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Tracking COVID-19 at UCLA

UCLA prepares for home game against Arizona and former defensive backs coach

Redshirt senior running back Demetric Felton has already tied his 2019 yardage total in just three games, running for 331 yards and three touchdowns in 2020. (Tanmay Shankar/Daily Bruin senior staff)

By Kyle Boal

Nov. 27, 2020 7:40 p.m.

A familiar foe is ahead for the Bruins.

UCLA football (1-2) hosts Arizona (0-2) in a matchup against former Bruin defensive backs coach turned Wildcat defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads.

Rhoads joined Arizona this offseason after spending his last two years in Westwood. Under him in 2019, the UCLA secondary allowed more passing yards than any other in its history.

It’s unknown who will start at quarterback for UCLA, as contact tracing — part of the COVID-19 protocol — saw nine UCLA players out last week versus then-No. 11 Oregon, including junior quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson.

In his place stood 5-foot-11-inch redshirt freshman quarterback Chase Griffin who threw at a 61.3% clip, accumulating 195 pass yards and a touchdown to go along with two interceptions. A redshirt last year, Griffin said he spent a lot of time working with Rhoads and understanding his tendencies.

“The ironic part is I used to be on the scout team field for some weeks last year, and that was when coach Rhoads was over here,” Griffin said. “And he’s the defensive coordinator there (at Arizona), so I have a little bit of history playing against those looks.”

With Griffin at the helm versus Oregon, UCLA took a run-heavy approach, incorporating triple-option schemes and handing redshirt senior running back Demetric Felton the ball a career-high 34 times. The Bruins out-rushed the Ducks 267 to 88 yards, finishing with 40 more total yards at 462 despite four turnovers and a three-point loss.

Like UCLA against Oregon, Arizona hung in until the end against UCLA’s crosstown rival, then-No. 20 USC, with quarterback Grant Gunnell throwing for 286 yards and three touchdowns. Gunnell went head-to-head with UCLA in his first collegiate start in 2019, replacing the injured starter Khalil Tate and throwing for 352 yards and a touchdown in the Wildcats’ three-point victory.

Coach Chip Kelly praised Gunnell for his performances this season and last, adding Rhoads’ abilities as a defensive coach could cause the Bruins problems come Saturday.

“With Gunnell at quarterback, he’s obviously a really explosive kid — we saw him last year,” Kelly said. “We know Paul Rhoads and what he can do defensively and he’s got a bunch of guys that are playing really, really hard on the defensive side of the ball. We’ve got our hands full this week.”

The Bruin offense comes in at No. 22 in points per game with 37.0 and No. 16 in rush yards per game with a mark of 228.7. Felton has already tied his 2019 season rushing yards total in just three games and on 17 less carries, running for 331 yards and three touchdowns in 2020.

Redshirt junior offensive lineman Sam Marrazzo said the offensive line has come into its own this year, attributing its success to more depth and Felton’s ball-carrying abilities.

“I think it’s nice having a lot of guys that can play, a lot of guys that can go in and out and there’s no fall-off when we do that,” Marrazzo said. “It comes down to everybody communicating, us being more comfortable communicating with ourselves and our backs are making us right. I mean, Felton, you barely have to block for him. He runs the ball like a madman.”

With the second-worst turnover margin per game in the FBS at -2.3 and two four-turnover games, Kelly said the team recognizes its self-imposed issues and is working hard in practice to fix those mistakes that are costing the team wins.

“This team’s awesome — their mindset is they’re fired up for Monday and I think that’s the great thing about this group,” Kelly said. “They know it was the self-inflicted wounds that hurt us on Saturday — if we’re not self-inflicting wounds, we win that football game (versus Oregon). But we didn’t, so how do we go out and correct them? It’s about getting better.”

The Bruins will put their practice to the test as kickoff at the Rose Bowl is at 5:00 p.m. on Saturday.

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Kyle Boal | Sports senior staff
Boal is currently a Sports senior staff writer on the football, men's water polo and swim & dive beats. He was an assistant Sports editor on the gymnastics, rowing, swim and dive, men's water polo and women's water polo beats. Boal was previously a contributor on the men's water polo and women's water polo beats.
Boal is currently a Sports senior staff writer on the football, men's water polo and swim & dive beats. He was an assistant Sports editor on the gymnastics, rowing, swim and dive, men's water polo and women's water polo beats. Boal was previously a contributor on the men's water polo and women's water polo beats.
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