Coach Chip Kelly is back for a second season with UCLA football after leading the team to a 3-9 record in 2018. Daily Bruin Sports looked at how Kelly’s first season in Westwood stacked up to his legacy at Oregon and what the coach may have up his sleeve for 2019 now that the Bruins have had a full year to adjust to his system.
LAST YEAR’S EARNINGS
Prior to coming to UCLA, Kelly coached Oregon to three straight seasons with top-10 finishes in yards per game. Kelly’s Ducks logged 412 yards per game in his first year and went on to post 500-plus in 2011 and 2012. The Bruins averaged just 392.6 yards per game in 2018, 12 yards below the NCAA average.
UCLA was out-rushed and out-passed by its opponents last season and the Bruins were outscored by an average of 9.5 points per game. For rushing yards, 1,243 of the Bruins’ 1,858 came from then-redshirt junior running back Joshua Kelley. UCLA’s passing game was divided between then-graduate transfer quarterback Wilton Speight’s 1,527 passing yards and then-freshman quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson’s 1,057 yards, unable to solidify a consistent passing attack through the air.
KELLY’S ROYAL FLUSH
Ace – Theo Howard
Senior wideout Theo Howard came as close as possible to acing an entire football season in fall 2018.
He had 51 passes thrown his way and he reeled in every last one of them. Howard had the most targets and catches among receivers with perfect hands in 2018 and he hasn’t missed a game since his freshman year. In the 25 games he has spent as a main weapon, Howard has gone for 1,271 yards on 107 receptions to go along with eight touchdowns.
No matter where Kelly decides to line him up in 2019 – whether it be in the slot, outside the numbers or even out of the backfield – the Bruins will be able to rely on Howard. With tight end Caleb Wilson and his 60 receptions now in the NFL and Dorian Thompson-Robinson likely getting more chances to pass the ball, Howard’s count stats are bound to see a boost and approach the level of his efficiency stats.
King – Dorian Thompson-Robinson
It’s always tough to find a standout leader in a coach’s first year. It’s even tougher for an underclassman to step into that role.
This year, Kelly has his guy in Thompson-Robinson.
“DTR” started half of the Bruins’ games last year, simultaneously overshadowed by Wilton Speight and injury concerns. In the offseason, however, Thompson-Robinson’s teammates have raved about his newfound role as a leader, both in the quarterbacks’ room and for the offense as a whole. Thompson-Robinson will have to live up to his potential in order for UCLA’s offense to settle into a rhythm in 2019 and he has the weapons around him to do so.
With a full year in Kelly’s offense, Thompson-Robinson should have a better feel for the crossing routes and run-pass options that gave him trouble in 2018, making him the king on the offensive side of the ball.
Queen – Joshua Kelley
Every good king needs a good queen by his side, and there is no one on the roster more reliable, explosive and positive than Kelley.
After being held to 46 yards from scrimmage and no scores through the Bruins’ first three games, the former UC Davis transfer racked up 1,390 yards and 12 touchdowns in weeks four through 12. Kelley picked up 289 yards on 40 carries en route to a victory over USC, essentially cementing him as Rose Bowl royalty for the rest of his life.
He has spent the offseason working on his pass blocking and receiving skills, meaning his role as a safety blanket will be even more pronounced in 2019. Kelley’s carries may drop and Kelly might use him in new ways, but he is still the same guy who took Westwood by storm in fall 2018.
Jack – Darnay Holmes
There isn’t a concrete “Jack of All Trades” award in collegiate football, but junior cornerback Darnay Holmes is in the running to win the next best thing.
Holmes was named to the preseason watch list for the Paul Hornung Award, given to the country’s most dynamic and versatile player. Past winners include Tavon Austin, Jabrill Peppers, Saquon Barkley and Odell Beckham Jr., who beat out former Bruin linebacker/running back Myles Jack for the trophy in 2013. It’s a prestigious title – one that Holmes has a great shot at.
Holmes has totaled six interceptions, 11 passes defended, 87 tackles, two forced fumbles and two tackles for loss since arriving in Westwood as a top-10 recruit. He only returned four punts and four kickoffs in 2018, but he scored the Bruins’ lone kickoff return touchdown and averaged 35.8 yards per return in the process. Holmes has the ability to shut down opponents’ top receivers while also being a wild card on special teams.
With Holmes’ top-notch dead-sprint speed, maybe Kelly should try him out on offense too – so far, he’s proven there’s nothing he can’t do.
10 – Krys Barnes
There aren’t any face cards left to compare UCLA football players to, but rounding out the royal flush is senior linebacker Krys Barnes.
Barnes was second on the team in tackles with 85 and tackles for loss with 10 in 2018. Despite the solid numbers, Barnes seems to be overlooked heading into the season opener. Redshirt senior linebacker Keisean Lucier-South, the unit’s biggest playmaker, is suspended for at least three games and redshirt senior linebacker Josh Woods is returning from a torn ACL. Redshirt senior linebacker Tyree Thompson is the lone Bruin set to miss the season opener after undergoing foot surgery during fall camp, giving the two Toailoa brothers double the attention.
Barnes, on the other hand, hasn’t been a big talking point throughout fall camp. He’s not as flashy as the king and queen and not as recognizable or dynamic as the ace and jack. Barnes will just be doing his job, locking down the middle of the field and leading UCLA’s defense all season long.
THIS YEAR’S DRAW
The Bruins schedule will feature games against four ranked teams and four currently receiving votes, including an early nonconference game against a top-five team.
The nonconference slate will start with Cincinnati, which is coming off an 11-2 season, and sits just outside the top 25 this year. Then is another familiar opponent, No. 4 Oklahoma, which defeated UCLA 49-21 en route to a College Football Playoff appearance last season, and, despite losing its star quarterback Kyler Murray, the Sooners are still expected to make a run at the championship this year. Finally, before Oklahoma, will be San Diego State, a team that the Bruins have never lost to in 22 matchups.
Due to Pac-12 scheduling rules, UCLA will not have to play No. 11 Oregon or No. 13 Washington – the two highest-ranked conference teams. The Bruins will instead face No. 23 Washington State and unranked Oregon State. The Beavers were the only Pac-12 team with a worse record than the Bruins last season, going 2-10 and 1-8 in conference play, while the Cougars finished with a surprising 11-2 record.
Both Arizona and Arizona State are just outside the top 25, along with UCLA’s conference rival USC. Arizona and USC account for two of the Bruins’ three wins last season.
Rounding out the schedule will be No. 14 Utah and No. 25 Stanford, which both scored 40-plus points against UCLA last year, and Colorado and California, the latter of which gave UCLA its only road win of the season in 2018.