Football maintains faith Chip Kelly’s coaching style will help them improve
Redshirt junior Tyree Thompson has 19 tackles and three tackles for loss in his first four games with UCLA football. He transferred to UCLA last spring after playing for LA Valley Junior College in 2017. (Axel Lopez/Assistant Photo editor)
By Sam Connon
Oct. 3, 2018 5:43 p.m.
Chip Kelly has yet to win a game with UCLA football (0-4, 0-1 Pac-12), but his team is buying into his coaching style.
“I like coach Kelly,” said redshirt freshman cornerback Elijah Gates. “He just keeps saying, like, ‘Keep going, keep going hard. Just keep pushing through.'”
Kelly, however, doesn’t just preach pushing through adversity – redshirt junior linebacker Tyree Thompson said his coach puts a lot of emphasis on team chemistry.
“Coach (Kelly) always says talk like, you know each other, so we’ve been getting at that,” Thompson said.
Kelly has always had a reputation for running a well-conditioned team since his days at Oregon. Thompson said he enjoyed the mindset the coaching staff established with fast-paced and up-tempo practices, despite the lack of results so far.
“It is good to have a battle rhythm so we know what we’re going to get into every week,” Thompson said. “But my coach (Kelly) always says get comfortable being uncomfortable.”
The Bruins allowed 477 yards to Colorado in a 22-point loss Friday, and 420 to Fresno State in the previous game. Five hundred and twenty-four of those 897 yards were allowed in the second halves, while the Bruins’ first-half defenses stood relatively stronger.
Gates said while the first four losses have been tough, he believes that the staff and his teammates have all grown from the shaky start.
“When we first started the season, everybody had like high hopes of doing this, and then we really didn’t live up to those hopes,” Gates said. “But coming in, losing those games, it prepared us. It made us stronger together and brought us together, really, to think and have one mindset with each other.”
UCLA has featured five running backs so far this season, with freshman Kazmeir Allen and redshirt junior Joshua Kelley leading the pack with 7.5 and 6.6 yards per carry, respectively.
The Bruins’ leading ballcarrier, senior Bolu Olorunfunmi, has 31 carries on the season, but just 85 yards to show for it. Kelly has given four backs more than 20 carries on the year, and he said that he intends to trust whoever plays well in practice on any given Saturday.
“Just consistency,” Kelly said. “Are you hitting the holes right? What’s your read? What are your proper steps? When we had blitz pickup, did you know where you were going? Did you see the weak corner coming when, no, you didn’t pick him up? … Did you make mistakes?”
Olorunfunmi has four of UCLA’s five rushing touchdowns this season, and his touches have dropped from around 10.6 per game in 2017 to around 8.5 under Kelly.
Bruins returning from injury
Freshman linebacker Elijah Wade and redshirt sophomore linebacker Leni Toailoa returned from injury in Colorado last week, something Kelly said gives his defense added depth and athleticism.
“(Wade) did some really good things early for us,” Kelly said. “I know myself and the rest of the coaches are excited about where he is. … We’ve lost a couple of guys, so to get (Wade and Toailoa) back was helpful to us.”
Kelly said he is unsure of whether or not sophomore linebacker Jaelan Phillips or redshirt senior wide receiver Christian Pabico will play Saturday.
Woods return possible
Senior linebacker Josh Woods had season-ending surgery in August, but a tweet he sent out on Sept. 27 hinted that he could redshirt the season and return in 2019.
But according to Kelly, nothing is set in stone just yet.
“We haven’t finalized anything on that,” Kelly said. “He’s such a good student. Is he going to graduate? If he graduates, then he has to get into grad school. … We would love to have Josh (Woods) back but there hasn’t been anything definitive there, so I can’t say yay or nay on that.”
Thompson said that despite Woods being injured, he has still been with the team and attending linebacker meetings whenever possible.
“(Woods) is always around,” Thompson said. “Just talking to us, trusting our eyes and stuff like that. Football stuff. He’s still trying to get right himself so he’s a little busy, but we see him around.”
Woods has 60 tackles and five tackles for loss in 17 games played at UCLA.