Their 0-2 record may suggest otherwise, but the Bruins have limited their mistakes so far this season.
The start of the Chip Kelly era has been a slow one for UCLA football, highlighted by a last-minute home loss to Cincinnati and a road blowout to Oklahoma on Saturday. The Bruins’ third and final chance to get a win before conference play begins is this weekend against Fresno State, but Kelly said the stakes aren’t any higher than they usually are.
“I think every win (matters), doesn’t matter if there’s a bye week coming up or not,” Kelly said. “These guys have worked very hard. We need to get on the right side of the win-loss column.”
At this time last year, the Bruins were fresh off a 2-0 start and had jumped into the top 25 with the help of star quarterback Josh Rosen. Despite the high hopes and good feelings, that team had its fair share of hiccups through two games.
The team had coughed up three fumbles, and although Rosen didn’t throw an interception, he was responsible for two of the three.
Fast forward to 2018, and the Bruins have a true freshman at the helm, rather than a junior ready to make the leap to the NFL.
In just over six quarters of action, freshman quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson has yet to throw an interception.
And that is exactly what Kelly has been preaching – mistake-free football.
“We talked about the administrative penalties in game one, and we really only had one in game two,” Kelly said. “We talked about the turnovers, we turned it over twice in game one, we did not turn it over in game two.”
UCLA is tied for sixth in the nation in fewest turnovers lost after giving away the ball just once in two games.
Graduate quarterback Wilton Speight, who started the season opener against Cincinnati, threw an interception in the second quarter against the Bearcats the drive before he left with a back injury.
Speight is one of two graduate transfers on the roster, but he is responsible for the Bruins’ lone turnover in 2018, not one of their 36 freshmen.
“They’re learning, not making the same mistakes over and over again, so that’s a positive to build upon,” Kelly said. “We’ve got still a lot of work to do and still a lot of experiences for those guys to gain as we continue to play.”
The Bruins’ defense, however, hasn’t been as water-tight. Kelly’s pass rush is averaging two sacks per game, and while sophomore defensive lineman Martin Andrus Jr. said they have a lot of work to do in situational pass rushing, he also said that Kelly is doing everything he can to help his team get sharper.
“(Kelly) is teaching us the game, giving us little football IQ things to help us out out on the field,” Andrus said. “He’s been great so far.”
Senior cornerback Nate Meadors said he’s already seen the front seven make strides after the game against Oklahoma, citing their abundance of energy as a stimulus for their growth.
“I think our front seven is doing a great job,” Meadors said. “They did a great job against Oklahoma for the most part, and we’re just playing with a lot more energy and we’re all trying to get the ball.”
Kelly won’t name starting quarterback
Thompson-Robinson threw for 254 yards and a touchdown Saturday, but the freshman hasn’t locked down the starting job just yet.
With Speight’s availability still unknown, Kelly said that he still hasn’t committed to a starting quarterback for Saturday’s game against Fresno State.
“We’ve still got three more days of training before we have to make any decisions on who’s playing and who’s not playing – at any position, not just (Speight),” Kelly said.