide if Kelly truly has the Bruins moving in the right direction or not.
I suspect that he will likely keep Kelly another year after the performance of the team this season, but the fact remains that Arizona did fire Kevin Sumlin after going 9-20 over three seasons and Kelly is just 10-20. The difference between Kelly and Sumlin is that Sumlin didn’t win a single game this year while the Bruins were really a handful of plays from being undefeated this year. And, that is likely enough for Jarmond to keep Kelly in Westwood.
But, with Kelly and his wife Jill selling their Encino home to Mookie Betts, does Kelly want to stay? We’ll have to wait and see.