The Eye Test: Oregon Puts Chip Kelly's Theory to Bed
Talent wins, especially if your coaching isn't up to par.
[Chip] Kelly came in with loads of expectations; that he would be the one to drag UCLA football out of the doldrums it had been in for the past 20 years and bring them back to prominence. The expectation was that Chip Kelly would be the one to break the wheel and reestablish UCLA in the upper crust of college football.
But that has yet to happen. It certainly still has an opportunity to do so, but Saturday’s game featured enough of the same problems that have plagued the program that it is hard to be confident that things will ultimately work out.
If those words seem familiar, it’s because I wrote them last month in the aftermath of the loss to Fresno State. It is honestly impressive that the same statement could apply a month later.
I will start this entire thing by pointing out that I had a ton of fun on Saturday. College Gameday on campus was a blast, and getting to be in that crowd right behind the stage is something I doubt I will get the opportunity to do again. And the game itself was “fun”. It wasn’t good, and it did serve as a last reminder that Chip Kelly will not be able to succeed here, but I enjoyed watching Oregon do stupid things with the lead to let UCLA back into the game (and let’s be clear here: Oregon let UCLA back into the game by doing stupid things).
But I go back to those words I had to write. UCLA football is never going to fix things under Chip Kelly because he is not a program-builder and never has been. The guardrails weren’t set up for him like they were at Oregon, and in hindsight there was almost no chance of success here.
That’s a conversation for later, however. Let’s get into this actual game.
This game is a much bigger blowout if Dorian Thompson-Robinson does not play well. Seriously, that second half featured Thompson-Robinson channeling his inner Josh Rosen, making play after play despite being murdered on every other snap because the offensive line was incapable of blocking someone. Thompson-Robinson was 22-41 passing for 220 yards, a touchdown, and an interception, which does not look like impressive numbers at first glance, but definitely look much better in the context of the game, specifically the line play of both sides. You have to feel for him because it was only a matter of time before one of the 50 million hits he took in this game would stick, and it just happened on the final drive of the game.
Ethan Garbers looked fine on his lone drive. He throws a good football, and it seemed he was limited to one option by the coaching staff, which led to him focusing on a receiver and eventually the interception. A potential first start against Utah is one hell of a way to be introduced to the job.
Running Back: C
Oregon focused on shutting down the Bruins’ rushing attack, and were aided by a UCLA strategy of running up the middle in a compact set. Still, I think it says plenty about the success of this group that they found more success in the passing game than they did on the ground. Zach Charbonnet was not able to break any tackles for big games, and Brittain Brown was only marginally better. Hard to blame this group for the performance, but it is what it is.
Kyle Philips returned from injury looking fine, and he returned to being DTR’s security blanket on offense, getting eight catches for 73 yards. Greg Dulcich had a rougher game, committing a few key penalties and dropping a few passes. The Bruins needed a bigger game from their star tight end and he never seemed to get it going against the athletic Oregon secondary. Kam Brown continues to emerge as the third option of choice, and Kazmeir Allen saw some early play.
Offensive Line: D-
The only reason this isn’t an F is because part of the blame here does rest on the coaching staff for thinking they could block Kayvon Thibodeaux one-on-one on the outside. Spoilers: they weren’t able to do so, and Thibodeaux showed why he is considered the favorite to be the #1 overall pick in the upcoming NFL draft by putting up nine tackles, two sacks, and 4.5 tackles for loss, while also forcing a fumble. Alec Anderson was the main culprit here, and again it is hard to blame him for such a dumb strategy, but you would have liked to see him slow down Thibodeaux just a little.
The rest of the line was not much better. The interior was counted on to generate push so the Bruins rushing attack could work, and they were unable to do so, while Sean Rhyan struggled on the outside as well. Oregon likely has the most talent on the defensive line that the Bruins will see all season, but this was a stark reminder of the talent gap between the two teams.
Let’s be clear here: if Dorian Thompson-Robinson doesn’t have an impressive performance despite being nearly killed, this grade is much lower. UCLA got out-talented along the line so bad that it negatively effected everything the Bruin offense wanted to do. The Bruins could not run the ball effectively, which meant that 37% of UCLA’s plays came on obvious passing downs. The Bruins had an abysmal offensive success rate of 27%, which again had a ton to do with how badly they were beat on the line. The fact that the Bruins were able to keep things close at the end speaks more to their tenacity than anything else.
Run Defense: B-
The run defense was fine - the Ducks ran for 121 yards, with over half of those coming on two scrambles by Anthony Brown - but it was never going to be truly tested in this game. Oregon offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead rightly understood that the way to beat this defense is not to run the ball, and conversely went with a 37/63 run/pass split. And he did so because…
Pass Defense: F
Anthony Brown is not a good passing quarterback. Anthony Brown was able to throw for almost 300 yards against this defense, and probably would have had a cleaner stat line if he wasn’t committed to throwing up absolute ducks (get it?) near the end of the game that let UCLA back into it.
Quentin Lake couldn’t figure out how to line up onsides on two key downs. Cam Johnson wasn’t great, and then got a targeting penalty. Obi Edoh continues to play while not being good, while Jay Shaw struggles to see the field despite being good. There still isn’t a pass rush. Other than all that, things seem fine!
I think my general takeaway on the defensive side of the ball is this: Oregon is a run-first team with a quarterback not known for being a good passer, yet the Ducks felt comfortable enough to go with a 37/63 run/pass split against the UCLA defense. The turnovers at the end of the game only served to cover up the fact that the Bruins only offered up a token defense against Oregon, and while I have more anger directed at the coaching staff for putting everyone in this position, it must be stated that the play on the field was equally bad.
This grade could have been earned solely by Luke Akers, who was real bad in this game overall. The blocked punt was completely on him for mishandling the ball on the kick attempt, and the one punt he did get away only went 27 yards. A lot has been made of Akers being slow with his mechanics this year, and it feels like he felt he had to speed things up against a more-athletic Oregon team. The results were not good.
I’ve looked at the Nick Barr-Mira kick a few times, and honestly I could go either way on whether that kick is good or not. Going off the reaction of the people behind the goalposts, I’m willing to go with the kick actually missing, but on that short of a field goal, the fact that there was even a debate gets held against him.
At least the Bruins were able to block a punt. Martell Irby has been finding ways to contribute this year, and you do love to see it.
Offensive Playcalling: C-
After the Washington game, I wrote this:
In rewatch, it looked very much like the UCLA coaching staff did not respect the Washington defense, and was more than willing to just try some things out in this game. Which is perfectly reasonable to do against an outmatched opponent! I guess the hope is that the staff got to see how these things work out in a game setting and will be more judicious in how they utilize them going forward
How unsurprising is it, then, that this offensive staff still doesn’t have a handle on what does and doesn’t work after eight games. Let’s run back through this game on what does and doesn’t work:
Compressed sets: no. And yet UCLA once-again shifted to using them in the second half, which allowed Oregon to tee off on the weaker UCLA offensive line and shut the run game down. This is not a power-running team no matter how often Kelly wants to try and make it be so.
Stretch plays: yes. Turns out, UCLA has a bunch of speed, and Zach Charbonnet excels at making guys miss. Putting them in a stretch play and running towards the relative strength of the lines (the tackles) remains a smart play.
Long-developing pass plays with one-on-one blocking: no. Especially no when your opponent has a defensive line that excels at pass rushing, including having a potential #1 overall pick. Seriously, who thought this was a good idea?
Roll-outs that give DTR options to run or pass: yes. Let Thompson-Robinson make a play. He’s very good at it and has developed on the decision-making front.
UCLA would have had a better shot in this game if the offensive staff actually understood its personnel, their strengths and weaknesses, and designed a game plan that took advantage of that, but amazingly after four years Chip Kelly still doesn’t understand. I have a feeling that if you gave the average Madden player this offense and let them call plays, they’d do a better job of sticking with what works and attacking that.
Defensive Gameplan: F
Apparently the UCLA coaching staff is the only one in the world that respects Anthony Brown’s ability to throw the ball, because UCLA employed the same soft coverages that led them to ruin against Jayden Daniels a few weeks prior. My favorite “new” wrinkle of the past few weeks has been dropping the linebackers into a zone but doing so in a way where they end up covering nothing and just occupying space. Truly innovative stuff from the collection of geniuses making up the UCLA defensive coaching staff.
Anyway, Anthony Brown threw all over the UCLA defense because that is what they are designed to do: stuff the run in an ultimately-fruitless endeavor because teams can average 10 yards a completion easy on them.
Here’s the real kicker to this fiasco: this is exactly the game Chip Kelly set out to win when he took over the program. His basic premise was that he didn’t need to bring in top-level talent, because he and his staff could coach up more marginal talent to a high-enough level, at which point their superior tactics and coaching ability would allow them to beat teams with more talent. It was essentially the college football version of Moneyball.
The game against Oregon showed a few major flaws with this strategy:
Moneyball works in baseball because it is grounded in sound statistical principles. The version Chip Kelly is running at UCLA…is not. When looking at advanced stats, UCLA grades out as a middle-of-the-road team, with an above-average offense and well-below-average defense. There isn’t one weird trick to suddenly be better at football, and there isn’t some hidden stat that, if exploited, can lead to a team with less talent winning more games than expected. And to that point…
Moneyball also works because, at a base level, there isn’t a huge talent discrepancy at the top level of the sport. Each player playing in MLB (outside of the Diamondbacks, gottem) has a base level of talent, and while some teams have a little more than others, there aren’t huge talent disparities. That is not the case in college football, where talent is not only more spread out but more concentrated in a few small areas. The best potential players come from certain regions, and the name of the game is getting as many of them to commit to you as possible. There isn’t a minor league system where teams can develop lesser talents in the hope they pan out - if you sign with a team, you should expect to be contributing within the first few years.With only so many roster spots, any potential miss makes a team that much worse.
Finally, and perhaps most damningly, Oregon showed that Chip Kelly is incapable of actually outcoaching his opponents. The best coordinator in this game wasn’t Kelly, but Oregon OC Joe Moorhead, who somehow got Anthony Brown to throw for almost 300 yards. If Brown was a better quarterback, they probably throw for much more. Tim DeRuyter, the Oregon defensive coordinator, similarly did a good job of shutting down the UCLA offense for half of the game.
If all you saw was the box score, you would assume this was a close, back-and-forth game played between two solid teams. In actuality, this was a game where the Oregon coaches made an adjustment that the UCLA coaches never reacted to, allowing the Ducks to race out to a large lead before a combination of hilariously-bad mistakes by the Ducks and exceptional quarterback play from Dorian Thompson-Robinson made the score closer than it should have been. For UCLA to lay that kind of egg on national television, in a game you HAD to win to prove the program was heading in the right direction, should be inexcusable.
Overall: Neutral, leaning Fail
I’m leaning towards a Fail here because, while the Bruins started the game hot, they clearly did not have a backup plan for when Oregon inevitably counter-punched. Considering that the team is still doing a number of things that really should not be happening to this extent (lining up offsides multiple times, multiple false starts), it’s hard to say that the preparation of this team for this game was up to par.
Offense grade: C+ (2.3)
Defense grade: D (1.0)
Special Teams grade: D- (0.7)
Coaching grade: D- (0.7)
Preparedness grade: Fail
Final grade for Oregon Ducks: D (1.17)
And as a reminder, here are the scores from past games:
Hawai’i Rainbow Warriors: A (3.65)
LSU Tigers: A (3.75)
Fresno State Bulldogs: D+ (1.42)
Stanford Cardinal: B+ (3.25)
Arizona State Sun Devils: D (1.25)
Arizona Wildcats: C (2.42)
Washington Huskies: B (3.17)
So there we are. The Bruins are on the road playing Utah this week, potentially without the quarterback who kept them in the game against Oregon. Utah is very beatable this year but based on how every other game against a half-way good opponent has gone this year, I’m not very confident in the outcome.