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New NCAA clock rule has mixed impact on UCLA football

Coach Chip Kelly gestures for a timeout during Saturday’s contest against Coastal Carolina. With new rules implemented this season, the clock will no longer stop on first downs unless there are less than two minutes remaining in the half. (Jake Greenberg-Bell/Daily Bruin)

By Jack Nelson

Sept. 5, 2023 1:02 p.m.

Big changes require adaptation – that’s been a fact since the dawn of time.

But the Bruins have little interest in prehistoric precedents.

“We’ve got to adapt, we’re not going to be dinosaurs,” said coach Chip Kelly. “Dinosaurs didn’t adapt, they died. We’re not going to die.”

As one of three new rules approved by the NCAA in April, the college football game clock now continues to run after a team secures a first down, except when less than two minutes remain in the half. The only way to force a clock stoppage – besides a timeout – is for a player to carry the ball out of bounds, forcing the referees to reset the line of scrimmage.

Combined with two rules that outlaw consecutive timeouts and prevent extended quarters, it’s intended to shorten the game’s runtime. Effective this season, the clock rules are in line with the NFL’s timing guidelines, minus the first down stoppages under two minutes.

UCLA football first experienced the revamped clock Saturday in its season opener against Coastal Carolina. Starting redshirt junior quarterback Ethan Garbers said he could feel the difference from the beginning.

“It’s a big rule change, and the flow of the game is much faster,” Garbers said. “When you’re out there playing, you look up, and it’s already the third quarter and you’re like, ‘Oh wow.’”

Though it forces adjustments from coaching staffs across the country, a quicker clock plays right into the hands of up-tempo offenses that already limit downtime between plays. Slower-pace teams that favor the huddle over the hurry-up face more of an uphill climb.

The Bruin offense, at least historically, ranks among the former.

By average plays run per game, UCLA has averaged the nation’s 33rd-fastest offense among 133 FBS programs in the five completed seasons since Kelly’s hiring. While the squad ranks No. 80 after its first contest of 2023, it finished at No. 35 in 2022 and No. 45 in 2021.

When it comes to the defensive side of the ball, however, the team’s verdict on the new rule isn’t quite the same.

“I’m just out there playing ball. I don’t really pay attention to that,” said senior linebacker Kain Medrano. “I’m getting my play, looking at my keys and going.”

Kelly also pointed to his team’s play count, while Garbers discussed the number of drives in its week one battle with Coastal Carolina. Both claimed the numbers are lower than past season averages as a result of the new rule.

The stats sheets say otherwise.

In 2022, the Bruins averaged 72 offensive plays per game across 13 contests. Their 60 plays against the Chanticleers indeed marked a drop-off, but it was not a rarity.

UCLA ran as few as 61 plays against Utah and Pittsburgh, as well as 62 against Arizona State and 63 against Colorado last season. It won all of those games except the one against Pittsburgh, scoring 35 or more points in each.

And when it comes to total drives, there’s not much of a distinction to be made either.

The Bruins averaged 5.6 drives per first half and 5.8 per second half in 2022. Though they only notched four drives in Saturday’s first half, their seven in the second half adds up to an 11-drive total, just 0.4 below last year’s game-by-game average.

The new clock rule accelerates the flow of the game, but its impact isn’t yet evident on paper.

Even with a quicker pace, Kelly, who has previous NFL experience with the timing, said the rule change doesn’t deliver on its intention.

“I think the games are the same length – just seems like there’s a lot more TV commercials,” Kelly said. “I hope someone made some cash tonight (Saturday). They didn’t watch football, but maybe they’re out buying a Chevy or Burger King or McDonald’s or something.”

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Jack Nelson | Sports senior staff
Nelson is currently a Sports senior staff writer. He was previously an assistant Sports editor on the softball, men's tennis and women's tennis beats and a contributor on the men's tennis and women's tennis beats.
Nelson is currently a Sports senior staff writer. He was previously an assistant Sports editor on the softball, men's tennis and women's tennis beats and a contributor on the men's tennis and women's tennis beats.
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