Smith Says: Although football’s had a rough start to the season, trust the process
UCLA football has lost all three of its games this season after the hire of coach Chip Kelly energized the program in November. Kelly, however, is coaching a roster that mostly consists of players that were recruited by former coach Jim Mora. (Kristie-Valerie Hoang/Daily Bruin senior staff)
By Ryan Smith
Sept. 20, 2018 3:30 a.m.
It’s going to be OK.
Sure, UCLA football is 0-3 for the first time in 47 years and Pac-12 play is right around the corner, but this team has promise.
When UCLA gave coach Chip Kelly a $23.3 million contract in November, the former Oregon Ducks and NFL head coach was tasked with turning around a roster with an alarming number of flaws.
The Bruins finished with the second-worst rushing defense in the Football Bowl Subdivision in 2017 after allowing 282.7 yards per game. They also struggled to run the ball themselves, averaging just 113.4 yards per game – good for 116th in the country.
Expecting Kelly to turn those numbers around in a season is unrealistic, especially since he is being asked to do so with many of the players that former coach Jim Mora recruited.
The team is improving, however. The rushing defense is ranked 86th in the country while the rushing offense is up to 104th. It is nothing spectacular, but it is improvement, and that is what this season is about.
UCLA also lost its star quarterback Josh Rosen to the NFL after he led the Bruins to the fourth-best passing attack in the nation at 344.5 yards per game as a junior last season.
Not only did UCLA lose Rosen, but it also had no clear replacement for him heading into this season.
Graduate transfer quarterback Wilton Speight earned the starting job out of fall camp, but with just one year of eligibility remaining, he was never the long-term solution, nor was he ever a dynamic player to begin with.
However, a back injury derailed the Speight experiment in the second quarter of the season opener against Cincinnati, opening the door for true freshman Dorian Thompson-Robinson.
The quarterback’s statistics through 2 1/2 collegiate games do not jump out at anybody, but he has shown that he can be the quarterback of the future in Westwood.
Despite playing behind an offensive line that has allowed the third-most sacks in the country this season, Thompson-Robinson has endured the pressure and not once complained about the position he was thrown into. He has also shown the on-field ability to extend plays with his legs and make smart decisions, not committing a turnover until his third appearance.
His most impressive moment, though, was his first career start – a road game against then-No. 6 Oklahoma.
Thompson-Robinson finished the game 16-of-26 through the air for 254 yards and a touchdown in one of the most hostile environments in college football.
Thompson-Robinson is not the only freshman getting significant playing time this season, either. Kelly has not been shy about playing the players he recruited, regardless of who is on the depth chart from previous seasons.
Upperclassmen such as senior running back Bolu Olorunfunmi have watched their playing time dwindle as younger, more electrifying freshmen like running backs Kazmeir Allen and Martell Irby get more opportunities.
As Kelly continues to take a look at his entire roster, the team’s record will reflect its inexperience.
For UCLA football fans, this is the time to be patient and let Kelly craft the team the way he envisions it, because it will get there in time.
And more likely than not, this process will take more than one season.