Chip Kelly is known for going fast in games and in practice.
The UCLA football coach is also known for his sports science-themed approach to training his players.
Kelly’s system has straightforward benefits – the faster the practice, the more reps everyone gets, and the coaches can obtain more data to assess various personnel groups. And the players appreciate the conditioning bonus, too.
“When we go ones-against-ones, we’re trying to push the speed, push the conditioning so when we get to the games, it’s not as hard,” said freshman right guard Christaphany Murray. “Sometimes in a practice, I might be gassed, but when I hit game time, I feel like it’s the perfect conditions.”
An underrated part of UCLA’s win over California on Saturday was the offense’s ability to develop a rhythm. Even though the Bruins only averaged five yards per play, freshman quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson said he made a concerted effort to get the offense lined up quickly.
It led to the first-string offense scoring in three of UCLA’s first four drives of the second half to turn a slim lead into a rout.
“I was pushing guys more to just go because Cal’s defense was always standing up and stuff, so I just wanted to get the play rolling,” Thompson-Robinson said. “We knew we could play like this, it was just about finding that rhythm and everybody doing their job.”
For the defense, its performance comes down to energy.
Without the requisite physical and mental energy, the defensive linemen can’t get off their blockers, the linebackers miss tackles and the defensive backs take wrong angles or commit unnecessary penalties.
“It’s all about playing fast and tackling,” said junior linebacker Krys Barnes. “The front seven and the coverage part of (our defense), we all flew around and made the plays we needed to and made some extra ones.”
All but one of the five turnovers UCLA forced against Cal were a result of the Bruins either playing fast or reacting quickly.
Sophomore corner Darnay Holmes challenged Cal running back Patrick Laird in the open field and knocked the ball loose for the first takeaway. Then redshirt junior outside linebacker Keisean Lucier-South reacted to Bears quarterback Brandon McIlwain winding up to throw by jumping to tip the ball to himself for an interception.
Lucier-South and redshirt freshman outside linebacker Odua Isibor also both burst past the offensive line to strip-sack McIlwain late in the fourth quarter.
“(Defensive coordinator Jerry Azzinaro) prepares us really nicely for the games,” Isibor said. “Everything in practice is geared toward game tempo, so when we get into the game everything feels like it’s going slow-motion.”
Isibor was previously stuck behind sophomore outside linebacker Jaelan Phillips – a five-star recruit coming out of high school – on the depth chart. But with Phillips out for the year with a concussion, the extra practice reps are paying off.
“You have to practice like you’re in game mode and that’s definitely picked up (during) our practices the last couple of weeks,” Murray said. “We’re hitting every period like we’re in game speed.”