Despite notching another losing season, football remains hopeful for next year
Redshirt senior linebacker Josh Woods recorded 50 tackles in his final season with UCLA football. Woods is one of four starting linebackers who will be leaving the program this offseason. (Liz Ketcham/Photo editor)
By Ryan Smith
December 2, 2019 5:07 pm
Another year, another losing season for the Bruins.
UCLA football (4-8, 4-5 Pac-12) wrapped up its fourth consecutive sub-.500 season with a 28-18 loss to California on Saturday, giving the Bruins a 17-32 record since the start of the 2016 campaign.
Meanwhile, UCLA’s record in two years under coach Chip Kelly now stands at 7-17 after the Bruins finished the 2018 season at 3-9. Kelly said that while the program hasn’t seen a change in fortune since his arrival, he remains optimistic about what’s to come.
“It’s obviously not what we want it to be, but I’ve seen improvement with these guys,” Kelly said. “There’s some young guys here that you’re really excited about what their future is.”
However, the arrival of the offseason brings with it the heating up of the rumor mill. Reports surfaced before Saturday’s season finale that Kelly’s future with the program had become uncertain, but Kelly suppressed some of that speculation when asked about whether he expects to be a part of the team when it turns things around.
“I hope so,” Kelly said. “I’m going to do my part.”
But Kelly has work to do on both sides of the ball if he does return in 2020, as the Bruins finished seventh in the Pac-12 in yards per game and eighth in scoring. UCLA also finished 112th out of 130 total FBS schools in total defense and 129th in pass defense under defensive coordinator Jerry Azzinaro.
Kelly – who did not entertain the idea of shaking up his coaching staff midseason – didn’t say whether he would be making any changes this offseason, but said he will be exploring all options to help the team moving forward.
“I think you’ve got to look at everything that goes on and we always assess everything after the season – scheme, personnel, everything,” Kelly said. “We’re always trying to improve and trying to make ourselves better.”
The Bruins will also need to find a way to replace the production of its outgoing players, a list that includes redshirt senior linebacker Josh Woods and senior linebacker Krys Barnes, senior center Boss Tagaloa, senior kicker JJ Molson and redshirt senior running back Joshua Kelley.
Woods and Barnes won’t be the only two linebackers departing, either. Redshirt seniors Keisean Lucier-South and Tyree Thompson, as well as senior Lokeni Toailoa will all be out of the picture next season, paving the way for sophomore Bo Calvert and redshirt junior Leni Toailoa to take over at the linebacker position.
Woods – who posted 51 tackles, 4.5 sacks and one interception this season after missing the entire 2018 campaign with a knee injury – said he has confidence in the next generation of Bruins. He added that he hopes his journey back from injury has taught the young players that there is light at the end of the tunnel, despite the losses in recent seasons.
“I always try to inspire others and just be positive as a leader – even when I was hurt,” Woods said. “Just showing guys that adversity is going to hit, it’s just how you react to it and keep going. Either you fold or you build from it.”
UCLA did see a good amount of production from a number of underclassmen in 2019, including sophomore quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson and redshirt freshman receiver Kyle Philips.
Thompson-Robinson completed 59.7% of his passes for 2,701 yards, 21 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. He did, however, record at least one turnover in each of his 11 starts.
Philips, after redshirting in 2018, broke onto the scene for Kelly and the Bruins this season, hauling in 60 receptions for 681 yards and five touchdowns. He also finished 14th in the Pac-12 in receiving yards per game at 56.8.
Kelley said guys like Thompson-Robinson and Philips are the reason fans should be excited about the future, and added that another year of experience for the rest of the roster will be key in Kelly righting the ship.
“There’s a lot of young guys and now they’re going to be older, they’re going to be more experienced,” Kelley said. “So I have no doubt in my mind that this conference is going to be coming, so UCLA’s gonna be great these next two years, I just know it for sure, without a doubt.”